Outsourcing the Case for War With Iran

On the heels of President George W. Bush’s latest threats against Iran for its “murderous activities” in Iraq, the Weekly Standard has obligingly published a 30-page report by Kimberly Kagan, spouse of Surge co-architect and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellow Frederick Kagan and director of an entity called The Institute for the Study of War, entitled “Iran’s Proxy War Against the United States and the Iraqi Government” . The report seems intended to back up a series of Bush’s assertions from his American Legion speech in Reno Wednesday about alleged Iranian support for and arming of “Shia extremists.” The coincidence of the speech and the report suggests some co-ordination between the White House and the Standard since the report itself would be the kind of product that would normally be put out by the State Department and/or the Pentagon. It would not be surprising if Cheney alludes to it in his next public appearance or media interview.

Unlike the breathless disclosures of Stephen Hayes, the Standard’s correspondent who was used by Cheney’s office and former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith as a conduit for “authorized” leaks regarding the alleged relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, Kagan’s report, the sixth in a series of monthly analyses defending the “Surge” strategy, appears to be based primarily on published sources and Pentagon briefings, although its factual assertions often go beyond those of the sources on which she relies. (“The government of Iran has also exported rockets, sniper rifles and mortars to enemy groups in Iraq.”) Unsurprisingly, her conclusions imply that diplomatic engagement with Iran is counter-productive. (“These negotiations with Iran, including the establishment of a tripartite sub-ambassadorial level coordinating committee on security in Iraq, have coincided with a significant increase in Iranian support for violence in Iraq.”)

The main thrust of the report is stated by its title, and it presages a major push by the U.S. military against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq. While it stresses that it does “not offer policy recommendations,” it also concludes that, with Sunni insurgents supposedly increasingly under control, “Iranian intervention is the next major problem the Coalition must tackle.”

The Summary reads as follows:

“Iran, and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, have been actively involved in supporting Shia militias and encouraging sectarian violence in Iraq since the invasion of 2003 – and Iranian planning and preparation for that effort began as early as 2002. The precise purposes of this support are unclear and may have changed over time. But one thing is very clear: Iran has consistently supplied weapons, its own advisors, and Lebanese Hezbollah advisors to multiple resistance groups in Iraq, both Sunni and Shia, and has supported these groups as they have targeted Sunni Arabs, Coalition forces, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi Government itself. Their influence runs from Kurdistan to Basrah, and Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.

“The Coalition has stepped-up [sic] its efforts to combat Iranian intervention in Iraq in recent months both because the Iranians have increased their support for violence in Iraq since the start of the surge and because Coalition successes against al Qaeda in Iraq and the larger Sunni insurgency have permitted the re-allocation of resources and effort against a problem that has plagued attempts to establish a stable government in Iraq from the outset. With those problems increasingly under control, Iranian intervention is the next major problem the Coalition must tackle.”

K. Kagan, who has accompanied her husband on some of his guided tours of Iraq (and indeed helped escort Bill Kristol on his trip there last month), is, like her husband, a military historian who, according to her bio, has taught at the U.S. Military Academy, Yale University, Georgetown University and American University and is currently an affiliate of Harvard’s John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, a department founded by Samuel Huntington is now headed by Steve Rosen. Rosen, as I noted in a recent post, is a prominent neo-conservative who is a member of Rudy Giuliani’s heavily Likudnik foreign policy advisory team and who also contributed to “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” the 2000 guide by Kristol’s Project for the New American Century (PNAC) to ensuring U.S. military dominance of much of the planet. Rosen, I understand, is not shy about granting affiliate status to like-minded scholars; he appointed Martin Kramer, another Giuliani adviser based in Israel, to a fellowship there.

Kagan’s Institute is something of a mystery. Its website, www.understandingwar.org, includes very little information about the organization, if that’s what it can be called. No mention of a board of directors or other associates or fellows besides Kagan herself. Only Kagan’s Iraq reports, her “courses, seminars, and lectures” and her “battlefield staff rides” which, so far as I can tell, have only to do with specific battles from classical Greek warfare  through Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the Napoleonic Wars (minus Spain, the most relevant campaign to the Iraq war), the wars of German Unification, and World Wars I and II. How this establishes her expertise for assessing the Iraq war or the extent of Iranian involvement in that war is quite beyond me, but then Frederick Kagan’s expertise is in 19th century Germany military history whose relevance to counter-insurgency warfare in the post-colonial period is also unclear.

Kimberley’s doctorate from Yale University was in Ancient History, which must gladden the heart of her father-in-law, Yale classicist (and neo-conservative) who also specializes in military history, Donald Kagan, under whom I presume she studied. Of course, her brother-in-law is Robert Kagan, one of neo-conservatism’s leading thinkers. Which once again helps illustrate just how small and incestuous the neo-conservative elite is, what with the Kristol-Himmelfarbs, the Podhoretz-Decter-Abrams, the Kagans, the Gaffneys (Frank and Devon) siblings, and the Ledeens (Michael, Barbara, and Simone), to the most prominent. It’s no wonder that they are so susceptible to groupthink.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. One of the Kagan brothers appeared on C-SPAN supported “the surge” advocating our troops in Iraq should seek permission from the Iraqis to enter their homes looking for weapons. If such permission is not granted then they should batter down the doors to find them. Listening to this I wondered why this man had so much power in creating U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast and also pondered how we Americans would respond if accorded the same treatment by a foreign invader?

  2. I appreciate sound, concerned opposition to the war in Iraq, but as soon as I see political buzzwords and talking points that are factually misleading I start to wonder if the source is ignorant of facts or driven to deliberately misleading to feed their personal political partisanship. I’m not sure which is the case here, but there’s some definite misleading going on. Buzzwords like “PNAC,” “neocon,” “neo-conservative,” and the very mention of Doug Feith’s name all evoke a tongue in cheek.

    The PNAC’s middle east strategy (too often the source for “neocon” labeling) actually stems from the Clinton’s political leadership brainchild, the Democratic Leadership Council, and thus to be conservative or neocon is misleading as that strategy is clearly bi-partisan in origin.

    I’m also interested in how the implied Bush Lied mantra is presented by invoking the name of Doug Feith. He was accused by failed members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as having deliberately misled the White House into believing that Al Queda and Iraq had close ties. Whether or not those reports and or the ties were accurate is secondary to me since whatever Feith told the White House-whatever alleged misleading he did-was irrelevant. 48hrs after his group made their report to the White House, the CIA made theirs, and the CIA report (Iraqi Support for Terrorism 2002) was far more detailed than the one presented by Feith’s group. Any ambiguity, lack of clarity, or falsehoods presented by Feith’s group on Monday were cleared up (literally) the following Wednesday. Whenever someone uses his name to suggest that there was a deliberate and effective manipulation or misleading of America, I wonder if they’re parroting a political talking point or if they’re ignorant of history?

    In this article, it seems that political talking point parroting and partisanship rule over fact, and it seems deliberate.

  3. Yes, Kagan’s perspective may be consonant with that of the Bush administration. But Jim, you leave out the real question… do realities on the ground support her argumentation? According to combatant commanders, they do. Interesting that you would neglect to mention that, seasoned “journalist” that you are.

  4. do realities on the ground support her argumentation? According to combatant commanders, they do. Interesting that you would neglect to mention that, seasoned “journalist” that you are.

    How the hell do commanders on the ground know where IED come from? Is “made in Iran” stamped on every piece of shrapnel recovered from our humvees?

    Also, if Shia are getting all these fancy, powerful explosives from Iran, why haven’t they used any on Sunni mosques?

  5. Alan,

    What “realities?”

    U.S. marked weapons are turning up in the hands of Kurdish terorists in Turkey and are being used to murder Turks. Should I infer that it is U.S. policy to support terror attacks on Turkey?

    The realities on the ground are that so long as we keep 160,000 troops in a forward posture holding the urban street corners, violence will be tamped down and our casualties will be probably halved.

    But what then? Y

    You will have to remain in that posture indefintely. If you pull back, insurgents will take the opportunity to shoot at out soldiers again.

    You guys are so smart! The future of an Iraq under permanent U.S. occupation is already visible. Just look at the West Bank. 40 years on and the IDF can’t eradicate an inurgency in a tiny and completely surrounded and cut off territory.

    It won’t end any better for us and the willfull ingnorance of that example is criminal.

Comments are closed.