Gates: 'Too soon to tell' if Iraq war a success

Nearly a decade after President George W. Bush first ordered American troops into Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, it remains "too soon to tell" whether the war left the country better or worse off, according to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

A number of questions concerning the future of postwar Iraq remain unanswered, Gates said during an interview on CNN's “State of the Union” on Sunday.

"We may not know the answers to those questions for another 10 or 15 years," the former Pentagon chief said. 

One question, according to Gates, is whether the Iraqi government can maintain its tenuous hold on power, in the face of renewed sectarian violence and a resurgent al Qaeda.

Baghdad and surrounding areas in Iraq have increasingly become the target of deadly suicide bombings and attacks by al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the country, while Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to fend off accusations of rampant fraud and corruption within the government. 

However, Gates noted that if Iraq does become a stable, regional power in the Gulf, it will be one of the early examples of a nation that was able to emerge from a repressive dictatorship and evolve into a viable democracy. 

If that turns out to be the case, Gates added, Iraq could be seen as one of the early sparks in the Arab Spring movement that continues to revolutionize the Mideast. 

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an Iraq war veteran, maintained Sunday that the Iraq war a "just and noble war."

“There is no certainty in human affairs," he added, noting that the epilogue on Iraq is still being written. That said, going into Iraq "was worth it,” he added. 

But Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), also a veteran of the Iraq war, said the "miscalculations" in Iraq by the White House and Pentagon leaders could affect how the war is remembered. 

"Victory was not clearly defined," Gabbard said, noting that through most of the war American and allied commanders pursued an "unconventional war" by conventional means, bogging down the war effort and costing U.S. lives. 

One thing that Cotton and Gabbard did agree on is improving the system that cares for the new generation of American veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

"Without a doubt, we need to do better" for Iraq and Afghan veterans coming home, as well as all American veterans, Gabbard said. 

"We need to make a concerted effort to make sure those resources are there," said added.

The Department of Veterans Affairs [is] “like an insurance company" which may not have the most up-to-date approaches to get veterans their benefits, Cotton pointed out. 

But with a number of veterans being elected onto Capitol Hill, veterans benefit issues now have a congressional constituency that can fight for those Iraq and Afghan war vets, Cotton said.