If I were a psychiatrist, I could find the perfect label for the depths of denial or heights of delusion that manifest themselves in Frederick and Kimberly Kagan’s latest declarations on Iraq published in the Washington Post as “opinion.” “Fantasy” is more like it. Their premise is that the American nation-building exercise in Iraq failed, not because nation-building is pure academic utopianism (leftist cant) that withers in real-world conditions (Islam), but because the exercise didn’t go on long enough.
They pre-emptively score Prez Obama for the happy talk that’s the predictable outcome of his meeting today with Iraq’s Maliki. Fair enough. The image of Iraq he is sure to present, they write, “is a mirage.” But if we’re talking about disconnection from reality, the Kagans have once again pulled their own plug.
Even after the last U.S. soldier departs, America’s core interests in Iraq include:
●Ensuring that Iraq contributes to the security of the Middle East, rather than undermining it through state collapse, civil war or the establishment of a sectarian dictatorship;
●Ensuring that terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda or backed by Iran cannot establish sanctuaries;
●Promoting an Iraq that abides by its international responsibilities;
●Containing Iranian influences that are harmful to U.S. interests in Iraq and the region; and
●Signaling U.S. commitment to the region at a pivotal moment in history.
Is that all? Just to take the first bullet point, “ensuring” Iraq doesn’t collapse, descend into civil war, or establish a sectarian dictatorship requires either an indefinite occupation on a colossal, non-supportable scale (why?), or the total transformation of Iraqi Man — or Afghan Man (read: Muslim Man) — which is the Frankensteinian basis of winning hearts and minds a la COIN. In another epoch, armies of Christian missionaries might have been the force of choice to rework Islamic culture to such an end; then again, Western nations haven’t fared so well in such endeavors (remember the Crusades). COIN-spearheaded nation-buidling is the postmodern-day, secular alternative. Its adherents burn with a blind zeal that admits of no cultural difference between the West and Islam, that sees most arrogantly in their own Judeo-Christian-derived values a universal appeal. The only stumbling block between COIN values and Islamic acceptance, as COIN elites see it, is PR. The sales pitch. Take off those ballistic glasses, soldier. Eat parasite-ridden goat and wreck your digestive system maybe forever, grunt. Get to know the people. Walk those roads (bang) and build that “vital infrastructure,” and don’t call in fire support, or the “population” will think you don’t trust them, and don’t forget the payola.
This is not like taming a feral dog with a bone — and that can be a dicey proposition. Remaking human beings, “re-educating” people to conform to ideological goals, doesn’t work, whether the policy is enacted by nation-builders with guns bearing gifts, or comissars destroying civlization with gulags.
Back to the Kagans:
Securing these and other U.S. interests requires two basic conditions: First, Iraq must be able to control, police and defend its territory, airspace and waters. Second, Iraq must preserve and solidify the multi-ethnic and cross-sectarian political accommodation that was established in 2008 and 2009 but that has been eroding since the formation of the current government.
Not only are these beyond Iraqi competence and scope, they aren’t American interests. They are Iraqi interests, if Iraqis care. They are also international interests which global interventionists arbitrarily obsess about, whether they exist in Iraq, Libya or any other hotspot de jour. It is not in America’s interest whether Iraq preserves and solidifies ethnic or cross-sectarian blah blah. It is, however, in the interest of the Unreconstructed Iraq Hawks, the COINdinistas and their political allies because these are the theoretical justifications for their failed missions. In many ways, Obama’s reluctant troop withdrawal, which, last time I looked, fulfilled George W. Bush’s agreement with Iraq, is the best thing that has happened to them. It keeps the fantasy of “if only” alive.
“Neither condition is likely to be met in the coming years,” the Kagans write. Thanks to Obama, they hereby absolve themselves of any and all responsibility for the failure of these conditions — the conditions of COIN nation-building — ever being met. They are free. Or so they seem to think.
Despite enthusiastic rhetoric from Maliki and Defense Secretay Leon Panetta, Iraq is not able to defend its territory or airspace. …
Hey, we tried. In fact, didn’t Gen. Petraeus make his reputation in Iraq in part as the great trainer of Iraqi troops?
Iraqi security forces are unable to maintain their capabilities and equipment, much less meet new challenges. The only remaining U.S. training missions are for Iraqi police, and there are no agreements for training or supporting the military beyond year’s end. “How they deal with that gap” in defense capabilities, Helmick noted, “is really up to them.” …
About time, I’d say. But the Kagans think it’s up to us to continue training the obviously, patently, backwardly untrainable. And that’s not all: Maliki, they take pains to explain, is actually a tinpot strongman! Maliki, they write, “is unwinding the multi-ethnic, cross-sectarian Iraqi political settlement.” And it was so great before. Let freedom rain.
Despite the withdrawal of U.S. forces, Washington has leverage to affect Iraqi behavior. Iraq is a signatory to numerous treaties and a member of international organizations obliging it to respect human rights, ensure due process of law, and refrain from arbitrary or political detentions. Responsible nations should insist that Iraq demonstrate its commitment to those obligations. The president should tell Maliki in no uncertain terms that Washington will hold him to account in the international arena if Iraq does not.
Isn’t that where we came in?
All bilateral military relations and security cooperation were governed by the expiring strategic agreement and must be established under new agreements. There is much that Washington could offer, including guaranteeing the security of Iraq’s land, sea and airspace until Iraq is able to defend itself and establishing a program of collective military training, exercises and exchanges to improve the quality of Iraqi forces….
An independent, stable and responsible Iraqi state is critical to U.S. interests in the Middle East.
No, an independent, stable and responsible domestic energy policy is critical to U.S. interests in the Middle East.
A substantive policy toward that end can result from a combined insistence that Iraq adhere to international laws and norms, pressure on Iraqi leaders to deepen the political settlements under such stress, and the positive incentives of genuine military cooperation.
The objective would not be to oust Maliki but to do what the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement specified: “support and strengthen Iraq’s democracy and its democratic institutions as defined and established in the Iraqi Constitution, and in so doing, enhance Iraq’s capability to protect these institutions against all internal and external threats.”
We did that. It didn’t work.
Such a policy would reflect U.S. values and could help ensure free, fair and inclusive elections in 2013, so the Iraqi people preserve the representative government to which so many in the Middle East aspire.
Everything looks beautiful in the view from the tower.