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On Kagan, Kagan, and Keane

Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, and retired General Jack Keane, who recently returned from Iraq, published an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

According to the trio (Michael Totten observes the same developments in his COMMENTARY piece “Is the War Over?”),

All of the most important objectives of the surge have been accomplished in Iraq. The sectarian civil war is ended; al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been dealt a devastating blow; and the Sadrist militia and other Iranian-backed militant groups have been disrupted.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has accomplished almost all of the legislative benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. More important, it is gaining wider legitimacy among the population. The attention of Iraqis across the country is focused on the upcoming provincial elections, which will be a pivotal moment in Iraq’s development.

They point out that there have been virtually no sectarian killings recorded for the past 10 weeks. The Sunni insurgency, they write, as well as AQI, has been severely disrupted, and the Shiite militias have been broken apart. But they point out that while none of these networks can conduct operations that could seriously destabilize the Iraqi government, “both al Qaeda and the Iranians are working hard to refit their networks.”

Kagan, Kagan, and Keane also wisely warn that

Now is exactly the time to continue the pressure to keep them from regaining their equilibrium. It need not, and probably will not, require large numbers of American casualties to keep this pressure on. But it will require a considerable number of American troops through 2009… While victory in war is never certain until the war is over, the odds are strongly with us for once – provided we do the right thing. That is to stand by our best ally in the war against al Qaeda, and the struggle to contain Iran.

The Kagans and General Keane have an impressive track record when it comes to Iraq. They recognized early on – in fact, soon after the war began — that the Phase IV plan we had in place was badly flawed and needed to be fundamentally revised. And I can testify from my time in the White House that they were key figures in supporting what became known as the surge.

I recall attending their 2006 briefing on how to secure Baghdad at the American Enterprise Institute and reporting back to senior White House aides on their plan, its key features (which included deploying more troops whose mission was to secure the population), and its obvious wisdom. Those in the White House who supported the surge looked to them for guidance and support. We got that, and more (including NSC and Pentagon briefings), in spades.

Because the surge is now almost universally recognized as a success, and perhaps one of even historic proportions, I suspect the plan will have a thousand fathers. But the reality is that the number of people who supported the surge in the difficult days of 2006, when Iraq was in a death spiral and many people were saying it was irredeemably lost, could just about fit in a large phone booth.

The person who deserves the greatest credit for embracing the surge is the President, who at that time was battered and weakened and close to facing a revolt over Iraq in his own party. There are others — including Senators McCain and Lieberman, Steve Hadley, J.D. Crouch, Peter Feaver, Brett McGurk, and Meghan O’Sullivan at the NSC, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, and a few others – who were key figures in giving birth to the surge and preventing it from being strangled in its policy crib. But Fred Kagan and Jack Keane, joined by William Kristol, were in particular vital voices outside of government, both publicly and in their private counsel. They were right, and all honor is due them.



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