The neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which contributed so much to the propaganda and planning for the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, appears set to launch its “Defend-the-Surge” campaign in the run-up to the presentation of and Congressional debate over the Petraeus-Crocker report on Thursday, September 6, with an afternoon forum whose title, “’No Middle Way’ in Iraq,” is suggestive of its conclusions. (Perhaps coincidentally, Rich Lowry has an article in the latest National Review magazine whose subtitle is “Sen. Richard Lugar and the Disastrous ‘Middle Way’ on Iraq” – an attack on Lugar’s floor speech that called, among other things, for the adoption of the major recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.)
The line-up is predictable, although it lacks even the token dissident whom it usually invites on such occasions, if for no other reason than to act as a convenient Colmes to AEI’s raging Hannitys. Participating in the first panel will be two of the Surge’s key architects – Fred Kagan (who escorted Bill Kristol on his first trip to Iraq earlier earlier this month) and ret. Gen. Jack Keane. Joining them will be (surprise!) Michael O’Hanlon from the supposedly more-liberal (but increasingly interventionist) Brookings Institution, a big Surge supporter whose July 30 New York Times op-ed co-authored by fellow-Brookings Iraq hawk, Ken Pollack, made such a splash in the mainstream media (See my colleague Khodi Akhavi’s Aug 22 article on the subject).
The second panel will feature presentations by Kagan and two alumni of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt, who have since moved up several stories from Kristol’s complex on the fifth floor of the 1150 17th St., N.W., building in downtown Washington to AEI’s headquarters. This panel will feature the release of “No Middle Way,” or what is described by AEI as “an evaluation of the June 2007 report by the Democratic/Republican realist Center for a New American Security (CNAS) entitled “Phased Transition: A Responsible Way Forward and Out of Iraq.” That report called for the Bush administration to end its Surge and launch a transition process that focuses U.S. forces on an advisory role and reduces our military presence in Iraq from approximately 160,000 today to about 60,000 by the end of 2008, a strategy that, incidentally, may not be so far from that favored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at least according to an important article published by the Los Angeles Times Friday. Needless to say, the fact that the second panel will not include anyone from CNAS suggests that AEI believes there really is “no middle way” either here or in Iraq.
In any event, a partial preview of the upcoming forum and AEI’s arguments in favor of sustaining the Surge is available in an analysis in Kristol’s ‘Weekly Standard’ posted today in which Kagan gives his take on Thursday’s NIE. Kagan, whose academic expertise is German military history, predictably exaggerates the NIE’s more-positive findings about the security situation and downplays or disagrees (presumably based on all of his recent parachutings into Iraq) with the more-negative assessments. (“…[T]he obsession with the ability of Iraqi units to fight without any American help is foolish.”) While the NIE, for example, sees increased Sunni cooperation with U.S. forces against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) over the past six to nine months as opportunistic and as an effort to “strengthen themselves for a post-Coalition security environment” (i.e., intensified sectarian conflict), Kagan, who obviously depends heavily on his U.S. and Iraqi handlers during his trips to Iraq, sees “an indication of passive reconciliation (by Sunnis)” to Shi’a dominance of the government and its security forces. Obviously, neither the intelligence community nor U.S. correspondents who have vastly more experience on the ground in Iraq have echoed that assessment.
But, as was also predictable, Kagan seizes on one of the last of the NIE’s assessments – that changing the U.S. military mission from a “primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations [as proposed by the CNAS and Congressional Democrats] “would erode security gains achieved thus far” as the most useful in the upcoming debate.
“Critics of the current strategy can use parts of the NIE to raise concerns about the political process in Iraq. Using those concerns to justify abandoning the current strategy, as the NIE itself clearly states, will jeopardize the enormous progress already made against al Qaeda in Iraq, which remains a potent threat that could reconstitute itself rapidly if we lifted the pressure from it. The fact that we have achieved a great deal without yet achieving all of our objectives is not grounds for abandoning a successful strategy. It is grounds for continuing it.”
That is certain to be a major theme of the September 6 forum and indeed of the neo-conservative effort to keep the Surge alive.