Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kim 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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.”

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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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Iran’s Long Arm

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over what role Iran plays in Iraq, military historian Kim Kagan, founder of the Institute for the Study of War, has performed a valuable public service by compiling methodically what is known publicly about Iranian activities.

Kagan notes that, among other things, the Iranian government began plotting to undermine coalition forces in 2002—before the U.S. and its allies even entered Iraq. That effort has expanded so much over the years since then—now encompassing aid not only to Shiite but also to Sunni militants—that, according to Kagan:

Coalition sources report that by August 2007, Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the New York Post ran an enlightening interview, conducted by Ralph Peters, with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. Odierno has a lot of interesting things to say, but this point jumped out at me: “There are some signs that Syria’s doing a bit more to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but their efforts are off and on. The airport in Damascus remains a major conduit for terrorists. The Syrians clearly still believe that instability in Iraq is to their benefit.”

So much for the contention of some critics that those of us who express alarm about the role of Iran and Syria are, well, alarmists. In this case, our concern appears well-justified.

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over what role Iran plays in Iraq, military historian Kim Kagan, founder of the Institute for the Study of War, has performed a valuable public service by compiling methodically what is known publicly about Iranian activities.

Kagan notes that, among other things, the Iranian government began plotting to undermine coalition forces in 2002—before the U.S. and its allies even entered Iraq. That effort has expanded so much over the years since then—now encompassing aid not only to Shiite but also to Sunni militants—that, according to Kagan:

Coalition sources report that by August 2007, Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the New York Post ran an enlightening interview, conducted by Ralph Peters, with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. Odierno has a lot of interesting things to say, but this point jumped out at me: “There are some signs that Syria’s doing a bit more to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but their efforts are off and on. The airport in Damascus remains a major conduit for terrorists. The Syrians clearly still believe that instability in Iraq is to their benefit.”

So much for the contention of some critics that those of us who express alarm about the role of Iran and Syria are, well, alarmists. In this case, our concern appears well-justified.

Read Less




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