Small Wars Journal

Don't Listen to the Kagans

Don't Listen to the Kagans

by Carl Prine

Line of Departure

There’s been an outpouring of idiocy lately from the unaccountable frauds who got us deeply involved in wars neither the U.S.  – nor any other great nation — could win.

The chief pitch of these snake oil salesmen seems to be that Iraq is now lost because, take your pick:   1) Barack Obama followed the law and removed troops from the republic; 2)  the shared puppet-on-a-string of Tehran and Washington, the feckless and incompetent Nuri al-Maliki, continues to act fecklessly and incompetently; 3) White House diplomacy failed to cement the hard-won COINerrific changes wrought by American military brains and brawn in 2007; or, 4) all the above.

You should pay these wonky dullards no mind.  Many of them are merely attempting to salvage what’s left of their professional reputations after disastrously overselling the so-called “Afghan Surge,” something made easier by distracting you with tall tales about Iraq, what they consider a success story even though it wasn’t.

Others have ginned up a mythological past to parade before an unrecognizable present in Baghdad to take cheap political shots at, admittedly, a pretty terrible Democratic president and his third-string administration.

Leading the charge has been the dynamic duo of DC dipsh***tery, Fred and Kim Kagan, a double-shot of intellectual cancer designed apparently to make anyone who reads their historically-challenged agitprop dumber by the word.


Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/04/2012 - 1:53pm

In reply to by tomkinton

Tomkinton---yes the founding fathers of the HTS were in fact Andrea Jackson of the Lincoln Group and COL Fondacaro Cmdr of the then soon to be TF Troy. They both had extensive contact while based in Camp Victory.

Andrea was drifting through FOB Warhorse and Caldwell in late 2005 with a software coding specialist from MITRE and she spent time speaking with the Cmdr of the 3HCT 3ID who passed her onto to me due to the software project she was pitching together with MITRE being designed to focus on collecting data and making that data available to intel analysts and interrogators in an easy to use fashion.

One of the major problems for interrogators was the utter lack of background materials on say tribes, personalities both Shi and Sunni, land ownership issues meaning if we picked up something of interest there was nothing available for us to go back to and compare to--- so the MITRE software idea initially made sense.

An Iraqi interrogator say with the Iraqi MoI had an adavantage on us as he physically came from a specific part of a town or district and inherently knew that town or district blindfolded-- we had nothing similar and the HTTs of today still cannot provide that missing link as it has a pop-centric view of the world--not an internal view of the insurgent groups/communities.

Pitched then a written proposal to Andrea/Steve for a more in depth look at the software with suggestions around the idea of speciality teams collecting that info and making it available for the tactical intel side, never heard anything back from either of them after 2005.

It was in fact the concept of what people call today the HTS---but in 2005 it was written as a more thorough IPB process built around the idea of indicators that could be used to "see" and "understand" the insurgency groups. Brigades in 2005 did not "understand" the insurgency in their areas thus were unable to even attempt understanding the population.

Then there was back in the US an internal split and she went her way for whatever the reason was.

During the creation of the HTS she did still maintain her ties to the Lincoln Group and I understand she still is an active member of the Group as their Director of Research---the same title she had in Iraq in 2005.



Wed, 01/04/2012 - 9:30am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Not sure if I would link HTT's with Lincoln Group. Can you elaborate?

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/03/2012 - 4:07pm

All: think the Kagans are bad try the Andrea Jackson's of the Lincoln Group (Iraq 2005) and retired COL Steve Fondacaro's (Cmdr Joint explosives/Defeat Grp-precurser to TF Troy) selling of the be all end all concept of Human Terrain Teams (2006).

We still do not truly "see" what is going on in the OE thus we are still unable to truly "understand" the OE and the BCTs are still struggling.



Sun, 10/21/2012 - 5:56am

In reply to by tomkinton

I came across this blog post just now and your comment on micro-loans caught my eye. I worked for a major microfinance institution (MFI) in Afghanistan in 2009 and witnessed extraordinary levels of incompetence. Before I arrived, the Afghanistan office had just experienced the biggest fraud in the company's history (in the millions of dollars). The D.C.-based management had the grand idea that Western management in Afghanistan didn't understand the culture and brought in a Pakistani Country Director who brought in his own CFO and other assorted staff. I can't begin to describe how incompetent these guys were. The kicker was that they were paid the same salary as Westerners which amounted to $10,000/mo. for a CFO who could not and was not interested in doing his job (to put it in perspective, the average ANNUAL salary in Pakistan isn't even half that). I heard this story over and over again from friends at different NGOs and came to realize that a river of U.S. taxpayer money was finding its way through NGOs and private sector companies in Afghanistan and into Pakistan.

I was a temporary intern with this MFI and have moved on, but here's one thing I learned about most (not all) people in the microfinance sector: they're pretty much rejects from the investment banking world. Personally, my experiences working there lead me to believe that, although some NGOs are necessary, most MFIs are useless b/c the management knows it'll always be bailed out by grant money.

Also, I hate to be so late to the discussion, but anyone who doesn't think the Germans were stabbed in the back in World War I doesn't appreciate how much they lost in the Treaty of Versailles. Sometimes being stabbed in the back isn't an excuse or a conspiracy theory, it's just plain true.


Tue, 01/03/2012 - 2:48pm

All: I returned in July from a PRT tour in Khost Province, Afghanistan. The Kagan's were on the lecture circuit and stopped by the IN unit I was supporting (I'm a CA guy). Their main point (think it was just after Christmas last year) was attempting to understand the insurgent foot traffic patterns. When they asked around the room for opinion/input, I said I only have the opinion of my boss (PRT's are commanded by Navy officers) I replied that I could not/would not speak for him. Kim then asked me, in front of the other attendees (BN CDR, CSM, several VIP's, etc..) what I thought should be done to stabilize Afghanistan. I asked her if she wanted Major Kinton's opinion or Tom Kinton's opinion; she replied that she wanted Tom Kinton's opinion. So I gave it to her; told her if I had the fairy dust I would spend it all on micro-loans and teacher training.

One day later I was called in to my bosses office and verbally counseled (he was screaming at me) and accussed of 'grandstanding'. He told me another 06 had called him and ratted me out.

So what's the point to my pity-party? Only this: until we fix the Army, people like the Kagan's will never make a difference one way or another.


gian gentile

Tue, 01/03/2012 - 9:32am


Excellent oped, shoot, if i was the editor of the NY Times--better yet the Wash Post since they turned a number of years ago to the Dark Side of Surge-topia--i would publish immediately!

Of course Dr Metz is one of our finest thinkers on American strategy and defense policy as he shows it here with this excellent critique of the "stab-in-the-back" schtick.

I would also add Steve to your excellent use of the German analogy that they continued to screw up policy and strategy into World War II and even though they had pound for pound the finest industrialized fighting army the world had ever seen, that tactical excellence could never rescue broken operational command, flawed strategy, and a morally perverse policy.

Sun Tzu still has it right when he said "tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." Unfortunately the Kagans and so many other Surgedinistas are burried in the promise of tactial excellence saving failed wars.


Fri, 01/06/2012 - 11:07am

In reply to by SteveMetz

The type of outcome in Iraq is an unsatisfactory one to people who are paying attention. Most people aren't paying attention beyond the fact that we are no longer involved. Civilian politicians and their various supporters will try to blame other civilian politicians for things they did or didn't do but most people will recognize that that is merely an attempt to score political points. Once the SOFA was signed most Americans wrote the whole thing off in their minds. The stab in the back characterization of this normal political gamesmanship is not appropriate and civilian voters won't care about or notice that accusation anyway.

However civilians vs. civilians is not the only part of the finger pointing going on. The military establishment is also trying to absolve itself of any blame for the unsatisfactory outcome. That is apparent in Mr. Prine's use of this phrase "the unaccountable frauds who got us deeply involved in wars neither the U.S. – nor any other great nation — could win." What he is saying is that there was no fault of the military establishment. No sir. They didn't make any mistakes. It was those stupid civilians who put the military in a position that no group of humans could have overcome. Mr. Metz says essentially the same thing in his last paragraph, Those civilians put the military in an impossible position.

The effect of that kind of statement is to shield the military establishment from criticism for the myriad errors it made during the course of the conflict. A further effect is sort of a touchy feely emotional one but one I think is still real. The military establishment doesn't have to feel bad about its' failures in Iraq because if there were any failures it didn't matter anyway because those civilians had already screwed thing up beyond hope.

The German Army helped popularize the stab in the back thing because by doing so it made itself feel better and absolved itself of blame for the loss of the war. An argument like Mr. Prine's and Mr. Metz's does the same thing for the American military establishment.


Tue, 01/03/2012 - 6:20am

Along these same lines, here's a draft op ed I'm getting ready to shop around:

In the 1920s, Germany struggled to understand how it had lost World War I. Rather than accepting the idea that the policy which led to war was so deeply flawed that even the most astute military strategy could not salvage it, many Germans concluded that their nation had been "stabbed in the back." Enemies within had sabotaged the war effort thus turning certain victory into defeat. While psychologically comforting, this failed the reality test.

Today U.S. supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are promoting their own version of the "stab in the back" narrative. According to this, the strategic shift of 2006--popularly known as "the surge"--staved off defeat and paved the way for ultimate success. Victory was at hand. But then President Obama withdrew U.S. forces before it was consolidated, allowing Iraq to teeter toward sectarian war, Iranian meddling, and possible disintegration. The failure of U.S. policy toward Iraq will be because it was subverted by domestic political concerns rather than shortcomings in the policy itself.

Those making this argument are forced to undertake some logical gymnastics. The primary reason for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq at the end of 2011 as stipulated in the Bush administration's 2008 status of forces agreement was that the Iraqis themselves demanded it. Hence proponents of the "stab in the back" narrative assert that the Obama administration did not try hard enough to negotiate an extension. Since this is a counterfactual it cannot be refuted.

But the shortcomings of the "stab in the back" narrative run even deeper. It is an attempt to discount the flawed assumptions of the Bush policy in Iraq: that the Iraqi leadership and people wanted the same thing as the United States--a unified, stable nation based on an equitable distribution of power among the sects and ethnic groups. Since both the Iraqis and the United States wanted the same thing, the thinking went, the U.S. role was to provide assistance and tutelage until democracy and an equitable power sharing arrangement took root, and to prevent Iranian subversion. As Iraq approached disintegration and chaos in 2006, the Bush administration and its supporters concluded that the problem was inadequate U.S. support for Iraqi President Maliki and his security forces. The "surge" was intended to address this and give the fragile Iraqi government time to consolidate.

Today advocates of the "stab in the back" narrative cling to the notion that the Maliki regime shares American objectives but simply needs more more time to attain them. However much this reflects the way Americans view politics, it does not reflect reality. By every indication, the sects and ethnic groups in Iraq are more concerned with limiting the power of other groups than with constructing a sustainable balance among them. Another year or another decade of U.S. military presence would not have changed this. President Maliki's preeminent objective is retaining political power. Keeping U.S. troops would have politically weakened him to the benefit of of his political rival Muqtada al-Sadr who Maliki considers a greater threat than either Iran or Iraq's Sunni Arabs. For Maliki, being seen as a U.S. puppet was a greater political risk for Maliki than having American troops leave.

The "stab in the back" group believes that Iran is the primary threat to Iraq. While this may or may not be true, every indication is that few Iraqi leaders share the idea. Iraqis certainly do not welcome Iranian meddling but most are more concerned with other sects and ethnic groups. A continued U.S. military presence would have constrained group conflict but withdrawal in 2014 or beyond would have left Iraq in the same condition it faces today. It simply would have postponed the inevitable.

Ultimately, there is no evidence to support the contention that if the Obama administration could have convinced the Maliki regime to change its threat perception and act counter to what it sees as its interests, or that if U.S. troops had stayed a few years more, the basic dynamic of Iraqi politics would have changed. The assertion that withdrawing U.S. military turned victory into sure defeat is simply false.

Nothing short of a massive U.S. occupation lasting decades would have led to the sort of Iraq the Bush administration sought when it invaded. That, not a politically motivated "stab in the back," explains the current situation. Rather than concocting narratives to explain why the rosy predictions of 2003 proved wrong, Americans now should concentrate on thinking through the implications of sustained sectarian conflict in Iraq.