Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fred Kagan

Whither Defense Spending?

The Washington Post‘s symposium on defense spending is revealing. The argument for maintaining and, indeed, increasing defense spending is aptly set forth by Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan:

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. A growing number of Islamist groups are seeking recognition from al-Qaeda and declaring their intentions of attacking the United States and its allies. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict, and many others.

The neo-isolationist position is presented by Ron Paul, who argues, in essence, that we can cut spending without harming our defense as long as we adopt the outlook of “Fortress America”:

We must realize that cutting military spending is not the same as cutting defense, nor will it harm our ability to protect the United States. The problem with military spending is philosophical. Who determined that the United States should maintain a worldwide empire, with troops stationed in some 700 bases over more than 100 countries across the globe?

For starters, it’s bunk that we are maintaining an “empire” — we are not occupiers or puppeteers of other nations. And the answer is that a bipartisan coalition of responsible liberals and conservatives has determined that in a post-9/11 world, there is no safety in the myth of Fortress America. The administration has accepted this premise. And so it must, to be intellectually consistent and to fulfill our role as that “indispensable” defender of the West, fund a defense that is commensurate with the threats we face.

Paul’s statement is nevertheless useful: how can the administration, which rejects neo-isolationism, argue cogently for less defense spending. In short, it can’t.

The Washington Post‘s symposium on defense spending is revealing. The argument for maintaining and, indeed, increasing defense spending is aptly set forth by Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan:

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. A growing number of Islamist groups are seeking recognition from al-Qaeda and declaring their intentions of attacking the United States and its allies. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict, and many others.

The neo-isolationist position is presented by Ron Paul, who argues, in essence, that we can cut spending without harming our defense as long as we adopt the outlook of “Fortress America”:

We must realize that cutting military spending is not the same as cutting defense, nor will it harm our ability to protect the United States. The problem with military spending is philosophical. Who determined that the United States should maintain a worldwide empire, with troops stationed in some 700 bases over more than 100 countries across the globe?

For starters, it’s bunk that we are maintaining an “empire” — we are not occupiers or puppeteers of other nations. And the answer is that a bipartisan coalition of responsible liberals and conservatives has determined that in a post-9/11 world, there is no safety in the myth of Fortress America. The administration has accepted this premise. And so it must, to be intellectually consistent and to fulfill our role as that “indispensable” defender of the West, fund a defense that is commensurate with the threats we face.

Paul’s statement is nevertheless useful: how can the administration, which rejects neo-isolationism, argue cogently for less defense spending. In short, it can’t.

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Deadlines

Obama from last night on Iraq:

Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

And on Afghanistan:

But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s. [emphasis added]

Obama, as many of us discussed at the time, did great damage to his own Afghanistan war strategy — which properly centered on an infusion of 30,000 troops — by imposing a deadline. His secretaries of state and defense have struggled mightily to blur it and redefine it. But it still stands and is, as the outgoing commandant of the Marines, John McCain, and many others have argued, a hindrance to our mission.

Less widely discussed (and kudos to the New York Post editors for picking this up) was the statement on Iraq. A number of distinguished supporters of the war, including former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have cautioned that should the Iraqis request an extension of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we should respond positively. Paul Wolfowitz, likewise, advised:

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

And earlier this year, Fred and Kim Kagan warned:

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

But Obama is, at least for now, saying, in effect “We are out of here.” What if the situation deteriorates? What if conditions on the ground worsen? His statement hints at no wiggle room.

Deadlines, especially in wars against ideologically minded foes, are nearly always a bad idea. It is why George W. Bush, who understood well the nature of the war against jihadists, took such a firm stance against them. He was right, as are Crocker, Wolfowitz, and the Kagans: we should, in fact, be leaving the door open to the the extension of our military presence.

Presidential statements carry immense weight and we should be candid about what is said and why it is problematic. Those who root for success in Iraq owe the president the benefit of their counsel on the danger of deadlines.

Obama from last night on Iraq:

Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

And on Afghanistan:

But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s. [emphasis added]

Obama, as many of us discussed at the time, did great damage to his own Afghanistan war strategy — which properly centered on an infusion of 30,000 troops — by imposing a deadline. His secretaries of state and defense have struggled mightily to blur it and redefine it. But it still stands and is, as the outgoing commandant of the Marines, John McCain, and many others have argued, a hindrance to our mission.

Less widely discussed (and kudos to the New York Post editors for picking this up) was the statement on Iraq. A number of distinguished supporters of the war, including former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have cautioned that should the Iraqis request an extension of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we should respond positively. Paul Wolfowitz, likewise, advised:

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

And earlier this year, Fred and Kim Kagan warned:

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

But Obama is, at least for now, saying, in effect “We are out of here.” What if the situation deteriorates? What if conditions on the ground worsen? His statement hints at no wiggle room.

Deadlines, especially in wars against ideologically minded foes, are nearly always a bad idea. It is why George W. Bush, who understood well the nature of the war against jihadists, took such a firm stance against them. He was right, as are Crocker, Wolfowitz, and the Kagans: we should, in fact, be leaving the door open to the the extension of our military presence.

Presidential statements carry immense weight and we should be candid about what is said and why it is problematic. Those who root for success in Iraq owe the president the benefit of their counsel on the danger of deadlines.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A new group, Keep Israel Safe, has an ad pummeling Obama for having no plan to thwart a nuclear-armed Iran.

Christians for a Nuclear-Free Iran sends a letter to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi urging them to move on the Iran-sanctions bill: “Almost five months have passed. The situation with Iran has only become more alarming. Congress has not moved. The whole world is waiting for leadership on Iran. Will it come only after it is too late?” You get the feeling that mainstream Jewish groups risk becoming irrelevant if they don’t turn up the heat on the Obami?

Meanwhile, the State Department says we are “concerned” about Syrian missiles. Soon we may be “deeply troubled.”

Fred and Kim Kagan warn: “Concerns over delays in the formation of a new Iraqi government and the prospects for meeting President Obama’s announced timeline for withdrawal are clouding views of a more urgent matter: The United States might be about to lose an opportunity for success in Iraq by tolerating a highly sectarian, politicized move to overturn Iraq’s election results. Washington must act swiftly to defend the integrity of the electoral process and support Iraqi leaders’ tentative efforts to rein in the “de-Baathification” commission that threatens to undermine the entire democratic process.”

Floyd Abrams, former ACLU head Ira Glasser, and former ACLU counsel Joel Gora lambast the ACLU for reversing its decades-old policy opposing First Amendment restrictions in the name of campaign-finance reform: “Experience has shown that the kinds of campaign finance limits the ACLU now endorses have entrenched the powers-that-be even further. Thus the ACLU is prescribing a lot of First Amendment pain for no real democratic gain. And in the process of changing its policy, the principal defender of free-speech rights will abandon that field to others. In essence, the rhetoric of egalitarianism has won a victory over freedom of speech: The new restrictions the ACLU supports will never bring about the equality it claims is its goal. This is a self-inflicted wound from which the ACLU will not soon recover.” We can only hope they are right.

A poll has Dan Coats with a double-digit lead in the Indiana GOP primary race.

Both son and father Reid are in big trouble in Nevada. Could the name be toxic?

Blanche Lincoln has stiff competition in her primary.

From the gang that wouldn’t put health-care negotiations on TV: “A handful of lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee hope to compel the Supreme Court to begin televising its proceedings.”

A new group, Keep Israel Safe, has an ad pummeling Obama for having no plan to thwart a nuclear-armed Iran.

Christians for a Nuclear-Free Iran sends a letter to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi urging them to move on the Iran-sanctions bill: “Almost five months have passed. The situation with Iran has only become more alarming. Congress has not moved. The whole world is waiting for leadership on Iran. Will it come only after it is too late?” You get the feeling that mainstream Jewish groups risk becoming irrelevant if they don’t turn up the heat on the Obami?

Meanwhile, the State Department says we are “concerned” about Syrian missiles. Soon we may be “deeply troubled.”

Fred and Kim Kagan warn: “Concerns over delays in the formation of a new Iraqi government and the prospects for meeting President Obama’s announced timeline for withdrawal are clouding views of a more urgent matter: The United States might be about to lose an opportunity for success in Iraq by tolerating a highly sectarian, politicized move to overturn Iraq’s election results. Washington must act swiftly to defend the integrity of the electoral process and support Iraqi leaders’ tentative efforts to rein in the “de-Baathification” commission that threatens to undermine the entire democratic process.”

Floyd Abrams, former ACLU head Ira Glasser, and former ACLU counsel Joel Gora lambast the ACLU for reversing its decades-old policy opposing First Amendment restrictions in the name of campaign-finance reform: “Experience has shown that the kinds of campaign finance limits the ACLU now endorses have entrenched the powers-that-be even further. Thus the ACLU is prescribing a lot of First Amendment pain for no real democratic gain. And in the process of changing its policy, the principal defender of free-speech rights will abandon that field to others. In essence, the rhetoric of egalitarianism has won a victory over freedom of speech: The new restrictions the ACLU supports will never bring about the equality it claims is its goal. This is a self-inflicted wound from which the ACLU will not soon recover.” We can only hope they are right.

A poll has Dan Coats with a double-digit lead in the Indiana GOP primary race.

Both son and father Reid are in big trouble in Nevada. Could the name be toxic?

Blanche Lincoln has stiff competition in her primary.

From the gang that wouldn’t put health-care negotiations on TV: “A handful of lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee hope to compel the Supreme Court to begin televising its proceedings.”

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Re: Re: Iran Strike, Out

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

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The Need for Getting Good at Nation Building

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

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Re: Getting to “Yes”

Fred and Kim Kagan write, “When McChrystal took command of the Afghan war in June, the White House made it clear that he was expected to make dramatic progress within a year — by the summer of 2010.” But the White House has dropped the ball:

The White House has not done its part to allow General McChrystal to meet its own deadline. It was slow to receive and act on the assessment he sent, and it deliberately refused even to review his force recommendations for weeks after they were complete. In the intervening months the White House has held a series of seminars on Afghanistan and the region that should have been conducted before the new strategy was announced in March.

They then list a series of critical steps — from expanding Afghan National Security Forces to supporting ongoing operations in Helmand — which could have already been underway if not for the excruciatingly extended debate taking place in the White House. While we have been dithering, “the enemy has not been idle,” they explain:

Taliban forces throughout the south have been preparing themselves to meet an expected American counter-offensive. They have refined their propaganda messaging both within Afghanistan and toward the U.S. They have also taken advantage of the flawed presidential elections to expound their own political vision for the country and start actively competing with the government for legitimacy.

After delaying and equivocating, the president must, soon we are promised yet again, announce the policy, quiet the critics, regain the confidence of our allies and the Afghanistan government, and impress on the enemy that we really do mean business. This is not impossible, but he and his advisers — egged on by the ever-on-the-wrong-side Joe Biden — have made it much harder. Next time, perhaps they’ll keep Biden and the political consultants away from serious issues of national security.

Fred and Kim Kagan write, “When McChrystal took command of the Afghan war in June, the White House made it clear that he was expected to make dramatic progress within a year — by the summer of 2010.” But the White House has dropped the ball:

The White House has not done its part to allow General McChrystal to meet its own deadline. It was slow to receive and act on the assessment he sent, and it deliberately refused even to review his force recommendations for weeks after they were complete. In the intervening months the White House has held a series of seminars on Afghanistan and the region that should have been conducted before the new strategy was announced in March.

They then list a series of critical steps — from expanding Afghan National Security Forces to supporting ongoing operations in Helmand — which could have already been underway if not for the excruciatingly extended debate taking place in the White House. While we have been dithering, “the enemy has not been idle,” they explain:

Taliban forces throughout the south have been preparing themselves to meet an expected American counter-offensive. They have refined their propaganda messaging both within Afghanistan and toward the U.S. They have also taken advantage of the flawed presidential elections to expound their own political vision for the country and start actively competing with the government for legitimacy.

After delaying and equivocating, the president must, soon we are promised yet again, announce the policy, quiet the critics, regain the confidence of our allies and the Afghanistan government, and impress on the enemy that we really do mean business. This is not impossible, but he and his advisers — egged on by the ever-on-the-wrong-side Joe Biden — have made it much harder. Next time, perhaps they’ll keep Biden and the political consultants away from serious issues of national security.

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The Artificial Neocon

I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.

Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.

For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.

Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:

While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.

By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.

Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”

How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.

I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.

Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.

For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.

Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:

While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.

By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.

Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”

How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.

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What McCain Gaffe?

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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I . . . Agree with Michael Scheuer

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980′s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980′s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

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More in Afghanistan

Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.

Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.

Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.

That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.

Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.

Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.

Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.

That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Mitt Romney, A-Plus Student

My word. Mitt Romney not only mentioned meeting with Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the surge and a COMMENTARY contributor, but even brought in the name of radical Islamic theorist Sayyid Qutb. So one can believe him when he told Mike Huckabee he actually read Huckabee’s article about foreign policy in Foreign Affairs, about which Huckabee expressed skepticism on the debate stage. Perhaps that’s because since Huckabee surely didn’t write it, he couldn’t imagine any of the other candidates might actually have read it.

My word. Mitt Romney not only mentioned meeting with Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the surge and a COMMENTARY contributor, but even brought in the name of radical Islamic theorist Sayyid Qutb. So one can believe him when he told Mike Huckabee he actually read Huckabee’s article about foreign policy in Foreign Affairs, about which Huckabee expressed skepticism on the debate stage. Perhaps that’s because since Huckabee surely didn’t write it, he couldn’t imagine any of the other candidates might actually have read it.

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Petraeus the Communicator

There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)

That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.
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There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)

That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.

So, when the surge started making progress this summer, the American public didn’t have to rely on what the White House said to figure out what was going on. There were a larger number of independent observers who have traveled the battlefield extensively to provide an unbiased picture of what’s gone right, as well as what’s still going wrong.

Whatever the final outcome, officers in the future would be well advised to study Petraeus’s approach as a textbook example of 21st century “information operations.”

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A Kagan Primer

Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, has become one of the most prolific and influential voices when it comes to Iraq policy. Just keeping up with his writings can be a full-time job—but a rewarding one. What he has to say is always worth paying attention to. He has a number of new articles that are “must reads” for those following the debate over the war and the surge.

• This cover article in the Weekly Standard explaining what al Qaeda in Iraq is all about, focusing on its relationship to “al Qaeda central” and why U.S. troops have been having so much success fighting it lately.

• This essay explaining the shortcomings of the GAO report on Iraq.

• This article explaining why the Jones commission report on the state of the Iraqi security forces has been widely misinterpreted by the news media.

• This long, compelling report outlining why the most detailed troop drawdown proposal put forward by critics of the administration—a study from the Center for a New American Security proposing a rapid reduction to 60,000 troops—won’t work.

Read ‘em all.

Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, has become one of the most prolific and influential voices when it comes to Iraq policy. Just keeping up with his writings can be a full-time job—but a rewarding one. What he has to say is always worth paying attention to. He has a number of new articles that are “must reads” for those following the debate over the war and the surge.

• This cover article in the Weekly Standard explaining what al Qaeda in Iraq is all about, focusing on its relationship to “al Qaeda central” and why U.S. troops have been having so much success fighting it lately.

• This essay explaining the shortcomings of the GAO report on Iraq.

• This article explaining why the Jones commission report on the state of the Iraqi security forces has been widely misinterpreted by the news media.

• This long, compelling report outlining why the most detailed troop drawdown proposal put forward by critics of the administration—a study from the Center for a New American Security proposing a rapid reduction to 60,000 troops—won’t work.

Read ‘em all.

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The Military’s Media Problem

I’ve been traveling around Iraq for more than a week, spending time with U.S. forces. One constant is complaints about the news media. “Why doesn’t the press show the good we’re doing?,” soldiers ask. They wonder why the coverage seems so slanted.

Part of the answer is that the soldiers’ tactical successes may not be adding up to strategic success. Another part of the answer is undoubtedly the bias of the press—not only against the war but also in favor of negative news. But another important factor is the ham-handed reticence with which the military makes its own case.

The conventional military mindset sees the media as a potential enemy to be shunned at all costs. Officers who get quoted too much are derided behind their backs as “glory-seekers” or “self-promoters.” The focus is always supposed to be on the team, not the individual, and there is a general assumption that good deeds will speak for themselves. General George Casey, the former U.S. commander in Iraq (now about to become Army chief of staff), exemplified this point of view. He seldom spoke to the media and tightly limited who could speak on behalf of his command.

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I’ve been traveling around Iraq for more than a week, spending time with U.S. forces. One constant is complaints about the news media. “Why doesn’t the press show the good we’re doing?,” soldiers ask. They wonder why the coverage seems so slanted.

Part of the answer is that the soldiers’ tactical successes may not be adding up to strategic success. Another part of the answer is undoubtedly the bias of the press—not only against the war but also in favor of negative news. But another important factor is the ham-handed reticence with which the military makes its own case.

The conventional military mindset sees the media as a potential enemy to be shunned at all costs. Officers who get quoted too much are derided behind their backs as “glory-seekers” or “self-promoters.” The focus is always supposed to be on the team, not the individual, and there is a general assumption that good deeds will speak for themselves. General George Casey, the former U.S. commander in Iraq (now about to become Army chief of staff), exemplified this point of view. He seldom spoke to the media and tightly limited who could speak on behalf of his command.

The result of such caution is to cede the “information battlespace” to critics of the war and even to outright enemies such as Osama bin Laden and Moqtada al Sadr, who have shrewdly manipulated press coverage. General David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, wants to engage more actively in what are known as “information operations,” and he’s off to a good start. He is, for instance, taking reporters with him on tours of the battlefield. On Saturday he had a correspondent from the San Antonio newspaper along when he traveled to Baqubah. (I also accompanied him, as did Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute.) But to be successful, Petraeus will have to get more officers to follow his example.

Some officers I met with earlier this week at Task Force Justice in the Khadimiya neighborhood of northwest Baghdad offered useful suggestions for what should be done: (1) require all battalions to set up a secure, comfortable room where reporters can stay and file stories; (2) contact media organizations to invite them to send embeds; (3) distribute lists of media contacts down to battalion and even company level and encourage officers to contact the press directly, bypassing the ponderous public-affairs bureaucracy; (4) grade battalion, brigade, and division commanders on how well they engage the press.

To this I would add one other idea: troops on the ground who see inaccurate reports about their operations should contact the media outlets in question and demand corrections—or take other steps to publicize the facts as they know them. In short: stop griping about the press in private and start doing something about it in public. That’s just what some military bloggers are already doing, but their activities are often frowned upon.

What the armed forces have to realize is that in today’s world engaging in information ops can no longer be a peripheral part of a military campaign. In a sense, the kinetic operations have come to be peripheral to the core struggle for hearts and minds in Iraq—and back home. If the armed forces don’t do a better job of waging this part of the struggle, they can lose the war, no matter what happens on the battlefield.

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