Robert Kagan on Bribing Sunni Fighters: It Worked, Didn’t It?

Spiegel Online interviews Robert Kagan in its current issue. The conversation turns to “the surge” in Iraq (emphasis mine):

SPIEGEL: What contribution should the Europeans make in Iraq, and what do you specifically expect from the Germans?

Kagan: No more troops. They’re already having enough trouble with that in Afghanistan. But the new American president will undoubtedly ask the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to contribute more to economic reconstruction and to invest more in Iraq.

SPIEGEL: That requires a stable security situation.

Kagan: Correct. And, in that respect, ever since the surge, the additional troops we sent, there have been great successes…

SPIEGEL: …which are undeniable, though not necessarily sustainable. And this results primarily from the fact that the US government is paying bribes to tens of thousands of Sunni fighters to turn their backs on al-Qaida and no longer attack US troops.

Kagan: The money is really not the main issue. The issue is the entire new US military strategy, which establishes security and dramatically improves the lives of people. The New York Times recently reported that the overwhelming majority of al-Qaida terrorists have abandoned Iraq as a safe haven and that they are joining their fellow insurgents in Afghanistan.

Which, of course, puts the cart before the horse:

SPIEGEL: The terrorists are undoubtedly concentrated in Afghanistan and in the border region with Pakistan, and some are certainly going to those places from Iraq. But this is not an entirely new development. The war against terrorism should have been waged in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, as Obama has said.

Kagan: You cannot acknowledge our successes in Iraq because Europeans can never admit that Bush is doing something right.


Matt Duss at Think Progress highlights a different part of the interview, in which the Spiegel interviewer asks Kagan about the lead-up to the war. Duss quotes this section (emphasis is Duss’s):

SPIEGEL: Isn’t it true that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld took advantage of the outrage over the 9/11 terrorist attacks to strike Iraq? Is it even possible anymore to deny that the war was based on manipulation, exaggeration and flat-out lies?

Kagan: That’s absurd.

SPIEGEL: It’s a commonly held view…

Kagan: The Bush administration’s intelligence on Iraq was the same as the Clinton administration’s, the German government’s and the French government’s before the war. We now know that Saddam wanted the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction — and the world did. […]

In retrospect, we have to admit that Washington could have waited a while longer. That’s a different question. But I think it’s about time we moved beyond this silly conversation and these absurd conspiracy theories. There is a real debate as to whether we should have gone to war in Iraq. And now we should have an intelligent discussion about the new challenges we face in Iraq and elsewhere.

Duss comments:

This is ridiculous. It is now simply no longer a matter of serious dispute that the Bush administration manipulated, exaggerated and lied about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime in order to build public support for an invasion. It’s fine to argue that the Bush administration’s intelligence on Iraq was the same as the Clinton administration’s, the German government’s and the French government’s, but the much more relevant point is that the Clinton administration, the German government and the French government didn’t spin that intelligence into a justification to attempt to reorder the Middle East.

As the decision to invade Iraq will continue to produce numerous unintended consequences that future American leaders will have to face, the manner in which that decision was taken and sold to the American people will continue to be relevant. We can “move beyond this silly conversation” when people like Robert Kagan cease pretending that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, et al were arguing in good faith about the need to invade Iraq, and stop dismissing the overwhelming evidence of their dishonesty as “conspiracy theories.”

Kagan and his fellow neoconservative Washington think tank “scholars” have this much in common with Bible Spice: They both believe that it’s possible to come up with intelligent solutions to current “challenges” without discussing or understanding how past mistakes created those challenges to begin with.

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