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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

NBC Analyst Delivers Strong Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy

By Joe Garvey

Moments after he signed the order to send the first U.S. conventional troops into Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson was caught on tape musing: "I don't know if I've just done the right thing."

"Well, you know if you're not convinced you're doing the right thing, maybe you ought to take 10 more minutes and think about it," retired Col. Jack Jacobs told an audience of 300 at the Waldo Family Lecture on International Relations at Old Dominion University's Webb University Center on Wednesday night. "And ask yourself the question: 'How's the end of this look?'"

The anecdote illustrates the problem that has dogged U.S. foreign policy in the post-World War II era: the inability to distinguish between strategy and tactics, said Jacobs, an international analyst for NBC who was awarded the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars for his bravery during two tours in Vietnam.

"We conflate strategy and tactics," said Jacobs, whose talk was titled "America in the World — All Tactics, No Strategy." "And we're making a big mistake when we do that because the defense of the republic is at stake. And we're not serving the people very well when we make decisions that are tactical and we think that they're strategic."

In Vietnam, he said, "We decided that we had overwhelming firepower, and, as a result, we could use this overwhelming firepower to beat up the bad guys and a miracle would happen and we'd win the war. And, of course, we didn't do that at all. And we didn't do it because we were fighting the wrong war with the wrong things, with the wrong tools, and we had not articulated what the end would look like in a way in which we could reach it with the assets we were willing to provide.

"There are lots of other examples of this, but suffice it to say we've used the same thought process ever since the end of the Second World War. There are very few instances where we said, 'OK, this is what we want to do, this is what it's going to take and so on.'"

Jacobs also cited the two post-9/11 wars.

He noted that after Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress it would take several hundred thousand troops to get the job done in Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz quickly rebuked him, saying, "General Shinseki is widely off the mark."

"In fact, General Shinseki was right on the button," Jacobs said.

Add Gen. Stanley McChrystal's assessment that the United States would need to spend decades in Afghanistan, and "if we put them together, it's going to take lots and lots of people and it's going to take a long period of time," Jacobs said. "And the real question is: Do we have the political will to commit to doing that? Because if we don't have the political will to commit to doing that, we shouldn't do it."

Jacobs said a fundamental flaw is not considering end goals first.

"So think about, in the national security sphere, what we've done any time since the end of the Second World War, and you will realize that we shot first and aimed later," he said. "We allocated resources first without thinking about what the end game looked like. You really do have to start at the end and work backwards."

He added that America has struggled to adapt to the challenges of a post-Cold War world.

"I don't think we have the intellectual acuity, and part of that is because of the leadership - I don't mean the president, I'm talking about the intellectual leadership - to be able to focus our attention on what are the things we need to accomplish in a fragmented world," he said.

In response to a question, Jacobs advocated for mandatory military service - with no exceptions. "I think if you're lucky enough to live in a free country, you owe it something in the form of service," he said, noting that countries including Switzerland, Turkey and Finland have national service.

ODU's first endowed lecture series, the Waldo Family Lecture Series on International Relations, was established in 1985. Because of the area's significant military presence and proximity to an international port, the family chose international relations as the series' theme.

Over the years, renowned speakers in government, foreign affairs, journalism, education and public service have visited the campus and met with students and faculty. Support for the lecture series comes from the Waldo family, friends and the business community.

The series honors the memory of Loren Pierce Waldo Jr., William Joseph Waldo, Robert Hendren Waldo, Susan Waldo O'Hara, Julia Ann Waldo Campbell and Harry Creekmur Waldo.

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