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.
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?"