Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Frederick Kagan on the Failure in Iraq

Frederick Kagan is one of the leading neoconservative proponents of the American war in Iraq who helped the White House formulate the current "surge" strategy. Oddly enough, his recent article in The Weekly Standard on "The New Strategy in Iraq" shows that the American war there has been--with only one possible exception--a complete failure.

Imagine that you know nothing about the war and that you're relying on this one article for your assessment. Read the article carefully. The first and last paragraphs declares that "Operation Phantom Thunder" is working well, and the war should continue, which is what you would expect Kagan to say. But if you read the rest of the article, you see a remarkable survey of the failures in the war.

Consider the following quotations from the article under the section subtitles used by Kagan.

"Falluja, 2004"
"The Marines were not allowed to follow up on their success in Falluja. . . . Nevertheless, Falluja was fairly stable for many months after the Marine attack, only slowly sinking back into chaos and enemy control."

"Najaf and Sadr City, 2004"
". . . The successes in Najaf and Sadr City were fleeting in another respect, however. U.S. forces left both areas quickly, and the Sadrist militias retook control of them within months. The Sadrists remain largely in control of Najaf and were long uncontested in Sadr City, although recent events have greatly complicated their situation there."

"Tal Afar and the Upper Euphrates, 2005"
". . . Operations in 2005, although inadequately followed up and sustained, created a lasting change in a critical province of northern Iraq."

"Ramadi, 2006"
Ramadi seems to be the one bright spot. Elsewhere in the article, Kagan says, "Ramadi is the model."

"Bagdad, 2006"
"These operations failed. . . . By November, Operation Together Forward II had mostly ground to a halt, having made no lasting improvement in the situation."

"Lessons of the Past"
". . . rapid reductions in Coalition forces after clearing operations undermined the success of almost all past operations. In Sadr City and Najaf, the withdrawal led to the complete if quiet restoration of the militias tht had been driven out. . . . Turning control of cleared areas over to Iraq forces prematurely--as in Falluja after the first battle and in Baghdad after Operations Together Forward--generally led to rapid failure. . . ."

"Operation Phantom Thunder in Context"
". . . The establishment of security, moreover, is a precondition for further political progress, not a guarantee of it. The enemy may find a way to disrupt the current operations, or to derail or defeat the subsequent clear-and-hold operations. It is possible that Iraqi Security Forces will prove unable to develop the numbers and capabilities required to maintain security once it has been established. And unpredictable disasters can always drive a well-designed strategy off course."

And what conclusion does Kagan draw from this bleak history of failure and prospect of unpredictable disasters? "The current strategy . . . deserves to be given every chance to succeed"!

As I have suggested in other posts, the utopian folly of the Iraq war is a predictable consequence of a neoconservative view of government in which presidents initiate and manage wars guided by a messianic rhetoric of spreading democratic liberty around the world. The Machiavellian utopianism of the neoconservatives is most evident in Harvey Mansfield's recent defense of the "manly nihilism" of the American presidency and his praise of George Bush's "one-man rule" as manifesting "the living intelligence of a wise man."


Anonymous said...

Dear Larry,
Just one question--In your book you identify James Q. Wilson as a neo-conservative. In this post you identify Harvey Mansfield as a neo-conservative. I know this is not the topic of either book or post but I do not really consider either under the heading neo-conservative.
Mark Griffith

Derek Copold said...

Forget Darwin. Any passing history of guerrilla war could have predicted these results.

Larry Arnhart said...


The neoconservative position is captured best in THE ESSENTIAL NEO-CONSERVATIVE READER, edited by Mark Gerson, with a Foreword by James Q. Wilson. Wilson indicates there that his work does fall under this label. I associate Mansfield with the neoconservatives because he generally agrees with the positions taken by Irving and Bill Kristol and those associated with THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

Larry Arnhart said...


Well, I don't think we can forget Darwin here, because what makes guerrilla war so difficult is the problem of evolution--the moral, religious, and political evolution required for social order.