Monday, May 07, 2007

Fred Kagan's Total Eclipse of the Brain

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Frederick Kagan on the total irrelevance of Plan B:

ONE of the most common criticisms of the current “surge” in Iraq is that its proponents have not developed a Plan B in case it fails. The skeptics liken this lack of a backup strategy to the Bush administration’s failure to plan for various contingencies after the initial invasion in 2003; they see a continuity of errors between previous strategies in Iraq and the new one.

In fact, the debate shows only how little the critics of the war understand about military operations. As one of the initial proponents of the surge, I argue that there is no Plan B because there cannot be one. The idea that there can be a single alternative strategy, developed now, just at the beginning of the surge, is antithetical to the dynamic nature of war. At this early stage, there are only possible general responses to various contingencies, which will become more focused as operations move forward.

Cernig has the retort:

Kagan is being deliberately dense or unutterably stupid - it isn't "A" Plan B that critics would like to see, it's "ANY" Plan B. You know - contingency planning. It's what the military does best - they even have a contingency plan for invading Canada - but according to Kagan those who call for contingency planning of any kind are showing they don't "understand about military operations". On the evidence, it's Kagan who doesn't understand - and he invented the surge. That's troubling in itself.

Of course, Kagan doesn't understand, and why should he? He has the professional and personal background to understand military contingency planning like I have the professional and personal background to understand string theory.

And that explains the tone of this piece: cold, distant, clinical, patronizing, as if Kagan has a wealth of knowledge and experience we do not -- and he does not. "As the facts on the ground change, our military leaders and policy makers will consider new strategies to deal with them," he tells us. "This is the nature of war."

What does Kagan know about the "nature of war"? The closest to war he's ever come is this. He has never been in combat; he's never served in the military at all. For him, casualties are an abstract concept, something he can intellectualize about. His educational and professional background is Soviet and East European studies. He's a Cold War guy; he knows next to nothing about the Middle East or contemporary U.S. defense policy or planning. And when he attempts to present himself as such, his arguments are pure sophistry.

Take this, for example:

When Moktada al-Sadr called for fellow Shiites to demonstrate against the American surge last month, General Petraeus wrote an open letter to the Iraqi people pointing out that such demonstrations would not have been permitted under Saddam Hussein, and asking the demonstrators to avoid violence. In the end, the demonstrations were limited in scale and peaceful, and fears that Sunni terrorists would set off a wave of attacks on the protesters proved unfounded.

This is the demonstration Kagan is talking about. The marchers numbered in the tens of thousands, which contradicts the subtly dismissive phrase "limited in scale." Kagan clearly implies that David Petraeous's "open letter," with its patronizing suggestion that Iraqis be grateful for not being arrested or mowed down, is the reason that fears of violence were "unfounded." But that is nonsense [bolds mine]:

"Yes to Moqtada, yes to Iraq, yes to liberation," chanted tens of thousands of demonstrators as they poured into the revered Shiite cities of Kufa and Najaf Monday calling for US troops to leave Iraq.

The event – on the fourth anniversary of Baghdad's fall – was a clear message from Moqtada al-Sadr that the radical Shiite cleric remains a force to be reckoned with despite the fact he has been in hiding for months. His movement is under growing military pressure from US forces, including battles with Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in the city of Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad, that have killed at least 11 Iraqis since Friday.

"It proves that he's the only man capable of amassing such a huge demonstration and shows the weakness of the government and its allies," says Wamidh Nadhmi, a political science professor at the University of Baghdad.

"He's also trying to prove to all that he's the moving spirit among Shiites and that he has not changed his mind about the presence of US forces."

The demonstration, in which only Iraqi flags were allowed, was also an opportunity for Sadr to mend fences with moderate Sunnis given that his militia has been implicated in the wave of sectarian killings that have engulfed the country, according to Mr. Nadhmi.

Monday's marchers included some Kurds in traditional dress as well as Sunni clerics, many of whom were bused by Sadr's movement from the city of Basra in the south. "Let's put out the fire of discord and chop off the snake's head," chanted some in reference to Iraq's ongoing sectarian strife.

Sadr issued a statement Sunday calling for an end of fighting in Diwaniyah between members of his militia and US and Iraqi forces. "The forces of darkness led by the occupiers [US forces] are planting discord among the sons of the same nation.... My brothers in the Mahdi Army and the security forces, stop fighting because otherwise you are promoting the agenda of your common enemy," said the statement.

Kagan's parsing also conveys the truly twisted message that the demonstration was insignificant because it was peaceful. How bizarre that Kagan would feel that Iraqis' opposition to the surge need not be taken seriously because they expressed their opposition nonviolently!

Here's more sophistry:

Some of these promising developments may yield permanent gains; others may offer false hope. But the thing to keep in mind — and the thing those calling for a Plan B seem to forget — is that they will proceed in unpredictable ways.

Yes, which is why we need a Plan B. No one intentionally plans for defeat. If we could count on Plan A to yield "permanent gains," and if we had the ability to predict the future with 100 percent accuracy, we would not need a Plan B, would we? That is kinda sorta what the concept of a Plan B is all about, no? That "promising developments" do "proceed in unpredictable ways," and so we do contingency planning to have a fallback plan when our initial assumptions turn out to be false. Right?

Cross-posted at Shakesville.


Cheney08 said...

It's pretty clear what the Democrats plan B is. If the Democrats had won in 2000 Saddam Hussein would be in the White House right now, and Osama bin Laden would be the Secretary of Defense. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be the secretary of the interior and Ayman al Zawahiri would be the surgeon general.

Kathy said...

First things first: The Democrats did win in 2000.

And if the Democrats had been in the White House and had control of Congress in 2000, and after 9/11, Osama bin Laden would probably be in prison right now, or dead -- because a Democratic president would not have let OBL slip through his fingers, or abandoned the fight against the terrorists responsible for 9/11 to invade a country totally unrelated to the events of 9/11 and no threat to the U.S. at all.