Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, December 18, 2006

  Words of wisdom from Fred Kagan

Along with Henry Kissinger and Gen. Jack Keane (ret.), military historian Fred Kagan has been instrumental in convincing George Bush to heed his own demons. Bush is all set to reject the recommendations of the ISG, and every counsel of reason. Rather than seriously consider withdrawal from Iraq, Bush will probably gamble with more soldiers' lives in the faded hope that "one last push" will suddenly retrieve all his previous failures.

What a motley collection of advisors Bush has assembled. Kissinger's reputation for wisdom lies buried somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam—or is it Cambodia?

Keane too is in thrall to his own delusions. For example, this bravado just ignores the failed battle for Baghdad:

"The notion that we can’t provide protection for people in one of the capital cities of this world is just rubbish."


Jointly Keane and Kagan presented Bush with a plan last week that begins thus: "Victory is still an option in Iraq." If wishes were horses, their plan would constitute a stampede of stupidity.


So what kind of a fool is the plan's co-author, Fred Kagan?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA well-connected fool is Mr. Kagan. An AEI flunky, he's the son of neo-con Donald Kagan, founding member of PNAC. Both Kagans signed the infamous PNAC manifesto, Rebuilding America's Defenses.

Together in 2000 they published While America sleeps, which warned darkly that the U.S. was being dangerously complacent after the cold war, and called for bloated defense budgets. Their rather ridiculous book opens thus: "America is in danger." The book, which had almost nothing to say about any danger from terrorism, revealed instead an obsession with Iraq's alleged WMD program. It attempted to evoke the prophetic Churchill of the late 1930s, yet really it resembles the alarmist literature from around 1900 when British imperialists were all atizzy about German plans to conquer England—and similar nonsense.

Kagan père has built his academic career around regurgitating at length what Thucydides had to say about the Peloponnesian War, almost as if the rest of us had not read that brilliant historian. His son has established a record that, in its own way, is equally lacking in outward signs of common sense.

Here for example is Fred Kagan in late August/September 2003 discussing "the politics of regime change" under Bush:

When American (or U.N.) forces finally roll in to try to install a government of the variety desired, the locals frequently view them with mistrust and hostility. Some even become nostalgic for the old, brutal regime because they enjoyed a greater degree of security.

They may resent the fact that American bombs shattered their society and created a humanitarian crisis despite the fact that those bombs were carefully aimed to avoid harming them directly. They may equally resent U.S. efforts to install leaders suitable to American interests despite the pragmatic choices of the local populace. At a minimum, the normal functioning of the society in X has been crushed under the weight of “shock and awe,” and the absence of American ground forces has created a vacuum calling forth all of the baser and most violent instincts of the locals...

This description is not so much of Iraq but of Afghanistan. In Iraq the presence of the equivalent of four divisions provided the coalition with the ability to control Baghdad and Basra and, subsequently (and with some difficulty), Mosul, Tikrit, and other important population centers.


At that stage the 6 month old insurgency had laid bare deep resentments toward the U.S. among Iraqis and demonstrated there was no adequate plan for the occupation. Kagan acknowledges the growing criticisms of Bush, only to minimize and deflect them.

Two years later, in August 2005, he's still avoiding reality as he pontificates on line at the WaPo. Remember that this is months after the civil war had begun:

Understanding the feelings of Muslims is a complicated process that no one has yet been able to undertake with any confidence or high degree of accuracy, and so I do not think that it is at all clear that "our occupation of Iraq has inflamed Islamic hatred against the West."


Certainly we can agree that nobody in Kagan's circles at AEI has any record of accuracy in this regard, perhaps because they can't be bothered to read anything that doesn't confirm their prejudices. Only four months earlier, for example, Sen. Feingold had had this to say about what public opinion polls in the Middle East actually reveal:

According to a 2003 Pew Research Center survey, during 1999-2000, more than 50 percent of the people in surveyed countries held a favorable view of the U.S.... More recent surveys reveal a stark contrast with those figures and growing anti-American sentiment. Pew found that, by 2003, favorable views of the United States in these countries plummeted....Pew found that "the bottom has fallen out of Arab and Muslim support for the United States."


In the spring and summer of 2005, we in the west learned about a series of atrocities such as these committed by the new Iraqi government that had been installed by the U.S. With that in mind, read Fred Kagan's absurd assessment of why Iraqi Sunnis had taken up arms, again from August 2005:

The various opposition groups actively oppose the idea of creating a democracy in Iraq, some, like Zarqawi, because of their anti-democratic ideology, others because they are confident that they will not benefit from a democratic Iraq. Many of the former Ba'athists and Sunni revolutionaries fall into this category. These groups will not stop attacking the nascent Iraqi democratic regime just because America withdraws. On the contrary, there is every reason to expect their attacks to increase in intensity if we leave prematurely. One of the keys to political success in Iraq is to convince all of the discontented parties that there is no solution for them in violence.


Well that displays no particular insight, does it? Here is Kagan's response to a question about the wisdom of the U.S. remaining any longer to prop up the new regime.

Question: ...Finally, at this point will it really make any difference, other than to those of us who stand to lose out most precious family members, whether we stay the course another year or two or three? Isn't Iraq already destined to become a theocratic Islamic state politically and ideologically tied to Iran?

Fred Kagan: To take the last comment first, I am confident that it makes a great deal of difference whether we withdraw now or in several years' time.


Because the last year has improved things in Iraq so very much. He also claims that "there is every reason to believe that victory will be ours." I can only speculate that Fred Kagan had examined a very short list of reasons, if 'every' one of them led only toward victory.

Pressed to comment on the mistakes that the Bush adminstration had made in Iraq, Kagan demonstrates his capacity for forward thinking:

I am hopeful that we are finally beginning to recover from them somewhat, as the military situation improves (despite the suicide bombings) and as more Iraqi troops come on line. If we can stay the course over the next two years, I think we stand a good chance of seeing excellent progress.


So much for his foresight. What about his historical insights? You might also ponder this remarkable statement:

Question: Can we look to Vietnam for any lessons on the withdrawal?

Fred Kagan: Only if we want to lose.


And here is the military historian's thoughts about the value of discussing a basic historical question:

...we are well beyond the point at which the wisdom of invading Iraq is still relevant. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that so many people still put so much effort into this argument, which distracts us from our critical task today.


And here is the military historian's thoughts about the nature of American military training:

Question: As I understand it, you believe our goal is to build a democracy in Iraq. Do you think the US military is trained for this purpose?

Fred Kagan: Actually, the U.S. military is astonishingly able to conduct such a mission.


But even a stopped clock is right every now and then.

Question: What happens if Iraq just dissolves into civil war? Already the Sunnis seem to mostly see the current government as an instrument of Shiite domination. And what point does this become someone else's fight? Our sons and daughters shouldn't die to save Shiite theocracy.

Fred Kagan: If Iraq dissolves into civil war it would be a catastrophe for the U.S. and the West. America and its allies must do everything in their power to prevent that from coming about.


That was in August 2005, remember. Well, heck, Kagan had already said something rather similar in January 2004, though at that time the catastrophic danger came, he said, from just the Sunni insurgency by itself:

Question: There have been mistakes made. What should be done now to make up, to some extent, for the mistakes in the past?

It's an incredibly hard question. We've gone down a very dangerous road. The most urgent thing that we have to do now is suppress the insurgency. If we turn over to an Iraqi government in a few months time a state in which there is significant ongoing insurgency, I think the likelihood of the success of that government is very low.


You have to wonder, therefore, how Kagan can claim that "victory is still an option" when the Iraqi government has been struggling for years with the insurgency...and much else besides; how Kagan can continue to talk about a "way forward" to victory after Iraq has descended not only into an intense civil war but indeed outright anarchy. The likelihood of success for the government remains "very low", apparently, but George Bush should carry on seeking the same goals as he has from the start?

As long as we're wondering about Kagan's intellectual honesty, we might also ponder this:

Question: Could you talk a little bit about how you would adjust U.S. policy at this point--- more troops, fewer troops? What positive steps are necessary to extricate ourselves from the Iraq mess?

Fred Kagan: I think we are really beyond the point, unfortunately, where we can increase the troop presence in Iraq for any period of time.... But if we would only sustain the current troop level now, the situation will gradually improve as more and more trained Iraqi troops become able to walk the streets and perform key missions. I would propose, therefore, holding the U.S. military presence pretty constant until at least the summer of 2007, when we can re-evaluate.


Kagan goes on to admit that the only way to sustain troop levels in Iraq is by expanding the Army. In fact, Kagan complained in January 2005 that Rumsfeld had dithered for years instead of increasing the size of the Army, as the occupation of Iraq required. Of course, that remains true to this day.

So how does this square with Kagan's claim now, in the Keane-Kagan plan (entitled Choosing Victory...I kid you not!), that "Victory is still an option in Iraq"? Because their plan is predicated upon sending about 50,000 more troops to Iraq. That's really all it takes to "choose victory", evidently:

We must send more American combat forces into Iraq and especially into Baghdad to support this operation. A surge of seven Army brigades and Marine regiments to support clear-and-hold operations starting in the Spring of 2007 is necessary, possible, and will be sufficient.

These forces, partnered with Iraqi units, will clear critical Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shi’a neighborhoods, primarily on the west side of the city.

After the neighborhoods have been cleared, U.S. soldiers and marines, again partnered with Iraqis, will remain behind to maintain security.

As security is established, reconstruction aid will help to reestablish normal life and, working through Iraqi officials, will strengthen Iraqi local government.


I'm surprised at the absolute confidence expressed in all those statements involving the verb "will"...particularly given Kagan's many abject failures at prognostication, a few of which I sampled earlier.

In any case, where are those 50,000 troops to be found? Why are we back at the point where it is possible again to "increase the troop presence in Iraq", whereas in August 2005 we were already beyond that point? Here are the plan's "answers":

The ground forces must accept longer tours for several years. National Guard units will have to accept increased deployments during this period.

Equipment shortages must be overcome by transferring equipment from non-deploying active duty, National Guard, and reserve units to those about to deploy. Military industry must be mobilized to provide replacement equipment sets urgently.

The president must request a dramatic increase in reconstruction aid for Iraq. Responsibility and accountability for reconstruction must be assigned to established agencies. The president must insist upon the completion of reconstruction projects. The president should also request a dramatic increase in CERP funds.

The president must request a substantial increase in ground forces end strength. This increase is vital to sustaining the morale of the combat forces by ensuring that relief is on the way. The president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this age.


My guess is that neither Fred Kagan nor his relatives will be volunteering to fight in "the decisive conflict of this age", the one in which there are still severe equipment shortages. In fact, I rather doubt that he'll be doing any of the reconstructing in Iraq either, any more than the corporations paid lavishly and long ago to reconstruct Iraq will be doing that work any time soon.

No, this "plan" is all about encouraging Bush to stick it to the troops that have already borne the brunt for his ill-conceived invasion...you know, the one so many people unfortunately are putting too much effort into discussing. The troops are to be fobbed off with assurances that "relief is on the way".

In short, having sacked Donald Rumsfeld, Bush is now taking advice about "choosing victory" in Iraq from a different dim-witted, arrogant ideologue. That, evidently, is his "new way forward".

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