Mondoweiss

Kagan pushed regime change in Iraq, now says US must get over ‘trauma’ and do Syria

Robert Kagan

Robert Kagan helped start the Project for a New American Century, the famous neoconservative shop that advised George Bush that Israel’s war with terrorism was our war and hurry up and topple Saddam Hussein because he has nuclear weapons. “If we do not move against Saddam Hussein and his regime, the damage our Israeli friends and we have suffered until now may someday appear but a prelude to much greater horrors,” they wrote. Well the greater horrors came, hundreds of thousands killed and injured, Iraq torn apart, and ISIS rising.

With that sort of record, you’d think Kagan ought to be boxing holiday orders at a fulfillment center or doing Santa duty at the mall. Nope, he’s still pushing regime change from an elite platform. A year ago, the unrepentant Brookings scholar was wheeled out by the New York Times to counsel a more aggressive foreign policy for President Obama. And now he has an after-Paris piece in the Wall Street Journal with a typically-grandiose headline, The Crisis of World Order, urging policymakers to get over their Iraq “trauma” and for Obama to replace the Assad regime in Syria.

In recent years, the mere mention of U.S. ground troops has been enough to stop any conversation. Americans, or at least the intelligentsia and political class, remain traumatized by Iraq, and all calculations about what to do in Syria have been driven by that trauma.

No mention of the trauma to the people of Iraq of the war Kagan pushed. The American political class is suffering from “paralysis,” Kagan says. But Paris has changed all that.

“Perhaps there are Europeans today wishing that the U.S. will not compound its error of commission in Iraq by making an equally unfortunate error of omission in Syria. “

Here’s the plan, it’ll just take 50,000 troops:

America will have to take the lead, provide the troops, supply the bulk of the air power and pull together those willing and able to join the effort.

What would such an effort look like? First, it would require establishing a safe zone in Syria, providing the millions of would-be refugees still in the country a place to stay and the hundreds of thousands who have fled to Europe a place to which to return. To establish such a zone, American military officials estimate, would require not only U.S. air power but ground forces numbering up to 30,000. Once the safe zone was established, many of those troops could be replaced by forces from Europe, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, but the initial force would have to be largely American.

In addition, a further 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops would be required to uproot Islamic State from the haven it has created in Syria and to help local forces uproot it in Iraq.

Of course the “heretofore immovable” Assad regime must go. Something the Israelis want too. Kagan never mentions Israel, of course. The neocons don’t want to be charged with misapprehending the U.S. interest.

At the same time, an internationally negotiated and blessed process of transition in Syria should take place, ushering the bloodstained Mr. Assad from power and establishing a new provisional government to hold nationwide elections. The heretofore immovable Mr. Assad would face an entirely new set of military facts on the ground, with the Syrian opposition now backed by U.S. forces and air power, the Syrian air force grounded and Russian bombing halted. Throughout the transition period, and probably beyond even the first rounds of elections, an international peacekeeping force—made up of French, Turkish, American and other NATO forces as well as Arab troops—would have to remain in Syria until a reasonable level of stability, security and inter-sectarian trust was achieved.

No mention of how the Syrian air force would be grounded or Russian bombing halted. Maybe Obama can just call Putin and tell him we’ve got it covered? (Snark) And only 50,000 troops to stabilize Syria. Like that really worked in Iraq.

And look at how he uses Paris:

At practically any other time in the last 70 years, the idea of dispatching even 50,000 troops to fight an organization of Islamic State’s description would not have seemed too risky or too costly to most Americans. In 1990-91, President George H.W. Bush, now revered as a judicious and prudent leader, sent half a million troops across the globe to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, a country that not one American in a million could find on a map and which the U.S. had no obligation to defend. In 1989, he sent 30,000 troops to invade Panama to topple an illegitimate, drug-peddling dictator. During the Cold War, when presidents sent more than 300,000 troops to Korea and more than 500,000 troops to Vietnam, the idea of sending 50,000 troops to fight a large and virulently anti-American terrorist organization that had seized territory in the Middle East, and from that territory had already launched a murderous attack on a major Western city, would have seemed barely worth an argument.

The Times exonerated Kagan a year ago — he “exudes a Cocoa-Puffs-pouring, stay-at-home-dad charm” — because of his powerful social connections. His good friend and fellow-armchair-gunslinger is Bill Kristol of the Emergency Committee for Israel; more importantly his wife is Victoria Nuland, an assistant secretary of state under Obama and the daughter of a revered physician and author. Even more importantly, he has Hillary Clinton’s ear. “Mr. Kagan pointed out that he had recently attended a dinner of foreign-policy experts at which Mrs. Clinton was the guest of honor.” Kagan continues to be taken seriously, not because he has a booklined office and comes up with stentorian titles, but because is a member of a class of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists, many of them also members of the Israel lobby, that won’t go away until their larger cohort, of blue state meritocrats and the Jewish organizations and Jewish donors, finally turns on them. People like Hillary Clinton and Anne-Marie Slaughter feel greater kinship to this warmongerer than they do to Jim Lobe, though Lobe has continually been right and Kagan has been repeatedly wrong.

P.S. Lobe is a friend of Weiss’s; he was given the Arthur Ross Media Award last week, presented by the American Academy of Diplomacy at a ceremony at the State Department. “The award was given in recognition of Mr. Lobe’s chronicling of the influence of the neoconservative movement on US policy in the Greater Middle East through his blog Lobelog.com.” Hat’s off to a great achievement.

Jim Lobe, on left