Matt Duss catches Fred Kagan moving the goalposts
The catch of the day belongs to Matt Duss at Middle East Progress, where he notes Fred Kagan’s changing position on American withdrawal from Iraq.
On August 28, 2007, Kagan wrote an article for National Review titled “Timelines and Defeat.” Here’s Kagan, back when the Bush administration was opposed to setting a withdrawal timeline:
As the discussion about Iraq swirls over the next month, it is essential to keep one simple fact in mind: Setting hard-and-fast timelines for the withdrawal of U.S. forces or imposing arbitrary caps on the size of those forces is equivalent to accepting failure in Iraq, with all its consequences. Nonetheless, there are many, including many in Congress, who think that success in Iraq is compatible with inflexible timelines. It is not; inflexible timelines will lead inevitably to defeat.
This is actually consistent with Fred Kagan’s current position on withdrawal. It’s not, however, consistent with Fred Kagan’s position on withdrawal on November 17, 2008. Here’s Kagan, a few days after the Bush administration negotiated the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement:
Well, this is a very significant thing, and we need to start by putting this into context in two ways. First of all, understanding that this is more, this agreement is about more than the timetable for American withdrawal. What that timetable is embedded in, is an agreement that is about a strategic partnership between the United States of America and Iraq that is intended to develop over the long term to help us deal with common enemies that we face. And the number one common enemy that we both identify, both Americans and Iraqis, is al Qaeda. And Iraq has been committed to the fight against al Qaeda, remains committed to the fight against al Qaeda. And this agreement captures the intent of the Iraqi government to develop a partnership with us, and that’s an incredibly positive thing.
And, finally, here is Fred Kagan today, after Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the year’s end:
President Obama announced today that he has decided to abandon America’s interest in Iraq and damage our position in the Middle East by withdrawing all U.S. military forces by the end of this year.
This retreat will have great costs for the United States. It squanders the gains made by both American and Iraqi military forces over the last four years, but, even more important, it squanders the enormous opportunity to forge an alliance with Iraq at a time when such an alliance would be of tremendous value to the United States. It dramatically increases the likelihood that the new and unstable Iraqi democratic experiment—already under attack from an authoritarian prime minister and a hostile Islamic Republic of Iran—will fail. The withdrawal of American forces now serving as peacekeepers along the Arab-Kurd seam greatly increases the likelihood of ethnic civil war. The withdrawal of American military protection from a state helpless to defend itself on its own effectively throws Iraq into the arms of Iran, however the Iraqis feel about the matter.
Back, in 2008, of course, the SOFA marked a great victory over Iran. In the Hugh Hewitt interview, Kagan said:
Well, actually, it’s opposed by Iran, not just Iranian-affiliated groups. The Iranian leadership has been pulling out all the stops to get the Iraqis not to do this. The Iranians are desperate for Iraq not to align itself strategically with the United States, and they have been literally trying to bribe everybody they can bribe in Iraq, and running a fantastic information operations campaign in Iraq to make this an unpopular and hard thing to do. And the Iraqi government has done it anyway. And that is actually a great accomplishment for us, and it tells us a lot about where this Shia Iraqi government actually stands on whether it wants to be aligned with the United States, or whether it wants to be aligned with Iran.
I am curious to know why Iran so strenuously opposed the U.S.-Iraq agreement to withdraw U.S. forces, when it turns out that its implementation “effectively throws” Iraq into its arms and causes the failure of the Iraqi democratic experiment. I am also curious to know why Kagan claimed in 2008 that the SOFA would be good for the United States and bad for Iran, but claims today this is actually what Iran wanted all along:
How can we claim to be taking a firm line against Iran while giving Tehran the single most important demand it has pursued for years—the complete withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq?
I suppose we can’t blame the Iranians for changing their positions on the subject – apparently, it’s pretty hard to remain consistent about this sort of thing.