Frederick Kagan: The Architect of Mr. Bush's Plan

Historians in the News

[ Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. ]

One of the key architects of President Bush's disastrous Iraq war policy was responsible for writing the president's new plan calling for an increase in US troops in the region.

By relying on the recommendations of neoconservative scholar Frederick Kagan, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, on what steps the White House should take to address the civil war between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, President Bush has once again ignored the advice of career military officials and even some Republican lawmakers - many of whom in recent weeks have urged Bush to resist implementing a policy that would result in escalating the war - and instead has chosen to rely on the proposals drafted by hawkish, think-tank intellectuals that could very well backfire and end up embroiling the United States in an even bloodier conflict.

Perhaps the most alarming element of Bush's "new" plan for stabilizing Iraq is how much it relies upon the recommendations of individuals who have never set foot on a battlefield. Much of what the president outlined in a prime-time speech Wednesday evening - specifically, sending more than 20,000 additional soldiers into Iraq - was culled from the white paper, "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," written by Kagan last month.

Some of the key points of Kagan's proposal include:

We must change our focus from training Iraqi soldiers to securing the Iraqi population and containing the rising violence. Securing the population has never been the primary mission of the US military effort in Iraq, and now it must become the first priority.
We must send more American combat forces into Iraq, and especially into Baghdad, to support this operation. A surge of seven Army brigades and Marine regiments to support clear-and-hold operations starting in the spring of 2007 is necessary, possible, and will be sufficient.
These forces, partnered with Iraqi units, will clear critical Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods, primarily on the west side of the city.
After the neighborhoods have been cleared, US soldiers and Marines, again partnered with Iraqis, will remain behind to maintain security.
As security is established, reconstruction aid will help to reestablish normal life and, working through Iraqi officials, will strengthen Iraqi local government.
But these recommendations itself aren't new. In fact, this "new" plan has actually been collecting dust for two years.

In January 2005, Kagan, who at the time was associated with the controversial Project for the New American Century, signed a letter sent to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate urging lawmakers to deploy an additional 25,000 US troops to Iraq, not so much to quell the violence between Sunni and Shiite factions as to intimidate Iraq's neighbors in the Middle East by maintaining bases. Kagan, his brother Robert, and PNAC founder and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol wrote that the Bush administration had ignored its suggestions, and chose to stick with a plan drafted by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said the Iraq war could be won with fewer ground forces and superior air power.

"We write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps," states the January 28, 2005, letter sent to Senators Bill Frist and Harry Reid, Congressman Dennis Hastert, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. "While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years. The administration has been reluctant to adapt to this new reality."

As US casualties piled up, Kagan publicly criticized Rumsfeld's plan for post-war Iraq and began to peddle his ideas for a substantial increase in US troops.

"The secretary of defense simply chose to prioritize preparing America's military for future conventional conflict rather than for the current mission," Kagan wrote in the January 17, 2005, issue of the Weekly Standard. "That position, based on the hope that the current mission would be of short duration and the recognition that the future may arrive at any moment, is understandable. It just turns out to have been wrong."

The lack of soldiers on the ground has been a hot-button issue since the start of the March 2003 invasion. Career military officials believe that is the reason the war hasn't been a "cakewalk." They blame former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld for designing a flawed war plan that has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 US soldiers and led to deep divisions between senior military officials and the defense secretary.

In Wednesday's speech, but without identifying him by name, Bush put the responsibility for the quagmire squarely on Rumsfeld's shoulders. But the president also lauded Rumsfeld's war plan. In a televised news conference last year, Bush said there was no need to send additional troops into Iraq.....

Kagan resurfaced in early December with another column in the Weekly Standard, "We Can Put More Forces in Iraq," which suggested sending more troops to the region and continuing to fight the war for up to two years.

"A study of post-conflict operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and elsewhere conducted by Ambassador James Dobbins showed that success in those operations - characterized by severe ethnic and sectarian violence - required force ratios of 1 soldier per 100 inhabitants," Kagan wrote. "Iraq poses challenges that are in some respects more severe, at the moment, but it also offers its own rules of thumb. Successful clear-and-hold operations in Tal Afar required a force ratio of around 1 soldier (counting both US and Iraqi troops) for every 40 inhabitants. On the other hand, in 2004, Major General Peter Chiarelli suppressed a widespread uprising in Sadr City (an area inhabited by about 2.5 million Shiites) with fewer than 20,000 US soldiers - a ratio of about 1 to 125."

Following the publication of Kagan's column, Vice President Dick Cheney and senior members of Bush's cabinet began to enter into a dialogue with Kagan to draft an alternative plan for dealing with the violence in Iraq. The move was orchestrated so the White House could avoid adopting the proposals set forth that week by the Iraq Study Group, led by longtime Bush family confidante James A. Baker III, that called for entering into a dialogue with Iran and Syria and redeploying troops in 2008.

Two weeks later, Kagan published "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," the AEI white paper that recycled his public statements and columns from 2005 that were highly critical of Rumsfeld's post-war planning. Like the January 28, 2005, letter he sent to Congress and the Senate, the 47-page report called for sending more troops into the region to combat the violence between Sunnis and Shiites - which ultimately would ensure the war would continue to rage for at least two years.

Ultimately, President Bush agreed with Kagan, and used the key recommendations of his study as the foundation for his new Iraq policy - a policy that even some staunch pro-war Republicans have distanced themselves from.

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