Frederick Kagan: Plan B? Let’s Give Plan A Some Time First

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Frederick W. Kagan is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former professor of military history at the United States Military Academy.]

KUWAIT 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.

The strategy now under way in Iraq — we are providing an increased number of American forces, working closely with Iraqi troops, to establish and maintain security in Baghdad as a precondition for political, economic and social progress — will change the situation in Iraq significantly, whether or not it succeeds in its aims.

In fact, it has already done so, and for the better: the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has apparently fled to Iran; American and Iraqi forces have killed or captured more than 700 key leaders and allies of his Mahdi Army, causing the movement to fragment; sectarian killings in Baghdad in April were about one-third of the level in December....

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