Fred Kagan on Monday: "The civil war in Iraq is over"

Whenever it seems impossible, our nation's most revered war cheerleaders find new ways to descend even lower on the wrongness scale.

Published March 27, 2008 6:49PM (EDT)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)

The American Enterprise Institute held an event on Monday entitled "Iraq: The Way Ahead." They convened a panel as diverse as the ones typically convened among the Beltway establishment to talk about Iraq. It featured war cheerleader genius Fred Kagan of the AEI and war cheerleader geniuses Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution (the always in-sync, pro-war AEI and Brookings are, along with the Council on Foreign Relations, the most quoted and most-cited "think tanks" in the American media).

To commence the discussion to show us all "The Way Ahead" in Iraq, here is the very first thing that Fred Kagan said:

The first thing I want to say is that: The Civil War in Iraq is over. And until the American domestic political debate catches up with that fact, we are going to have a very hard time discussing Iraq on the basis of reality.

One has to watch the video to fully appreciate how pompously he sits there on his war throne issuing his decree about "reality" in Iraq.

Less than 24 hours after Kagan decreed the Civil War in Iraq over -- and lectured Americans that we must accept this if we are to understand reality in Iraq -- McClatchy News Service reported:

With Iraq's top leaders directing the battle, Iraq's army and national police pressed a major operation Tuesday to wrest control of the southern port city of Basra from the Shiite Mahdi Army militia. Fighting between government forces and the militia quickly spread through Iraq's south and into Baghdad.

Today, long-time, highly prescient Iraq correspondent Patrick Cockburn reported in The Independent: "A new civil war is threatening to explode in Iraq as American-backed Iraqi government forces fight Shia militiamen for control of Basra and parts of Baghdad."

The Times of London today reported: "Iraq’s Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen." The New York Times today detailed the deadly and increasingly violent fighting in multiple venues in Iraq, warning: "if the assault in Basra leads the Mahdi Army to break completely with its current cease-fire, which has helped to tamp down attacks in Iraq during the past year, there is a risk of escalating violence and of replaying 2004."

Several days before the AEI event, Kagan was one of the featured "experts" on Charlie Rose's fifth anniversary show and this exchange occurred:

CHARLIE ROSE: You believe the civil war is over?



FREDERICK KAGAN: . . .Virtually the moment that President Bush announced that we would be changing our strategy and sending more forces and not leaving, those groups stood down. And as our troops started to push into the neighborhoods, we rapidly got back to the point where we were fighting armed groups. . . .

So, we're in a situation where now the Iraqi people are mobilizing in the forms of these CLCs to stop the violence, whereas at the end of 2006 they were mobilizing to continue the violence. And that to me is an indication that the civil war is over. The Iraqi people do not want to fight a civil war between sects.

Other than Bill Kristol and Fred's brother, war cheerleader Robert Kagan, nobody has been more wrong about more things with regard to Iraq than supreme war theorist Fred Kagan. He's also deemed by the establishment media and the Bush administration to be the most respectable and knowledgeable expert on Iraq. Within that depressing contradiction lies most of the answers as to why we have destroyed that country and will continue to do so indefinitely.

UPDATE: More Fred Kagan Wisdom from the AEI event on Monday -- just three days ago:

The Surge succeeded in doing that [nipping civil war in the bud]. On a recent trip to Iraq, in all of our studies, what has become very clear is that the Iraqi populace is not mobilized for civil war. On the contrary, increasingly the Iraq populace is mobilized to stop violence.

Should a person endlessly holding himself out as the premiere expert on Iraq have been able to foresee, or at least anticipate the possibility of, the horrific events that would unfold less than 24 hours later? Even if one wants to be generous on that question, the real point is that people like Fred Kagan have spent the last five years issuing emphatic happy talk to the American population in order to keep them pacified about Endless Occupation there, even though they either (a) have no idea what they're talking about or (b) know full well that what they are saying is baseless and false.

Virtually all of our revered experts -- including the Great and Honorable Commanding General David H. Petraeus -- have similar records as Kagan. Time and again, their pronouncements are proven to be wrong -- humiliatingly and disastrously so -- and yet they continue to prance around as Serious Experts who are entitled to credibility, and are treated as such. Is there any point at which someone of this sort loses credibility?

UPDATE II: I just received the following email from a woman whose son has been serving in Iraq, along with a picture of him:

Mr. Greenwald,

Thank you for coverage of the war in Iraq. Since you posted a picture of one of the people who got us into this war, I would like to share a picture with you. I have attached a picture of my son, US Army XXX XXXX XXXXX. He spent XX months in Iraq in 2006-2007 and will return in XXX. 2009. He was lucky and came back OK, although he lost friends and had many narrow escapes. He is 23 years old, married for almost 2 years, and a wonderful man in every way. In the picture he's with a couple of Iraqi kids.I wish Kaplan (sic) and his fellow war cheerleaders could live as the parent or spouse of a deployed soldier or as an Iraqi parent for just a few days. He wouldn't be so quick to say the war is over.

Thanks again for your work,


What is so deranged about the Kagans and O'Hanlons and the like is that they don't perceive themselves as "war cheerleaders" at all. They have convinced themselves that they are the real warriors, doing the actual fighting. Here's what Fred Kagan said at the AEI event:

It will be some time before the Iraqi Security Forces are able to ensure the security of the country against Al Qaeda, particularly to ensure that Al Qaeda is not able to establish safe havens anywhere in the country That will be some time. And we've got some fighting ahead of us.

"We've got some fighting ahead of us," says this brave, swaggering war hero. Then, towards the end of his presentation, with Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack waiting for their turn to shower us all with their brilliant Iraq expertise, Kagan said that he wanted to make one last point "before I turn it over to my brothers from Brookings." They're brothers in combat.

His war buddy alongside him in the trenches, Mike O'Hanlon, then proclaimed them all -- "Fred and Ken" -- to be "Lombardis of this war," after the football coach Vince Lombardi, renowned for his will to win: "they stuck with it, and they persevered through difficult times," tough guy O'Hanlon bellowed. They're really as obscene and self-deluded as they are ignorant and continuously wrong.

UPDATE III: From a truly depressing Times Online article:

"The battle is not easy without coalition support," lamented one Basra resident, who had worked as a translator for the British forces. "The police in Basra are useless and helping the Mahdi Army. The militia are hiding among the civilians. This country will never be safe, I want to leave for ever. I don't know how to get out of this hell."

As always, Americans hear instead about how happy things are in Iraq from the likes of Kagan, O'Hanlon and the other Lombardis of this war, rather than from actual Iraqis.

It's striking how few of them followed the advice of actual Iraq expert Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post:

Princeton, N.J.: Obviously not everyone in the media should resign, but it is annoying to having The Post (and others) regularly publish articles by those who were wrong, wrong, wrong, but those who were right about Iraq (e.g. Feingold) still get short shrift.

Thomas E. Ricks: Yes, I agree with you. There are a few people out there who should have the decency to follow the advice of the king of Spain.

Along those lines, I encourage everyone to read this truly superb post.

UPDATE IV: Back in February, actual Iraq expert Juan Cole warned of exactly what is occurring now (h/t macgupta), writing that "the instability in Basra is so bad that a planned drawdown . . . seems likely to be postponed" and:

The problem for Iraq is that whereas Baghdad or even Mosul can be subjected to a vigorous military campaign without that causing the country to collapse, I am not sanguine that Basra can survive a frontal assault and still remain Iraq's import-export entrepot. And, if Basra is depopulated or sent into a spiral of violence similar to the Sunni Arab areas of the north, it will not hold Iraq harmless.

This February article from The Guardian began: "A final all-out battle for Basra is seen as 'inevitable,'" and quoted a British General saying that the Iraqi Security Forces believed such a battle was imminent and that nobody was in charge of the Basra. The same day, The Washington Post questioned whether the Mahdi Army militia would follow Moqtada al-Sadr's ongoing cease fire, and warned that the situation could unleash whole new violence. But as they always do, happy warriors Kagan, O'Hanlon and Pollack ignored of all of that and kept running around telling Americans -- right up until last Monday -- how peaceful and stable things are because of the Glorious Surge.

By Glenn Greenwald

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