AEI’s Fred Kagan, the architect of the Iraq surge, has a history of grossly misreading events on the ground in Iraq. In August 2007, amidst the height of skyrocketing violence in Iraq, Kagan claimed that “sectarian deaths” were “way down.” After Baghdad had been virtually cleansed of Sunnis in March 2008, Kagan decried the “magnificent myth” of ethnic cleansing in Iraq.
At an AEI panel Wednesday, Kagan drastically overplayed Iraqis’ tolerance for “collateral damage” resulting from U.S. military incursions. Comparing Afghanistan and Iraq, Kagan said that a notable difference between the two wars is that Iraqi civilians “were not bitching” when civilians were killed:
KAGAN: The interesting thing is that when we were fighting those battles and doing that damage, on the whole the Iraqis were not bitching about collateral damage. You had nothing like the degree of upset about how many civilians were being injured and how much damage was being done to the infrastructure in Iraq at a much higher level of destruction than you have in Afghanistan at a much lower level of destruction.
Kagan then attributed the differences between Iraqis’ so-called tolerance for civilian deaths — and Afghan’s intolerance — to “cultural reasons”:
KAGAN: I think there’s a cultural reason for that: Afghans don’t fight in their cities. Iraqis do. For good or ill, Iraqis expect to fight in their cities. That’s where the insurgents dug in, Saddam Hussein planned to dig in to the cities or lure us into an urban fight. It’s sort of understood that the battlefield is going to be there, that doesn’t mean that they don’t complain about it, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem, but it does mean that when the insurgents dig in and we root them out, the Iraqis don’t on the whole say “darn it, you shouldn’t have blown up all of our houses.” They sort of accept that. Afghans do not.
Over at the Wonk Room, Matt Duss notes that Kagan’s casual dismissal of human rights marks a line in the sand between progressives and neoconservatives. “Neoconservatism is based in the idea that there’s no national security problem that can’t be overcome by the relentless application of the military force. Progressives understand that this is wrong,” he writes.
According to Kagan, Iraqis’ overwhelming disapproval of the U.S. occupation, demanding a timetable for withdrawal, and celebrating a man who threw shoes at President Bush signifies their tolerance for “collateral damage.”