Why would any rational person listen to Robert Kagan?

Robert Kagan has spewed one false assertion after the next about Iraq, for years, and yet The Washington Post continues to treat him like some foreign policy sage.


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Glenn Greenwald
March 11, 2007 8:02PM (UTC)

(updated below)

Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan -- whose brother, Frederick, is the architect of the President's "surge" plan -- has a column in the Post this morning predictably assuring us that the surge is a great success. The headline is "The 'Surge' is Succeeding," and you already know what it says without reading it. The Evil Media has claimed the war is lost. But now it is clear that they are wrong. We sent more troops, the Great Gen. Petraeus has arrived, stores have re-opened, and Pajama Media bloggers Mohammed and Omar say things are getting better. Thus, Kagan says, there "is a new chapter in the story."

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No rational person would believe a word Robert Kagan says about anything. He has been spewing out one falsehood after the next for the last four years in order to blind Americans about the real state of affairs concerning the invasion which he and his comrade and writing partner, Bill Kristol, did as much as anyone else to sell to the American public.

In April, 2003, Kagan declared the war over and said we won. Since then, he has continuously claimed that things were getting better in Iraq. He is completely liberated from any obligation to tell the truth and is a highly destructive propagandist whose public record of commentary about Iraq ought to disqualify him from decent company, let alone some sort of pretense to expertise about this war.

As always with people like Robert Kagan, one can only excerpt a tiny fraction of their mendacity over the years short of writing a book about it. But here is a small, representative sampling:

Robert Kagan & William Kristol, The Weekly Standard, March 22, 2004:

A YEAR HAS PASSED since the invasion of Iraq, and while no sensible person would claim that Iraqis are safely and irrevocably on a course to liberal democracy, the honest and rather remarkable truth is that they have made enormous strides in that direction.

The signing on March 8 of the Iraqi interim constitution--containing the strongest guarantees of individual, minority, and women's rights and liberties to be found anywhere in the Arab world--is the most obvious success. But there are other measures of progress, as well.

Electricity and oil production in Iraq have returned to prewar levels. The capture of Saddam Hussein has damaged the Baathist-led insurgency, although jihadists continue to launch horrific attacks on Iraqi civilians. But by most accounts those vicious attacks have spurred more Iraqis to get more involved in building a better Iraq. We may have turned a corner in terms of security.

What's more, there are hopeful signs that Iraqis of differing religious, ethnic, and political persuasions can work together. This is a far cry from the predictions made before the war by many, both here and in Europe, that a liberated Iraq would fracture into feuding clans and unleash a bloodbath. The perpetually sour American media focus on the tensions between Shiites and Kurds that delayed the signing by three whole days. But the difficult negotiations leading up to the signing, and the continuing debates over the terms of a final constitution, have in fact demonstrated something remarkable in Iraq: a willingness on the part of the diverse ethnic and religious groups to disagree--peacefully--and then to compromise. . . .

Fortunately, President Bush moved to squelch all talk of an exit strategy, and the number of American troops in Iraq has actually risen slightly. This has not only increased security but, just as importantly, has sent a powerful signal of U.S. determination to remain in Iraq as long as needed. . . .

But the mere fact that the White House has not sought an early exit timed to our presidential election has made it possible to recover from these mistakes--many of which, to be fair, are unavoidable in a complex undertaking like nation-building. Also to its credit, the administration has shown enough flexibility to abandon favored plans when they have proved unworkable. . . .Real and important progress has been made in this momentous, and at times trying, year. There should be no debating the need to persevere.


Kagan & Kristol, February, 2004 -- The Weekly Standard -- proclaiming that we already won the war in Iraq and cataloging all the great benefits we are reaping from our Triumph:

It is also becoming clear that the battle of Iraq has been an important victory in the broader war in which we are engaged, a war against terror, against weapons proliferation, and for a new Middle East. Already, other terror-implicated regimes in the region that were developing weapons of mass destruction are feeling pressure, and some are beginning to move in the right direction.

Libya has given up its weapons of mass destruction program. Iran has at least gestured toward opening its nuclear program to inspection. The clandestine international network organized by Pakistan's A.Q. Khan that has been so central to nuclear proliferation to rogue states has been exposed. From Iran to Saudi Arabia, liberal forces seem to have been encouraged. We are paying a real price in blood and treasure in Iraq. But we believe that it is already clear--as clear as such things get in the real world--that the price of the liberation of Iraq has been worth it.


Robert Kagan, The Washington Post, June 3, 2003 -- assuring us that there are WMDs in Iraq and we just haven't found them yet:

As Blix reported to the UN Security Council, "in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must assume that these quantities are now unaccounted for."

Today they are unaccounted for. But the answer to the continuing conundrum is not that Bush and Blair are lying. The weapons were there. Someday we'll find them or we'll find out what happened to them. Unless, of course, you like your conspiracies to be as broad and all-pervasive as possible.

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Robert Kagan, The Washington Post, April 13, 2003 -- headline: "Avoiding Temptation After Winning the War" -- declaring the war in Iraq over and the U.S. victorious:

Can the Bush administration follow its brilliant military campaign in Iraq with a smart political and diplomatic campaign after the war? It can if it avoids some dangerous temptations. . . .

There is a strong impulse in the administration right now to punish erstwhile allies in Europe who opposed the war. A certain righteous triumphalism in Washington is to be expected, and payback is a normal human desire. . . .

The United States can win hearts and minds in Europe, and maybe even in the Arab world, by convincing people, in retrospect, that the war was more just than they thought. Obviously the administration intends to publicize all the weapons of mass destruction U.S. forces find -- and there will be plenty.

All in all, America's ability to lead effectively in the future will depend a lot on how this war is understood and remembered by the world. This battle is just beginning, and if the administration can be as clever in diplomacy as it is in war, it can win that one, too.

What possible grounds are there for doing anything other than scorning people like this -- ones who have a track record of deceit and falsehoods that is literally unbroken, the ones who are the conscious and deliberate authors of the disaster in Iraq? Needless to say -- literally -- is the fact that Kagan has been arguing for years that we should also be "democratizing" Iran by changing its government and that if we cannot do that fast enough, "then the answer will have to be an invasion, not merely an air and missile strike." And that makes perfect sense for someone who thinks that our invasion of Iraq was a great idea and that the occupation is going really well -- why not repeat that in Iran and in a whole bunch of other countries, too?

Any decent and conscientious person burdened by even the most minimally functioning conscience -- not just moral conscience, but intellectual and ethical conscience-- who was the author of the above-excerpted passages would, genuinely, feel a deep sense of shame and remorse. One can, I suppose, debate whether these blatantly false claims were the by-product of deliberate deceit or just monumentally poor judgment (and the answer likely varies based on the falsehood-disseminating advocate in question), but what is beyond debate is that these pronouncements have been as destructive to this country as they have been tragically wrong.

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Yet they have no shame about any of this. Quite the contrary, they continue to parade around on the pages of The Washington Post as our country's experts and actually expect that they will be listened to when they assure the country -- yet again -- that things are going well in Iraq and we're on our way to sweet and glorious Victory.

UPDATE: Several commenters here have suggested -- and Editor & Publisher has now done the same -- that The Washington Post ought to have disclosed that the author of this Op-Ed touting the "success of the 'surge'" (Robert Kagan) is the brother of the primary architect and public advocate of the surge (Frederick Kagan). One could debate whether that rises to the level of "conflict of interest," but at the very least, it seems indisputable that Robert Kagan would be highly unlikely to announce that the "surge" was a grand failure, given that he would be condemning the idea with which his own brother is now most closely associated. He is motivated by close family connections to praise the "surge."

Clearly, Post readers should have been told that the pro-"surge" analysis they were reading was from the brother of the "surge" architect himself. Failure to disclose such an obvious cause for bias in the matter seems rather misleading and journalistically irresponsible. This is an issue so glaring that even the Post's not overwhelmingly distinguished Ombudsman, Deborah Howell, may be able to tackle it. One can inquire with her about all of this here.


Glenn Greenwald

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