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Special Report

Military Drawdown in Iraq a 'Failure'?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 21, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Well, it didn't come as a big surprise, but there was still considerable drama as President Obama made it official -- U.S. forces are getting out of Iraq.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, of The Weekly Standard, Rick Klein from ABC News, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

So Steve, the president announced the total withdrawal today as if it were a victory, but the fact is that U.S. commanders on the ground wanted 15,000 and 25,000 troops to serve as trainers and advisors to the Iraqis and maybe also to try to get the Iranians to keep their hands off. So, how should we look at today's developments?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think it's a major setback. I think it truly does jeopardize all of the gains that the United States has made in Iraq over the past eight years. I think it largely cedes the region to Iran at a time when Iran is emboldened because of the power that it's showing in the region, the reach it has across the seas. It's -- I think overall it's a very, very bad outcome that is a disservice to our men and women in uniform and the people who have sacrificed on diplomatic side for the past several years.

WALLACE: But Charles, we have been there nine years. At some point don't the Iraqis have to stand up for themselves?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes, but we have to think about our interests. And the reason that the Pentagon wanted to maintain a force of between say 20,000 or more is because they wanted to maintain a strategic relationship with Iraq in the heart of Mesopotamia, which would have been extremely important, the same way that we retained forces in Korea, Germany and Japan 50 years ago to our advantage.

And the reason the Pentagon wanted that is because if we had left them there with trainers, helping to train the Iraqis -- they are also developing an air force, they have none, they are receiving American airplanes. Also as respected peacekeepers between the Kurds and the Arabs, we would have had a presence and been able to help resist Iranian incursion.

And it isn't as if the deadline sprung up on this administration out of nowhere. It had three years to negotiate this. It failed at two junctures. It did not help to put together the coalition, the government of Allawi representing the Sunnis, Maliki, the Shiites, which would have been a grand coalition. All the major parties in the country want Americans except Sadr, who's the Iranian agent. But he is a relatively small minority. And we yet we failed with that large majority in parliament who wanted us to stay to work out an agreement.

It is a monumental diplomatic failure for an administration that had bashed the previous administration for wielding a heavy military axe and priding itself on being sophisticated and smart diplomacy. This is a big, big failure.

WALLACE: But Rick, I mean, let's look at it from the Iraqi side. Yes, there may be some people may have wanted us to stay, but Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, didn't and had a lot of sway, a lot of clout with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister. And the sense one got is that Maliki wasn't anxious to have us stay. He was the one who insisted on, what some called the poison pill, that any U.S. troops that stayed were not going to be given legal immunity.

RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS: Yeah, and that was critical here. I think otherwise we'd be talking about a much different story today. But, look, the White House knew they were going to have to take this step because of that. And as you said, it's not a surprise. We were coming to this point for some time.

I think in terms of pulling off this band-aid, the timing here is interesting. I think the White House saw a window after the death of Qaddafi where they could capitalize on this and make it part of broader argument about some foreign policy successes, try to package it this way.

Keep in mind, this is a man who burst into politics as the anti-Iraq war candidate. That is the reason he came to prominence in the first place. This is a neat bookend, at least, certainly for his base, to be able to say I ended that war.

WALLACE: Let's look, if we can, at the cost of the war. And let's put some of it up on the screen. And these are just some markers of the cost of the war - 4,482 U.S. troops killed, more than 32,000 injured. Cost of the war to the U.S. -- $805 billion. And that doesn't even begin to talk about the Iraqi casualties, which by all estimates are over 100,000, which, of course, raises the central question, Steve -- was it worth it?

HAYES: Yeah. I think it was absolutely worth doing it. The reason that I think this is such a bad decision is because it jeopardizes the things that we've established there. I mean the idea that the United States could have a solid and strong partner in the region at a time when there is so much turmoil, where we could extend our influence, where we could project our values and our power and be unapologetic about it, I think it would have been tremendously helpful for us to help shape outcomes not only in Iraq, not only with Iran, potentially in Afghanistan, but across the region. And it seems like we've sort of ceded that to the Iraqis or to whomever might step in, which I think Iran is likely to do. I mean, I agree with what Rick says, is good point. Nobody should be surprised about this. President Obama campaigned on this. He said he was going to do it. They tried at the end to keep 3,000 to 5,000 troops in, below what commanders wanted but what the president wanted. In a sense he is fulfilling his campaign promise. I just disagreed with him then, I disagree with him now.

WALLACE: Charles, was it worth it?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, look, we will argue decades over that. In the same way that you can argue, ask whether the 10 times as many Americans who died in Korea was worth it for half a peninsula that did not affect the outcome of the Cold War.

But whether or not you thought at the beginning like Obama we should haven't gone in or not, the fact is in 2011 the losses, the blood, and the treasure was already spent. The question was given that that had all happened, would we garner the strategic advantage that all that sacrifice and the success of the surge has bequeathed us or to squander it and give it away? Obama gave it away.

WALLACE: And finally, there obviously is a political component to this, as well as a lot of other aspects, Rick. How much will it help Obama with the left, the argument "I kept my promise, I campaigned on this and I made it happen"?

KLEIN: That's right. He can check that box and be pretty proud of the fact he fulfilled this promise. I think it was critical for him. He would have had a hard time explaining how this Nobel Peace prize winning president had escalated the war in Afghanistan and kept the war going in Iraq, started another one in Libya. It was a difficult narrative for them to get a handle on it. I think this at least gives them something of a success story for the base that was counting on this.

WALLACE: All right, next up, the Friday lightning round, including Herman Cain and the World Series. We'll get them both in.

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