Frederick Kagan: Interviewed about Petraeus's testimony

Historians in the News

Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former professor of military history at the U.S. Military Academy At West Point, is regarded as the chief intellectual architect of the military "surge" in Iraq.

In January 2007, Kagan published a report entitled "Choosing Victory: A Plan For Success In Iraq," which advocated many of the steps later adopted by President George W. Bush. RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher asked Kagan for his assessment of the surge, how it is being implemented by the U.S. military, and what the future holds for Iraq.

RFE/RL: The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has told Congress that the surge is largely meeting its military objectives and that by next summer the U.S. force can return to its pre-surge levels. Do you agree with this forecast? Isn't this a bit shorter than the original 18-month timeline for the surge that you advocated?

Frederick Kagan: The situation on the ground actually has improved more rapidly than I or anyone had anticipated when we laid out our proposal in December 2006, because we did not foresee the changes in [the western Al-]Anbar [Governorate] moving as rapidly as they did. And we did not see them spreading as rapidly and completely as they have into Baghdad, Diyala, Salah Al-Din, and Babil [governorates].

And so we've found ourselves in the slightly weird position of doing better than expected from a security standpoint. And now we're playing not just for the aim of securing Baghdad and Anbar but actually for securing all of central Iraq. And it's a much more ambitious goal. But I think that we actually are on track to accomplish it right now.

That having been said, I would prefer to err on the side of delaying the drawdown, or at least delaying the announcement of the drawdown. And I would have been slower than General Petraeus to make it clear what his expectations are along those lines, because it is a war, the enemy has a vote and situations can change.

But he and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker have both emphasized that the withdrawal has to be based on conditions on the ground and the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. And I think that's going to have to be the key at the end of the day, whatever everyone's expectations might be.

RFE/RL: Did anything come up during General Petraeus's testimony that surprised you?
Kagan: I'm a little bit surprised by the complete unwillingness of some members of Congress to recognize changing facts on the ground and their insistence on painting Iraq as they -- for reasons that escape me -- would like it to be, that is to say as a hopeless failure, without recognizing very obvious differences that have occurred, which you can tell if you have been visiting the country regularly, as some of them have, and as I have. So I've been a little bit surprised at the degree to which this discussion does not seem to be based enough on what the reality actually is in Iraq. ...
Read entire article at Radio Free Europe

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