A new president brings fresh eyes to old problems, but more importantly, the head of the executive branch has the flexibility to reject the failed policies of his predecessor without gravely wounding his own credibility. Unfortunately, John McCain has promised, should he become president, to continue the disastrous Middle East policies of the current administration. Worse, he has chosen his advisers from the ranks of the neocons who conspired using falsehood and fear to hoodwink the U.S. into invading Iraq.
McCain’s principal Middle East point men are Brussels-based pundit Robert Kagan and ex-CIA director James Woolsey, both signers of the infamous 1998 Project for the New American Century letter advocating the use of force to remove Saddam from power. McCain had sought to add yet another neocon to his coterie, Robert Bruce Zoellick, but the Bush administration tapped Zoellick for the top job at the World Bank (then-president Paul Wolfowitz having gotten himself into difficulties there for taking the neocons’ unspoken credo, "screw the Arabs," rather too literally).
When James Woolsey, who spent much of his short tenure as CIA director scouring the agency’s files for secret data about flying saucers, isn’t trying to get the U.S. to attack Iran, he’s pushing a wild scheme to bankrupt OPEC by substituting corn-based ethanol for gasoline. Woolsey’s ideas are so impractical and cuckoo that they make one think alien abductions do in fact occur from time to time.
Robert Kagan, like almost all neocon Middle East experts who want to remake the Muslim world, knows little about the area, has never lived there, and understands no Arabic or Farsi. He is also a self-styled military expert who has never served in the armed forces. Perhaps because Kagan is married to Victoria Nuland, U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he thinks some of her military expertise has rubbed off on him. After all, if Hillary can say that she learned crisis management from Bill, although I’d be willing to bet he never let her answer the phone when it rang at 3:00 a.m., what’s to stop Kagan from making a similar claim?
As for Nuland, she apparently learned enough about war to make her a worthy ambassador to NATO, the world’s premier military alliance, by working for several years as Dick Cheney’s deputy national security adviser. Although Cheney never served in the military, the five draft deferments he received during the Vietnam War must be something of a record, at least for the state of Wyoming, and deserve some sort of special recognition. Certainly Cheney has, along with the rest of the Bush administration, demonstrated expertise in sending other people’s children off to war.
While a well-nourished Kagan has been enjoying Brussels at taxpayer expense, he has continued to churn out rubbish for the reading public. One of his offerings posits the rather amusing formulation that "Americans are from Mars, while Europeans are from Venus." Kagan claims that Europeans exist in a "self-contained world of laws and transnational negotiation," while Americans believe that "international laws and rules are unreliable defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession of military might."
Now is the time to ask Kagan whether the American decision to employ "military might" against Iraq was a wise decision or whether the Europeans were better served by their reliance on a "world of laws and transnational negotiation." Furthermore, are Kagan and his neocon associates, whose shameless lies contributed mightily to the decision to attack Iraq, culpable under the very "international laws and rules" Kagan is so keen to dismiss? The first two counts of the indictment at Nuremberg Tribunal against the Nazi leadership, "conspiring to launch a war of aggression" and "waging a war of aggression," are the bedrock of international jurisprudence on unjust war. Robert Jackson, American prosecutor at Nuremberg, unhesitatingly laid all the crimes and abominations of war itself killing, torture, starvation, disease, destruction at the feet of the Nazis who pursued aggressive war as national policy. Jackson noted that "to initiate a war of aggression is a supreme international crime in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole." At the very least, Kagan bears a heavy moral responsibility for the horrors invasion has brought to Iraq.
It is a little ironic but no surprise that Kagan and the rest of the neocon pack seem to savor comparing Saddam to Hitler, thereby scoring a few propaganda points but demonstrating that they are incapable of distinguishing the leader of a first-class military and economic power from a Third World dictator with a fourth-class army. Kagan has also claimed that Saddam "fancied himself the new Saladin." Really? Saladin was a Kurd, and Saddam was intent on marginalizing and dispossessing Iraq’s Kurdish population. Kagan’s small but telling lapse is wonderfully demonstrative of his quite limited knowledge of the Middle East.
Kagan has made a number of amusing but incorrect observations and predictions about the Iraq war and occupation. To give a few examples, Kagan stated in March of 2004 that the "rather remarkable truth is that [the Iraqis] have made enormous strides towards liberal democracy," and the U.S. "may have turned the corner in terms of security." He also observed "there are hopeful signs that the Iraqis of differing religious, ethnic, and political persuasions can work together a far cry from the predictions before the war both here and in Europe that a liberated Iraq would fracture into feuding clans." Kagan also made the usual prewar neocon claims about Iraqi WMDs: "obviously the administration intends to publicize all the weapons of mass destruction U.S. forces find and there will be plenty." What seems strange is not that Kagan has been consistently wrong about Iraq, but that no one seems to remember or care. Kagan’s errors have in no way disqualified him from being one of John McCain’s principal advisers on Iraq and the Middle East. In this regard, Kagan is no different from the rest of the neocon fraternity, which although thoroughly discredited by events still finds a respectful hearing in government and the media.
Like McCain, Kagan believes the troop surge, which began early last year, has been a success. That Robert Kagan would tout the triumph of the surge is no surprise, as it was cooked up by his brother, Fred Kagan, at the American Enterprise Institute. Its unvoiced goal is to delay the moment at which the Iraq project is adjudged an utter flop until after the November elections.
Meanwhile, both Robert Kagan and McCain have chosen to ignore the disintegration of the Iraqi state. The Kurdish area continues to assert its status as an autonomous region and is periodically bombed and invaded by the Turks. The number of Iraqis in neighboring countries and Iraqis internally displaced has increased from 2 million to 4.5 million over the last year. Baghdad and the rest of the country are increasingly divided between Shia and Sunni. All the important political parties in the Iraqi parliament have their own militias, and the Sunni "Sons of Iraq" force is actually funded by Uncle Sam.
Kagan’s and McCain’s case for improved security in Iraq might have been partially convincing until Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, ordered the Iraqi army, trained by the U.S. military at vast expense, to suppress the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’ite leader whose political influence John McCain had declared just two weeks ago to be "one the wane." Not only did the Iraqi army fail to defeat his militia, but senior representatives of the Iraq government traveled to Qom in Iran to meet Sadr under the auspices of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to craft a cease-fire agreement. One wonders how this signal event, so representative of Irans steadily growing power in Iraq, will be spun by Kagan, McCain, and the administration when Gen. Petraeus appears before Congress in a few days’ time.
On the question of Iran itself, only 15 months ago Kagan was arguing that "the answer will have to be invasion, not merely an air and missile strike, to put an end to Iran’s nuclear program as well as its regime." More recently, Kagan has recognized that invading a nation of 75 million when you can’t bring order to a country of 25 million might not be the wisest approach. Kagan now says that the U.S. should talk to Iran, if only to exhaust all peaceful avenues and thus enable the U.S. to bomb Iran with a clear conscience: "If [the U.S.] decides it must take strong action, it will have an easier time showing that all other options were exhausted ." On the other hand, McCain has no time for Kagan’s faux diplomatic approach. McCain is ready now to "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," even if he knows so little about what is going on in the region that Joe Lieberman had to set him straight about the deep enmity between Iran and al-Qaeda.
Robert Kagan is the ideal adviser for John McCain. Like the Bush administration and Kagan’s fellow neocons, both men are determined to deny the facts of the American disaster in Iraq. Kagan’s position is understandable. Stripped of his role as Iraq war cheerleader, Kagan is just another State Department spouse living the good life in Europe on an accompanied tour. McCain’s situation is different. He claims to be a leader, but if he were a leader, he’d face up to reality and seek a prompt exit from Iraq.