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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq Is Over

Aired August 31, 2010 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the U.S. combat mission in Iraq is officially over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Seven and a half years of battle, 4,400 American troops among thousands of dead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Like all Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice and by the sacrifices of their families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Was it worth it? Now a change of mission. What happens next? What does it mean for the United States and the world next on LARRY KING LIVE.

In a couple moments, we'll check in with David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president. He's at the White House.

But first, let's get reaction to the address from those in Iraq. CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is at Camp Victory and CNN's Arwa Damon, who is in Baghdad.

Chris, 50,000 troops are still there. What is their role?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Larry, they're going to be officially called advise and assist troops. And they've already started to pretty much transition in that role for some time. It basically means the roles have flip-flopped. So whereas before U.S. troops would roll out of the wire, they would stage these operations, they would kick down these doors, they would conduct the raids, the Iraqis would be hanging back.

Now that role has flip-flopped. Now it's the Iraqis planning the raids. Now it's the Iraqis going in. The U.S. would be more in a support role, coaching them, advising them, being there if needed. If Iraqis were conducting an operation, the U.S. might be providing air support with some capability on the ground. So it's sort of the roles have now flip-flopped from leader to follower.

KING: Arwa, you've been in Iraq for years. What are you hearing from the Iraqis? Now that the combat mission is ending, are they a little nervous?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're very nervous, Larry. Look, Iraqis largely feel helpless. They have little to no control over events in their own country as they're unfolding, just like they had little to no control over what happened here in the last 7.5 years. There was euphoria and jubilation with the fall of Saddam Hussein. That quickly was overcome as violence reached levels of brutality that shocked many in the population.

They do realize that right now the responsibility does lie largely with their political leadership. They have been unable to form a new government since Iraq's elections back in March. But there are concerns amongst the Iraqis about this U.S. draw down. They don't want to see the American troops here forever, but at the same time they do feel that the United States does bear a certain level of responsibility to make sure the situation here is relatively and genuinely stable before America as some Iraqis say turns their back on this nation, Larry.

KING: Thank you, Chris and Arwa. Let's go to the White House. David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, is standing by. What kind of -- what was it like for him to make this speech tonight, David?

DAVID AXELROD, SR. ADVISER TO PRES. OBAMA: Well, I think it was a big moment for the country, Larry. And the president felt that way. This transfer of authority to the Iraqis for the principle responsibility for their security is something that he's been pointing to from the moment he took office. And it's -- so, it's a big moment for the country. It's a big transition.

We've got 100,000 troops out of Iraq. By the end of 2011, they'll all be out. And those are resources we can use elsewhere so it's -- it was a big moment. And I think he sensed that he wanted to talk to the country about it. And also to pay tribute to our valiant troops.

One of the things that the president did today was visit Fort Bliss in Texas to personally thank the troops and their families for what they've done over the last 7 and a half years, the enormous sacrifices. We saw some young people there who did three or four tours of duty in Iraq. So the sacrifice has been enormous. And this is their day, too.

KING: Was it a little more difficult, David, in view of the fact that he was so opposed to the war to begin with?

AXELROD: Well, I think that he is gratified to be winding the war down and doing it as he promised in a responsible way. And so, you know, I don't think he spent the day revisiting old history. Yes, he did oppose the war. And he did feel that we should be focused on al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but the war came. And now the war is ending in the appropriate way with a transfer of authority to a trained up Iraqi security force. And so I think he's gratified that that day has come.

KING: Should the wives and families of the 50,000 remaining be nervous?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think anytime your loved one is away and overseas in serving the country, there's a nervousness associated with that.

But, look, we believe the Iraqi security forces are ready to accept this responsibility. We believe that the political accommodations will be made. We had a good election in Iraq. The political process is moving on. We believe that this is moving in the right direction and that our forces will be able to leave the end of next year to a secure -- a very secure situation.

Obviously, there's still a potential for violence in Iraq. You see that. Now violence is way down from where it was, way, way down. But there's always that potential. And you have to be vigilant about it.

KING: David, we've spoken often over the years. You're at the White House every day. Are these troubling times there? How is the president dealing with all of this?

AXELROD: Well, Larry, I think that you asked if these are troubling times. They're troubling times for the American people. There's so much anxiety about the economy. You know, we had -- there was a huge hole that we have to climb out of. And that's taken, as the president said from the beginning, that was going to take more time than anyone wanted. And it's an ongoing effort.

And part of his message tonight is we have to really focus on that effort. And by winding down our effort in Iraq, that's one barrier we've crossed that frees us up to some degree to focus on the primary mission, which is to get our economy moving again. And we're all intensely focused on that here. We hear from people every day all over the country about their struggles and their concerns. And those concerns are our primary concern.

KING: A couple of other things. What prompted the idea that called former President George W. Bush?

AXELROD: I think the president thought it was an important thing to do on this day. They disagreed on the wars the president mentioned. But I think this is a day on which whether you agreed or disagreed, it was a day to pay tribute to the troops, to reflect on what they've done. And he felt to touch base with the former president, let him know exactly how we were proceeding was the right thing to do.

KING: Was it a long conversation?

AXELROD: I don't think they spoke particularly long, Larry. And I'm not going to get into the details of the discussion other than to say it was a cordial discussion. But again, I think that presidents, whether they agreed or disagreed, it's a lonely fraternity. No one understands it, but the guys who have sat in that chair.

KING: Yes.

AXELROD: I think on this day, this president thought calling the former president was the right thing to do.

KING: And one other thing, David, with the pullout from Iraq, is there some fear that this now strengthens Iran's hand in that region?

AXELROD: No, I don't believe so, Larry. And as you know, we're putting increasing pressure on Iran through sanctions and by galvanizing the world in support of those sanctions. And we believe that Iraq -- the sovereignty of Iraq will be respected and Iraq is not going to become a satellite in any way. So we feel that it is in our interests and in the interests of the Iraqis to follow through on the agreement we made with them and to begin this process by ending our combat engagement now, ending our military engagement at the end of 2011. And we feel that can -- can be done with some confidence.

KING: Thanks, David, always good seeing you.

AXELROD: Thanks, Larry. Good to be with you.

KING: David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama. A couple of Iraq War veterans with very different points of view about all this are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back. Pete Hegseth is executive director of Vets for Freedom. He's a decorated veteran of the war in Iraq. Jon Soltz is co-founder and chairman of votevets.org. He served as the United States Army captain during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Pete, what did you think of his speech and is it time -- was it time to end this war?

PETE HEGSETH, EXEC. DIR., VETS FOR FREEDOM: Well, I think it was strong in some points and disappointing in others. The president spoke very movingly especially toward the end about the service and sacrifice of our troops. There's no doubt about that. He also talked about ending the war, but also renewed -- he said we will renew and continue our commitment to the Iraqis and the Iraqi government, which is great to hear.

But it would have been a lot -- it would have been nice for him to acknowledge the surge and the policies that were part of making this outcome possible. He did mention President Bush's name, said he was a patriot and loved this country. Those are givens. But if he really wanted to turn the page, he could have turned the page by saying, hey, we disagreed about a lot of things, and we also disagreed the policies that brought about this or the catalyst for this very important moment and these last couple of years of progress. I think that would have been a great step.

He did tacitly acknowledge it, though Larry, in comparing the Iraq surge--

KING: In Afghanistan.

HEGSETH: --to what he's trying to do in Afghanistan. He applied that. He said, hey, the surge in Iraq is the model for what we're going to do in Afghanistan. Except in Afghanistan, he in the same breath set a time line. In Iraq, President Bush didn't. And that's why we had the peaceful 4th Stryker Brigade driving out of Baghdad as he talked about so movingly.

KING: Jon Soltz, what did you think?

JON SOLTZ, CHAIRMAN, VOTEVETS.ORG: You know, I wasn't super impressed with the speech. I didn't like the opening line. There's a lot of young Americans that are still in Iraq. 50,000 troops that are in combat roles that are combat troops. And when I went into Iraq in 2003 and my first (INAUDIBLE) Kuwait up to Momandia (ph), the very first thing that happened to me that night was we got ambushed by RPGs. And I just remember thinking when I finally got into the El Fay Dogreb (ph), where we were at in Momandia, I just remember thinking, wow, didn't George Bush just said that the mission was accomplished and combat operations in Iraq were over?

And I think that's a very, very dangerous statement for him to make. If you look in the history of our country and the challenges that we faced in Beirut in the '80s, and the challenges we faced in Somalia in the '90s, you have to be very careful that the American public is aware of the dangers that exist for our troops as they move between bases in Iraq as they're embedded with Iraqi units.

So I don't like the idea that he says combat operations are over. We're still giving out combat action badges. We're still going to award combat infantry badges. Our troops are still getting hazardous fire play. So I did not like that.

I also did not like the fact that it was highly a political speech. He didn't tell us a whole lot new. I think it's great he's sticking to the (INAUDIBLE) agreement. I think we need to get all of our troops out of Iraq. And I hope he sticks to that plan.

KING: Pete, good point?

HEGSETH: Larry, for once I agree with Jon on the first point. Hey, it's important that we emphasize -- this is the first of all time -- that we emphasize that the combat mission isn't over. He's right. We've combat brigades that have become advise and assist brigades that are doing similar missions as they were before. We've still got about 5,000 special operators out there taking the fight to insurgent cells.

So this is not over, even though I believe we have won the war in the sense of the surge and dampening down the violence, we still have to win the peace. And winning the peace will require both a military commitment and a diplomatic commitment hand-in-hand. We're drawing down militarily, but we need to make sure we keep the eye on the ball and the Iraqis can take over, and that we're making sure we provide every single possible incentive for them to reach political consensus, bring about a new government, which can then renegotiate, you know, agreements with the United States if we want to have a longer residual force.

KING: Jon?

HEGSETH: But our guys are going to face combat. There's no doubt about that. Jon's right.

KING: Jon, was the war worth 4,400 lives?

SOLTZ: I don't think it was worth one American life. You know, we went into war on the pretext that there was weapons of mass destruction. We had no human intelligence. The Pentagon obviously cooked the books with their own intelligence teams that Secretary Rumsfeld had generated and sold that to Congress.

Now if you asked a Kurd or Shia, they may have a different take on it. But as an American soldier who served there, no, it's a war that never should have been fought. It's a war that's going to continue to be fought. It's not a war that the United States started. It's not a war the United States can finish. Largely, this is a war where we sided on the side of the Shia and the Kurds against the Sunni leader Saddam Hussein. And as we leave, I expect Iraq to become more violent. We were simply a cork on the problem. There has been no political settlement. There certainly should be no victory lap. And this -- you know, this speech that the president gave tonight probably should have waited for another year.

As we pull out of Iraq, violence will increase. Our troops will still have to move a lot of equipment out of Baghdad down to Kuwait. It is very dangerous still. So it's a bad situation.

KING: And both of these gentlemen disagreed with parts of the speech. And there's still another war going on. We'll talk about that and Afghanistan next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last combat patrol is over. You represent the symbolic end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The last combat brigade in Iraq has now completed its mission. And the U.S. transitions to an advisory and assist role with Operation New Dawn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back. Before we talk about Afghanistan, Pete, I didn't give you a chance to elaborate on what disappointed you in the speech.

HEGSETH: Well, what disappointed me about the speech is that he didn't give credit, I believe, where credit is due. He talked about the last convoy driving out peacefully. He talked about improvements on the street, but he was unwilling to really be gracious and give credit to former President Bush, and say, hey, when times were tough, when folks like himself, when president Obama wanted to turn the page early in 2006 and 2007, President Bush said, no, we're going to stick to the fight, we're going to add more troops and change strategy. We did. That's what brought about the opportunity and the stability for us to draw down to 50,000 troops. I think he could have been more gracious in talking about the surge and the former president.

KING: All right, Jon, let's -- the president talked tough tonight about Afghanistan. Let's listen in and then we'll have your respond. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us and its leadership remains anchored in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Jon Soltz, in your opinion, is that a certainty?

SOLTZ: You know, I can't say. Votevetes.org or myself is really in favor of what's going on in Afghanistan right now. The president has changed the mission in Afghanistan from a counter al Qaeda mission to a counter insurgency mission. Basically a mission now to promote democratization and President Karzai.

I certainly don't believe that the plan the president has. And I actually think people would agree with me here. It's viable with the time table set. So why do it all? Why -- you know, as a candidate, he said he put two combat brigades in Afghanistan. He's now up to eight.

And in reality, the timetable for a countersurgency to be effective cannot happen in 10 months.

So he talked about borders, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The only people in the world that see borders is the United States and Western allies. So we need a global strategy against al Qaeda. We need a footprint in Afghanistan much more limited than 120,000 troops. Even the CIA says there's, what, 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan. and they're not even very involved in the Taliban insurgency. So I think Afghanistan is a huge issue. I think politically for him, it's a huge issue. He's lost his base on it. And I think that's one of the reasons he's really trumping up the idea that he's getting out of Iraq.

KING: Pete?

HEGSETH: Well, I think the only -- my point of agreement with Jon ends on the timeline. Jon's right. How do you both surge into Afghanistan and then tell the enemy when you're going to leave in July 2011? That is an albatross around the neck of our troops. We're hearing it from commanders, we're hearing it from insurgents and local, you know, just regular folks in Afghanistan. They know we're leaving. And so they're hesitant to side with us.

But it isn't -- this isn't a nation building exercise in Afghanistan. This is capacity building. The president talked about it. It's the same language President Bush used in Iraq. We want to build the space and time and allow Afghanis to build the capacity in their security forces to defend their own borders and protect their own population.

This is a limited mission. It's something we can achieve. The strategy is correct. We may need more troops to do it. And we're certainly going to need more time than July 2011. That will be President Obama's decision point where he really defines whether he's a wartime commander willing to do what's necessary to win on the ground, whether or not he'll give the troops the time and resources they need to actually take the fight to al Qaeda and the Taliban and pacify a very dangerous region by allowing Afghanis to defend it themselves so we can draw down.

KING: All right, Jon, 30 seconds, agree or disagree?

SOLTZ: Well, I obviously disagree with that. I think the president should have realized that there's no way to conduct the counter insurgency in the time table he wanted, the amount of money that it's costing, our shrinking Gross Domestic Product our rising unemployment. We can't sustain a long-term counter insurgency in Afghanistan and take Afghans from the 16th century to the 17th century with the problems we have in this country. We need a flexible global strategy against al Qaeda that meets what -- the intelligence threat says that it is, which is 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We've got to get out of the nation building business. And that's where he's taking us.

KING: Pete Hegseth and Jon Soltz, both served their country well. Both disagree. And both will be back. As we've always said, they make for intriguing television.

We'll talk more about the cost of this war with our panel of experts. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Three very interesting guests to join us. Dan Senor, he served as chief spokesperson for the coalition provisional authority in Iraq, was a senior adviser to Ambassador Paul Bremer, and was former policy adviser to President George W. Bush. He's currently an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Michael Hastings, contributing editor of "Rolling Stone." His profile of the runaway general led to the ouster of General Stanley McChrystal. He's the author of "I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story." And Jon Avlon is a CNN contributor, to thedailybeast.com, and author of "Wing Nuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America."

Let's start with Dan Senor and the obvious, what did you think of the speech?

DAN SENOR, FMR. CHIEF SPOKESPERSON COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY IN IRAQ: I was underwhelmed, Larry. I thought the president's speech was terrific and made many important points particularly about how regardless of what one thinks about the decision to go in Iraq, Iraq is a better place today for the Iraqi people. And it is better for American security. America' more secure because of where Iraq is today.

I thought the speech tonight was too focused on why we're leaving, the withdrawal rather than what we're leaving behind, who deserves much of the credit. He praised the troops, obviously deserve most of the credit, but also General Odierno, General Petraeus, President Bush's surge strategy, which not only President Obama remained committed to even though he was initially opposed to it, but it served as the basis for a strategy in Afghanistan. And America's learned a lot of lessons in counter insurgency from the last couple of years in the war, which I would say President Obama was able to give the speech he did tonight because of that strategy. And so I thought in that sense, it was a little ungracious.

KING: Michael, he was underwhelmed. Were you?

MICHAEL HASTINGS, "ROLLING STONE": I think it's much easier to turn the page on the Iraq War if you live in Washington, D.C. than if you live in Baghdad. This idea that the war is over, it might be winding down for America, but if you look at the last three months in Iraq, you've had nearly 1,000 Iraqi civilians killed and 15 U.S. soldiers who died.

So I think there's a bit of a dog and pony show going on. And this idea that we've left behind something in Baghdad other than a very shaky government that is essentially Saddam Hussein light -- the two leading contenders for the prime minister job rely on their role as kind of strong men. I think we're kidding ourselves.

So as president, of course, he had to sort of come out and say that he was proud of the troops, and I'm sure he is. But I think we'll be making a grave mistake if we think that the Iraq War is really over.

KING: John, what did you think of the speech? John Avlon?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I thought it was a strong and decisive speech directly at the domestic audience. That's where the troubles came. I think one of President Obama's great successes in office has been that he's managed to depolarize what was one of the most divisive debates in the past decade. Just by moving forward in Iraq, by building off the success of the surge, he's been able to really bring, I think, an honorable to combat phase of this war, end do it in a way that honors President Bush's successes and recognizing that they're patriots who were on both sides of these issue in the past.

When he pivoted to economics, that was clearly an election year message. And that didn't really fit the context of the speech. Now, as he said, our combat time may be ending, but our commitment continues. And then Afghanistan is, of course, still an ongoing concern for all of us.

KING: Dan, the public opinion polls pretty much support the president on this move tonight. Do you agree?

SENOR: Oh, absolutely, which is why I think the speech I would have hoped he would have given would have probably been a tougher speech politically for him to give. I mean, one of the things that concerned me about it is he indicated that he was -- by its absence, he indicated he was going to provide no security assurances to the Iraqis after our departure. This is something many in Iraq have been curious about, many in our military have been curious about.

What happens after a year from now, when we are really fully out, by the end of 2012? Are we that wedded to this agreement that we're not going to provide any basic security assurances for the Iraqis? Every time the major withdrawals from American occupations post-war over the last half century -- obviously, South Korea is really the quintessential model where we, to one extreme, have 28,500 troops still there, but we provide basic security assurances.

I can't emphasize enough why this is so important. One of two things can happen in Iraq going forward. One is it basically becomes a glorified province of Iran and basically subservient to Iran. Or the Iraqis feel that no one is there to protect them, and they go ahead and build an army of Saddam-era proportions, million man force, something like 50-plus armored divisions, a military that's not just there to defend its own borders but has the capacity to wreak havoc on the region.

I think, unless we make crystal clear that regardless of this exit deadline of December of 2011, we will provide the assurances to the Iraqis, keep resources on the ground if need be, in order to give the Iraqis the security that they can build from within and not have to -- and not have to start cutting deals with players throughout the region.

KING: Michael, is there a general, do you think, pessimism about all of this?

HASTINGS: Well, I spent -- I took a number of trips to Iraq this past year. And I can just give you a couple quotes from what the Iraqis told me. One said that we used to have one Saddam, now we have 1,000 Saddams. Another said that during the elections that -- an Iraqi election official told me that 99 percent of the people in the Iraqi election office would have voted for Saddam when he was on the ballot.

I think it's fair enough to have pessimism, as I said. If you live in Baghdad, and even if it's once a month 140 people are being blown up outside your doorstep it's hard to put too happy a face on that.

One of the sort of talking points I've heard throughout the night is this idea that President Obama should have been more gracious and thanked President Bush. I think that notion is somewhat absurd. The Iraq war was by most estimates one of the most catastrophic foreign policy decisions the United States has ever made. To think that President Obama is going to thank him for doing that seems to me somewhat silly.

(CROSS TALK)

KING: John, where do you stand in this difference between Dan and Michael?

AVLON: I look back to Colin Powell's Pottery Barn, you buy it you break it. There are no re-dos. We don't get to arm-chair quarterback. History moves in one case. President Obama inherited a situation which was vastly improved over where it was in 2006. But look, we're a republic and not an empire. We need to draw down our troops. The troops aren't going to disappear at the end of this current agreement. We still have 30,000 troops in Korea. That war has been over for 60 years.

The reality is that having engaged this war, we can all have honorable disagreements about the context, the pretext and whether or not it was a good idea. But the reality is we're there. We have an interest in ensuring its success. We need an Iraq that is a stable force in the Middle East and that is at least a nominal ally of the United States. That is in our interest. That is in the interests of honoring the dead and those folks who have sacrificed their lives to date.

KING: Dan, are you optimistic about the outcome here?

SENOR: I just want to respond to something Michael said. Look, this was President Bush's war, but it was also a war that was supported by virtually every person, senior foreign policy official in President Obama's administration, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke -- I can go --

KING: They thought there were weapons of mass destruction, though.

SENOR: Absolutely. I'm simply saying this is a war that America engaged in. It had support from across the political spectrum. And in 2006, the degree to which we were so close, as Michael knows firsthand -- the degree to which we were so close to defeat at the end of 2006, we really were on the cusp of complete collapse, and everyone was advising President Bush to just cut his losses and get out. Everyone, the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA, the Congress, including Republican members of Congress, were urging President Bush to pull back. Members of his father's administration were counseling this, the Baker-Hamilton commission. We can go down the list.

And he basically took a decision that just about only he and General Petraeus actually advocated for, which was this surge strategy. I think America has learned a lot from this dramatic transformation of our foreign policy both in Iraq, and served as the basis point and the model for our war strategy in Afghanistan. President Obama has kept on President Bush's Defense secretary. He kept on his CentCom commander.

The degree to which President Bush's foreign policy over the last couple of years has lived on and served as the basis for this administration's war strategy is not inconsequential. And some sort of acknowledgement of that is what I would suggest was missing.

KING: Michael, in retrospect, we wouldn't go there tomorrow, would we?

HASTINGS: I don't think so. At least I hope not. Dan has put his neck on the line in his services, when he spent his time in Iraq as well. I think, though, the idea that the surge -- OK, President Bush got 18 months of a seven and a half year war right, or half right at least. We still haven't come out with a political solution. That's not very likely.

I agree. I think the question we have to ask ourselves is what lessons should we draw from our experience in Iraq. And Dan is also right to say that one of the lessons we've drawn so far is to try to repeat that somewhat successful action in Afghanistan.: And I think that's already where we're sort of drawing the wrong lessons from history.

KING: OK. Let me get a break, and we'll come back and we'll talk a little bit about costs here. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) \ KING: John Avlon, what about -- it's hardly mentioned or not mentioned at all tonight. What about the costs of all of this?

AVLON: Well, by some estimates a trillion dollars to date. That's just the financial costs, of course. And as President Obama made the point, the simple decision of going into Iraq had enormous consequences not only financial, but I think also we recognize now in terms of a lack of focus and attention on Afghanistan at the time.

I think the other cost really is the unity of the country. I think we forget the country was deeply unified after September 11th and unified through the invasion of Afghanistan to dislodge the Taliban and go after al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The decision to go into Iraq, which in retrospect appears as an optional war -- and that will have its own ramifications in American history -- that decision divided the country deeply, and put the United States in a much more complicated, controversial position than we've been in recently. But I think there still is the hope, especially continuing through Afghanistan, to try to build a better future, to take all the right lessons out of both these wars, to recognize that we still are in a larger war. And because these wars are long, I think sometimes we forget the constant sacrifice and the importance on making sure that our investment turns into something of lasting value in future generations.

KING: We have many guests tonight, gentlemen, so we have run out of time. I promise to have all three of you back, because this was really interesting viewing. We'll be right back with Shoshana Johnson, a former member of the United States Army. You'll remember she and other members we're captured and held P.O.W. for a while. She's author of a book called "I'm Still Standing." She's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Shoshana Johnson, former member of the U.S. Army; in 2003, she and other members of her military unit were captured and held as P.O.W.s for 22 days. She's the author of "I'm Still Standing." She's in El Paso, Texas. Shoshana, thanks for joining us. What was your reaction to the speech?

SHOSHANA JOHNSON, FORMER POW: Well, I, unfortunately, didn't get to listen to the whole speech. There's a lot going on in town because the president was here. But I did hear some points of it. I'm just glad our men and women are starting to come out of Iraq and being able to spend time home with their families.

KING: Forty four hundred killed, 30,000 wounded, was it worth it?

JOHNSON: I think people have a misconception of how the Army works. This is not a situation that people join the military to fight this specific conflict like they did in World War II or the Civil War. You put on the uniform for the men and women who are in the United States to protect them. This conflict just came up and we did the job as best as we could. What it it comes down to as an American, you have to ask yourself, is the sacrifice that these men and women do every single day worth it? Am I worth it?

And I definitely think that the American people are worth my sacrifice and I would do it all over again for them.

KING: What are your worries about the 50,000 troops still there?

JOHNSON: I don't have any specific worries. I think, you know, we have an outstanding military. They can hold their own. I just think it's time for the Iraqi people to take care of themselves. It's just like when you're a parent teaching your child how to ride a bicycle, you have to stand back and let them wobble, let them fall down. Eventually, they will get it on their own and you can step away.

I think this is the process going on in Iraq right now. We're beginning to step away.

KING: Do you know many troops who have this Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

JOHNSON: Yes, I do. A lot of my comrades do, including myself. It's very difficult to deal with at-home life after you've been in the battlefield, especially for some soldiers who have been in theater two and three times. But I know with support and a lot of therapy, you know, you can overcome these things.

I think I'm doing extremely well, considering. But it's not without help. And it's hard after being a soldier and being learning how to suck it up and drive on to accept that you need someone to help you out. And I hope the American people, if you see them, a soldier, any man or woman in uniform that you feel needs a helping hand, you know, after they sacrificed so much for you, that you extend a hand to help them out.

KING: Shoshana will be right back with us, along with a Bronze Star winner and his family. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Shoshana Johnson remains. Joining us is United States Lieutenant Mark Shoaf, recently returned from his first deployment in Iraq, platoon leader and awarded the Bronze Star. Heather Shoaf is his wife. She and Mark have two children, Maggie, age three, and Taylor, who is two. And they're expecting a third child in January. Is there any significance, Heather, to those dresses that the girls are wearing?

HEATHER SHOAF, WIFE OF LT. MARK SHOAF: Yes, sir. Actually, they are one of his old uniforms. I actually spent about a week tearing them apart just so I could have the fabric to make them.

KING: It's adorable.

H. SHOAF: They like them, as a matter of fact. Thank you very much.

KING: Mark, did you watch the speech, lieutenant?

LT. MARK SHOAF, US ARMY: Yes, sir, I did.

KING: What did you make of it?

M. SHOAF: I thought it was very well outlined. He's a great speaker, of course, you know, being the president and watching the campaigns before. I think that we've done things that he set out to do and -- when he ran for his presidency. I thought it was a very well laid out speech.

KING: Do you think anything of your service at all when you think about it, Mark, was in vain?

M. SHOAF: No, sir. The whole reason that I joined the military was to serve my country and to serve my family. You know, we do it for them. We do it for the American people. I don't think anything that we did is anything in vain. I think that it's something that we should be proud of as Americans, as a people.

KING: Well said. Heather, has the return been at all difficult?

H. SHOAF: No, sir. Actually, it's been -- it's kind of just like riding a bike. You just -- you get back to doing it and you get back to family life. It's actually been really refreshing.

KING: What did you win the Bronze Star for, lieutenant?

M. SHOAF: The platoon leader Tom, operating in our city, where we were at, where we partnered with the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police -- we went out and partnered with them, trained them on, you know, different techniques, and that's what the award was for.

KING: Shoshana, what do we owe people like Lieutenant Shoaf?

JOHNSON: Everything. You know, just simply going out in the middle of the day or even in the middle of night to go to the store, we take those little things for granted without realizing that every day a sacrifice is being made so we can do those things. You know, it's so nice to hear that he's back with his family, you know, doing so well. But, you know, sometimes it's hard to hear.

I think sometimes people don't understand that it's a little different as a female coming home and switching from that warrior role to that mother role or even a wife role, and dealing with the aspects of how people treat you. I definitely want to thank him for his service and all that he continues to do for our country.

KING: Lieutenant, can you be deployed again?

M. SHOAF: Yes, sir. You know, as the president, commander in chief, if he decides to send us to any location in the world, that's my job is to go and protect the American people and serve our country.

KING: Heather, do you worry about that that they might go over again?

H. SHOAF: I -- I mean, you worry every time they deploy, but I'm very proud of the fact that that's what he does. The men and women that serve our nation do this voluntarily and it's something that I'm very proud of. I'm not going to say that the worry doesn't ever go away because it's a real fear that maybe one day you're going to get the call that your husband or your wife or someone's son or daughter isn't coming home. But you can't let that rule your life.

KING: You are going to have another child in January, a boy or girl?

H. SHOAF: Another little girl.

KING: Hey, Mark, what's going on? M. SHOAF: I actually do want a boy, sir. I played sports and stuff, so I'd like a little boy. But, you know, girls are wonderful, I've got two beautiful daughters and a beautiful wife. I'm sure this daughter will be just as beautiful.

KING: Well, stay home long enough to have a boy. Thank you, Shoshana Johnson, Lieutenant Mark Shoaf and Heather Shoaf.

Before we go, we want to remind you about the people of Pakistan. They are in desperate need as a result of catastrophic flooding there. Angelina Jolie would like you to help. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS: One-fifth of Pakistan is under water. Thousands of people died in the initial flooding and the threat of disease now looms for 20 million affected people. This is not just a humanitarian crisis; it's an economic and social catastrophe. The U.N. is on the ground. The more support we can give, the greater number of tents, food, clean water and medicine will get to the people in need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We have posted Angelina Jolie's call for aid to our blog. Go to CNN.com/LarryKing to see it.

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines are among the guests tomorrow night, and Johnny Depp makes an appearance. We'll be talking about the West Memphis Three. Right now, "AC 360" and Anderson Cooper. Anderson?