Monday, July 30, 2007

Kombat Kagan

Fred Kagan wants you to have faith in the Iraq "surge" strategy. You might expect that he would. Kagan is, after all, the strategy's chief architect. A darling of the neoconservative elite, Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and was associated with the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which his brother Robert co-founded with Weekly Standard editor and Fox News pundit Bill Kristol.

Amid talk that the so-called surge has failed, Kagan went before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in late June to defend the strategy. Kagan's prepared remarks not only make one cringe at the knowledge that the Great Decider not only listens to his advice, he follows it.

Plucking Bulls

Early in his speech to the Committee, Kagan said, "It is now beyond question that the Bush Administration pursued a flawed approach to the war in Iraq from 2003 to 2007." That was pretty much the only accurate statement he made during the course of his presentation.

The old approach failed, according to Kagan, because it "relied on keeping the American troop presence in Iraq as small as possible, pushing unprepared Iraqi Security Forces into the lead too rapidly, and using political progress as the principal means of bringing the violence under control." He also stated, "For all of these reasons, the president changed his strategy profoundly in January 2007, and appointed a new commander in General Petraeus and a new Ambassador in Ryan Crocker to oversee the new approach."

What a sack of pro-war poppycock!

We can't say for certain whether our woes in Iraq came about because of inadequate troop presence. Keep in mind that at one point we had a half million troops deployed to Vietnam, and a fat lot of good that did us. But we can be darn sure that a major factor in our multi-faceted failures in Iraq was the total lack of planning for the post- major hostilities phase. Now retired Brigadier General Mark E. Scheid told the Newport News Daily Press in September 2006 that during the run up to the Iraq invasion, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said "he would fire the next person" who talked about the need for a postwar plan. All the king's horses and men couldn't have kept Iraq from falling apart without a plan. That wasn't Saddam Hussein's statue you saw taking a great fall into the main square in Baghdad. It was Humpty Dumpty.

When exactly did Iraqi Security Forces take the lead in a security operation? We're lucky if we even can get them to show up in the numbers they promised to provide. At what point were we pushing them to "stand up" too rapidly? Was it during the first year of the occupation? They second year? The third year? The fourth? And why, after four years, are they still unprepared? Could that have something to do with the fact that one of the officers in charge of training them was none other than the boy genius currently in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq, David Petraeus?

Of political solutions, Kagan told the Committee "Political progress is something that follows the establishment of security, not something that causes it." Anyone familiar with political philosophy is aware of Thomas Hobbes and his almost universally accepted assertion that order can only be achieved by a social compact that recognizes the authority of a sovereign political entity. Lack of violence doesn't produce stable political institutions. It's the other way around. In the case of Iraq, the insurgent groups at war with each other are controlled by the very members of Parliament who can't arrive at a political solution, and as long as the politicians can't agree on anything, the insurgents will keep fighting.

And nobody in his right mind or otherwise believes that Bush changed his strategy and commanders for the reasons Kagan gave. Bush canned his old strategy and commanders because the people of the United States voted his party out of power.

In arguing that it is too soon to give up on the surge strategy, Kagan said that "great commanders in history" have understood "that it is best to delay decisions until the last possible moment to ensure that they are made on the basis of the most recent and accurate understanding of the situation, rather than on preconceptions formed in different circumstances."

It's difficult to believe that Kagan actually taught military history at West Point for ten years. Great commanders in history have understood the deadly evils of both hasty decisions and procrastination. As George S. Patton famously said, "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." History's biggest losers have been political and military leaders who fell victim to "victory disease" when they persisted in pursuing an inferior course of action until the "most recent and accurate understanding of the situation" proved it to be and abject failure. Think of Lee at Gettysburg. Think of Hitler's invasion of Russia. Think about George W. Bush's three years of "stand-up, stand-down."

When he proposed the escalation strategy in January 2007, Kagan claimed that all other competing plans would fail, including the ones suggested by the Iraq Study Group. In his presentation to the House Committee of Foreign Affairs, Kagan said that his strategy might fail too, but that it is too early to judge it or project probable results. It would be "a very grave error indeed to rush now to abandon the first strategy that offers some real prospect for success."

One is hard pressed to find anyone other than the administration and its cheerleading team who thinks Kagan's strategy has shown "some real prospect for success." Attacks in Iraq during June 2007 reached the highest daily average seen since the end of "major hostilities" in May 2003. According to Petraeus's latest latest projections, "sustainable security" won't be established in Iraq until summer of 2009, and the 2009 target date may be overly optimistic. Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace recently suggested that we may want to increase troop levels in Iraq even further. That would be in keeping with that fine military tradition that says if we can't prove that what we're doing is working, we should try doing more of it.

Which brings us back to Fred Kagan. How much longer should we give his "Plan for Victory" a chance to prove it won't fail? How long do we wait until it's "beyond question" that we once again "pursued a flawed approach?"


  1. Anonymous9:15 PM

    Kagan, and others who brought us this war, will always suggest that victory is right around the corner but the corner will always be reached tomorrow. His is a recipe for endless involvement in Iraq.

    Sadly, it is not just Kagan that Bush listens to but all the folks at the AEI (Americans Enamored of Israel). Just hope that Bush no longer has dinner with AEI's Pearle and Podhoretz. If so, we'll be looking for victory in Iran soon.

  2. Realist6:12 AM

    The "loose at any cost proponents" in this war make their arguments while ignoring the facts on the ground. They seem to have no interest in the character of this war or how the war has changed (and why) over the past few years. (see Pollack and O'Hanlon's NYT OpEd 30 July "A War We Just Might Win") Ironically this places the "loose at any cost proponents" in the same intellectual position as the "neocons" they so distain, who wishfully downplayed what was happening in the summer of 2003. Finally, explaining away policy by making Zionist conspiracy rants places one in very infamous company and adds nothing to thinking about our nations security policy.

  3. Ohanlon and everyone else is part of a "prepare the battle space" plan for Petraeus report in September. Kagan knew what the report was going to say in January because he wrote it.

    The real objective-hand off the war to the next President. Because all of this "steady state" presence requirement ignores the fact that the insurgency is steady state. They can dial it up or dial it down. Whereas the US will still be not doing what it needs to take care of its own interests because of the drain of Iraq.

    We will be keeping Malakin from killing all the Sunnis though-which is the only thing he really cares about.

  4. Anonymous1:27 PM

    This is in response ro "realist's" post. What I have pasted below is from a letter by an enlisted medical type on the ground in Iraq.

    > You may wonder what this has to do with the price of tea in China... we
    > are the face of America in training the Iraqi's to control their country.
    > I am the face that is now the most highly medically educated person in
    > town and am now serving as the Battalion Surgeon for the division. The
    > Iraqi Army doctor is a Biology Major with a minor in bad English, who was
    > voluntold to be the doctor. He has no idea what he's doing, he doesn't
    > like it and he's giving Atropine injectors for Headaches. (Atropine is an
    > anti - nerve agent medication used in battle if you are a victim of an
    > Chemical attack) It has absolutely no analgesic affects to say the least.
    > So, I have to take him under my wing as well and get him a little more up
    > to speed as well as the medics. Most of these guys know rudimentary things
    > and have very few supplies.
    > We are doing combat patrols with the Iraqi Army. They have apparently
    > stopped running from the fight once they saw that they Americans didn't
    > turn and burn for the nearest safe house once the crap hit the fan.
    > Subsequently they have developed the "Iraqi Death Blossom", which is
    > pretty famous around here. Let's just say it involves a couple of Iraqi
    > Army soldiers coming together in a small circle facing outwards and doing
    > a 360 emptying out their AK-47's. If you didn't drop to the ground seeing
    > them coming together to form the blossom, you probably unfortunately won't
    > see them break away from it either. The fortunate thing for me is that,
    > with all of this gear and the 140 degree heat inside all of that flak and
    > Kevlar... I'm losing what weight I wanted to lose, and then some, which
    > makes me a smaller target.
    > There are 2 snipers out here who have been pretty inactive for awhile.
    > Apparently they are brothers and we are expecting them to start taking
    > their pop shots again pretty soon. Last victim, a marine, got it right
    > dead center on the forehead. He died 2 hours later. We have had 2 IED's go
    > off nearby within the last few days. We are doing door to doors, patrols,
    > weapons cache hunts and finds, as well as civic goodies like hading out
    > school supplies, toys and clothes to the kids. I'm seeing patients in
    > town, and unfortunately many here on base that are mostly Iraqi Army. We
    > have other things lined up, but can't talk about as I'm sure you will
    > understand OPSEC.
    > The corruption in the Iraqi Army and the bad cops in the Iraqi Police do
    > not make things easy here. Soldiers are not getting paid, but somehow this
    > officer is able to buy a new car or something. There is no oversight and
    > as such, you don't know where half of the money is going to do what it is
    > supposed to do. The insurgents who were fighting against us before, they
    > now wear Iraqi Police (similar) uniforms and do neighborhood patrols, but
    > once they figure out that their Mullah or Sheik can't pay them anymore, or
    > whatever, they are probably going to go back to being insurgents, as we
    > are expecting them to in a few months, and then we feel that the crap is
    > going to hit the fan again and start to get pretty chaotic around here. If
    > that happens, I'll be watching out daily for that death blossom. We had a
    > 73 year old woman shot in the head and a 68 year old man shot in the
    > neck/shoulder area brought to our doorstep here a little while ago.
    > Apparently the sons were fighting about these
    > non-official-police patrols and why the one brother was doing patrols in
    > another neighborhood and not in his own... he ended up shooting his
    > parents when they tried to break up the fight. Mom died, dad lived and now
    > this son's ass is out for collection so to speak.

    From MeMyselfEye

  5. Anonymous11:14 AM

    David, not Mark Petreaus.

  6. I enjoyed reading the executive summary to wit:

    "The President must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this generation."

  7. Jeff, actually, due to tooth-to-tail issues with the U.S. military during the Vietnam era, we actually have more combat troops per capita in Iraq right now (or 2 years ago from now) than we ever had in Vietnam. The "half a million" figure for Vietnam includes all the potato peelers, truck drivers, etc. that have been outsourced to Halliburton in this war, as well as that half-a-million including the staffing for maintenance depots, Air Force bases, etc. in Vietnam that we maintain in Kuwait and other regional states rather than inside Iraq.

    So lack of combat manpower was an issue in Vietnam as well as Iraq. In neither conflict did we ever put enough boots on the ground to actually take and hold ground. Our guys would go in, clean out the baddies, and leave. A few months later, it was scrub-a-dub-dub all over again.

    Of course, there was one advantage we had in Vietnam that we don't have in Iraq, and that's support from a somewhat capable government. Thieu at least controlled Saigon and had infantry in the field that, while somewhat dubious in capability, at least was not directly controlled by people opposed to our interests like many of the units in the Iraqi "army". Any notion that Maliki's government controls Baghdad would be laughed out of the funny pages. Iraq is not "like" Vietnam. It's worse. GI's could go shopping in the markets of Saigon (both for goods and, err, the oldest occupation) during most of the Vietnam War (the only notable exception being a few days during the Tet Offensive). That is *not* true of Baghdad... you go locked'n'loaded anytime you leave base, and you *will* find action, period.

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