A Conversation With Fred Kagan
HH: You come back from Iraq, you see these changes, you talk with it, and then you hear Harry Reid declare the war is lost. What was your reaction upon hearing that, Frederick Kagan?
FK: It’s very disappointing. I think a lot of people, there is a lot of hyperbole, there’s a lot of exaggeration, and we really need to look this squarely in the eye, and recognize that most wars, you don’t know who’s going to win until the end. And there’s been, there were rosy optimistic scenarios from the Bush administration early on, and declarations of victory that were mistaken, and now you’ve got Democratic opponents of the war rushing to say that the war’s lost, and that it’s hopeless. And the facts on the ground just don’t support that. The war isn’t lost. We certainly can still win, and it’s really very disappointing to hear the Senator majority leader just throw up his hands like that.
HH: One of the things I read in Max Boot’s piece, which I had not realized, is that the Iraqi special forces are operating along with our special forces at night in recon type situations, and are devastating the bad guys. That’s a change of significance.
FK: There have been a lot of changes along those lines. Iraqi forces at all levels are fighting in a very determined fashion. And even sometimes Iraqi local police, which no one has put any stock in, but a former cadet of mine who is now up in Salahaddin Province north of Baghdad, told me a story about the Iraqi local police who were engaged by a bunch of al Qaeda fighters who thought they would just drive through a checkpoint, and the local police shot them up, drove them off, and seized one of their cars. It was amazing. These Iraqi soldiers, both special forces even down to some of the local police guys, are fighting hard, putting their lives on the line, taking casualties and killing the enemy.
HH: Yesterday on this program, Lawrence Wright detailed the flow of jihadis to al Anbar, and now evidently Diyala Province with the hope of taking on the Americans. Has that halted, slowed, are do they continue pretty much at will to arrive in the country?
FK: Al Qaeda is surging against us, and I think that’s happening globally. I think that al Qaeda is funneling all of the resources it can into defeating us in Iraq, and it is funneling all of its resources in Iraq to creating spectacular attacks against us, and against innocent Iraqi civilians, both Sunni and Shia. And they’re indiscriminant in their killing. This isn’t really sectarian killing. This is just terrorism, plain and simple. And they are surging to try to break our will, and I hope to Heaven that we won’t let them.
HH: Frederick Kagan, do you believe that our presence in Iraq is manufacturing terrorists? Or is it simply attracting them to the most obvious battlefield?
FK: I know for sure that it’s attracting them to the most obvious battlefield. Is it making more of them? I’m not sure. But if you take a look at the example of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, there was a situation where the Soviet presence, that was definitely manufacturing terrorists. And as long as the Soviets were there, they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. As soon as the Soviets left, the terrorists didn’t just go home and take up gardening. They left, they moved all around the world, and then they started attacking us. That’s how we got al Qaeda. So the question really is, if we were to leave Iraq tomorrow, what would happen with these guys? And the answer for sure is that they would find other ways to attack an kill us elsewhere.
HH: Now given a very short period of time for a tough question, how then do you prevail in the long war?
FK: Well, you start by getting Iraq under control, because if we don’t get Iraq under control, and if we allow ourselves to be driven out, we will be reinforcing the message that terrorism succeeds against the United States every time. And that’s a disaster. Over the long term, the tactics of these terrorists are going to alienate them increasingly within the Muslim population at large, as is already happening in Iraq. The truth of the matter is that most Muslims don’t want to live in accord with Sharia law the way these guys interpret it, and they don’t want to be terrorized and killed. And that’s something that we’re going to have to plan, but we’ve got to show that there’s an alternative, and we’ve got to show that we’re prepared to help democratic regimes fight off terrorism.
HH: Last question, Frederick Kagan, we’re almost out of time, thank you for being here. Does the Democratic leadership not know this? Or are they ignoring it for political gain in your estimate?
FK: I don’t know. I’ve been struck by the degree to which the debate in this town, in Washington, seems to be lagging behind reality in Iraq. And one would hope that with the briefings that the Congress is getting from General Petraeus and others, that we would start to catch up and realize that the world is different from the way it was in November, 2006. We’ll see.