Saturday, August 09, 2008

The State of Iraq: By Gen. Jack Keane, Frederick Kagan, et al

While Senator Barack Obama was on his controversial trip to the Middle East and Europe, a panel discussion attended by distinguished experts on Iraq was held at the American Enterprise Institute on July 24 (The 2008 Iraq Debate: An Assessment from the Ground). Particularly, General Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan are very familiar to frequent visitor to Global American Discourse. They drafted the surge plan, and even a vocal critic to the Iraq War like Barack Obama admits its success. His presidential race rival, Senator John McCain points this out frequently.

Therefore, I would like to review this event. The panel was moderated by Danielle Pletka, President of the AEI, and three panelists presented their analysis from their own expertise. I recommend watching the event video on this site, not because of their distinguished reputation, but their clear and logical counterarguments to irresponsible remarks by Barack Obama and other war critics. The three panelists visited Iraq, and travelled around the country. They met US officials from Ambassador Ryan Crocker, General David Petraeus, to local commanders. Also, they talked with Iraqi leaders with regard to the future of Iraq and US role in this region.

Actually, Senator John McCain criticized Senator Obama that he listen to General Petraeus and local commanders when Obama carelessly mentioned early withdrawal from Iraq. This panel is important to understand how successful US operations since the surge is and how poorly founded Barack Obama’s terror strategy is.

First, Retired General Jack Keane of the US Army has made it clear that US-led coalition was winning in Iraq, and achieving war objectives. The United States intends to establish a democratic and independent Iraq, no threat to its neighbors and a long term partner for American security. Most importantly, Kean stressed the vital goal of not to make Iraq a terrorist heaven.

General Keane said there were no longer civil wars in Iraq. The number of casualties among Iraqi civilians and US soldiers has declined. Sporadic attacks may persist, but terrorists in Iraq no longer sustain the level of violence to threaten the regime.

Quite importantly, General Keane points out expansion of mutual cooperation between US forces and Iraqi citizens, because people are fed up with violence by insurgents. Sunnis are fighting against Al Qaeda, and Shiites are expelling Iranian influence. Also, the Iraqi Security Forces have been improved qualitatively and quantitatively, and they are evolving from internal defense forces to external defense forces. This is a vital point to talk about the future of US-Iraqi relations.

Finally, Jack Keane explained why the surge has made success. Prior to the surge, the Bush administration focused on training of Iraqi forces, but they were not ready to defeat insurgents. Therefore, the Unites States decided to send additional counter offensive troops, and changed leadership structure under General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

After General Keane outlined strategic success in Iraq, Kimberly Kagan, President of the Institute for the Study of War, presented her analysis on the progress of political process there. As Keane mentioned in this lecture, former ethnic and sectarian insurgents are turning toward political participation, in order to appeal their interests. Kimberly Kagan criticizes a widespread understanding that the surge has defeated insurgents, but it has not brought political progress. Contrary to such viewpoints, she argues that the surge has led to political progress.

Although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki desired to execute leadership in a British styled parliamentary cabinet system, continual violence deterred constitutional political process. Since the surge, influence of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite radical leader, has diminished. Also, Al Qaeda can no longer afford to threaten the Iraqi government and obstruct political process.

Kimberly Kagan summarizes the above mentioned success and stresses positive impacts of the surge. As a result, legislative procedures moved forward. Currently, Iraqis are making their country into a real parliamentary democracy, based on diversified interests and ideologies. Despite some progress, the upcoming provincial election may provoke political competition among ethno-sectarian groups, which may develop into conflicts as parliamentary democracy is not firmly rooted yet. Therefore, Kimberly Kagan insists on maintaining current level of US troops in Iraq.

Finally, Frederick Kagan commented US operation in Iraq in the context of global security and the War on Terror. He points out that the Iraq debates often dismiss regional and global context of this war. Frederick Kagan stressed that the purpose of the Iraq War is not just creating an isolated show case of democracy in the Middle East, but advancing American interests there.

It is critically important that Frederick Kagan articulated American interests of this war, because the media and the public often forget this vital premise, and easily fall into emotional pacifism that the United States stop this “immoral” (of course, this is their view.) war. In reply to widespread criticism among liberals that fighting in Iraq was a distraction of the War on Terror, he compared the current war with Franklin Roosevelt’s decision on World War Ⅱ, attack Nazi Germany first despite the Pear Harbor. Frederick Kagan asserts that Senator John McCain is right to argue that US forces stay in Iraq, and Obama is wrong to say that American troops withdraw from Iraq and focus on Afghanistan.

In a big picture of regional strategy, Kagan insists on making Iraq a bulwark against Iranian expansionism. He lists up Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq, and Taliban in Afghanistan. Regarding current nuclear negotiation with Iran, Frederick Kagan says it is extremely dangerous to start talking while surrendering at first. Without US forces, Iran faces no hurdles to increase its influence in Iraq, which will simply strengthen Iran’s position in the nuclear negotiation.

Frederick Kagan added that both Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and National Security Advisor Mowaffaq al-Rubaie are exploring strategic agreements with the United States, while US Democrats oppose the deal. He criticizes Democrats short-sighted behavior as Iraq sits at the heart of the Middle East geo-strategically, and Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri regard Iraq a primary frontline against the West. Judging from history, I think Frederick Kagan mentions the right point, because this geo-strategic consideration is the vital reason why the Abbasid dynasty of the Islamic Empire moved its capital from Damascus to Baghdad in the 8th century.

The media misreported that Maliki agreed with Obama. Frederick Kagan point out that neither Maliki nor Rubaie agreed with Barack Obama to set a fixed timetable for US withdrawal. This is an essential point to discuss the future of Iraq.

I strongly recommend watching this event video, because the three experts tell lucidly how broadly believed understandings on Iraq are poorly founded. The United States is winning, and further strategic cooperation with new Iraq is making progress.