Fred And Kim’s Pot O’ Gold

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The very first line of Fred and Kim Kagan’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal gives evidence of their strategic myopia. Declaring that “America is very close to succeeding in Iraq,” the Kagans go on to present an extremely optimistic interpretation of recent events in Iraq, all to the purpose, of course, of arguing for a continued American presence there.

- Hailing the Iraqi army’s successes in Basra and Sadr City, the Kagan’s gloss over Iran’s central role in facilitating those victories. In both instances, Iran brokered cease-fires between Maliki’s forces and the Mahdi Army, enabling the former to take control of neighborhoods and the latter to retain their weapons and melt away.

– Though the Kagans have consistently tried to present the intra-Shia conflict as between “the sovereign Iraqi government and Iran-backed militias,” as Brian Katulis and I have pointed out, this misrepresents both Iran’s true role as the main backer of Maliki’s coalition, as well as the extent to which Maliki’s anti-Sadrist offensive was intended to weaken the Sadrists in advance of provincial elections.

The Kagans’ treatment of political progress is similarly blithe:

- They note that “the Iraqi government passed all but one of the “benchmark” laws…and was integrating grass-roots reconciliation with central political progress.” The former statement completely ignores the lack of implementation of any of the benchmark laws, a result of their passage being achieved by being worded so vaguely so as to make implementation nearly impossible. The latter claim is simply an unsupported assertion.

– Their argument also takes us down into the weeds of small pieces of legislation that may never be fully implemented and ignores a bigger problem that no one is talking about – the deadlock in the constitutional reform process that was supposed to have been completed nearly two years ago. Years later, and Iraq’s factions have not moved forward on the core questions related to power-sharing –- something the Kagans leave out.

As usual, the Kagans carve out a yawning chasm of wiggle room for their claims, writing that Iraq’s “tremendous gains remain fragile and could be lost to skillful enemy action, or errors in Baghdad or Washington.” If and when the “tremendous gains” turn out to be the entrenchment of Iraq’s sectarian factions, and the Kagans’ analysis is revealed as smoke, rest assured that others will get the blame. But being a neocon means never having to say you’re sorry.

We welcome the drop in violence that has occurred in Iraq since 2007. But we should be clear about why this drop occurred, and why the developments that contributed to it do not augur well for the prospect of a stable, unified Iraqi state, at least an Iraq that is a state by any accepted definition. In that event, I have no doubt that the Kagans will publish an op-ed arguing that, in order to achieve victory, we must redefine the concept of “state” such that Iraq qualifies. And, while we’re at it, redefine “success” such that America’s war in Iraq is seen as one.

But the broader point here is this: Even if Iraq were to transform into a Jeffersonian democracy next year, which seems highly unlikely, it would not redeem the decision to invade Iraq. Nor would it rehabilitate the reputations of the government officials and public intellectuals who supported and continue to defend that decision. To the extent that America can be said to be succeeding in Iraq, we are succeeding only in mitigating the calamitous effects of a disastrous war, one launched under false pretenses and managed with staggering incompetence. A war that has resulted in tens of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis, and some 4 million displaced both within and without the country. A war that has stretched our military to the breaking point, and demonstrated to the world the limits of our power. A war that has caused massive worldwide rejection of American leadership, and a deep and abiding suspicion of American goals. This is the true legacy of American invasion of Iraq, not Kim and Fred’s pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow.