The Kagans We Need

Having earlier noted that the United States of America is suffering from a dire shortfall of Kagans, the good news is that we now have more words written by Fred Kagan that ever before, courtesy of National Review. In the course of a 5,000+ word essay he pulls of the neat trick of analogizing his opponents to Neville Chamberlain in the second graf. The general structure of the argument seems to be that, given that Chamberlain was skeptical of the merits of fighting a war over a "far-off country of which we know little" any and all refusal to fight wars in such countries is likely to lead to Adolf Hitler conquering the world.

I mean that characterization pretty seriously.

Here's Kagan loading the argumentative dice in paragraph three: "Unless the advocates of defeat can show, as they have not yet done, that the consequences of losing are very likely to be small not simply the day after the last American leaves Iraq, but over the next five, ten, and 50 years, then what they are really selling is short-term relief in exchange for long-term pain."

Now, of course, not being a hugely dishonest person I can't tell you that I have any real way to predict with any confidence what Iraq, the Middle East, or the world at large will look like in 50 years. The best I could offer is the commonsensical observation that it will depend on a great many things other than Iraq. It seems, however, that Kagan is a hugely dishonest person and hence has no compunction about propounding this nonsensical standard of argument. But Iraq has, obviously, opportunity costs. There are lots of things we could be doing with our military that aren't being done. Can Kagan guarantee that every single one of those things has consequences are very likely to be small over the next 50 years? Of course not -- it's preposterous. Similarly, by this standard (which is usual with neocon arguments) it can never be correct for any country to bring any war to an end.

Meanwhile, this seems like as good a time as any to revisit Fred Kagan's three point plan for winning the war on terror. It's something I uncovered doing Heads in the Sand research and appeared in his article "Fear not the Taliban" in the November 19, 2001 issue of The Weekly Standard:

Above all, we must abandon fear and focus on our goals. It is not enough to eliminate al Qaeda or overthrow the Taliban, our immediate objectives. Neither is it enough simply to say that we aim to end terrorism. Instead, we must state specifically and categorically what is to be done:
  • Replace the Taliban with a stable Afghan regime committed to functioning as a respectable member of the international system and preventing the use of its territory and resources for the support of terrorism.
  • Eliminate to the best of our ability known terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.
  • Replace Saddam Hussein's criminal regime before he finds a way to use the chemical and biological weapons we know he is developing for a devastating attack on the United States.
To achieve these aims will require significant rearmament, necessitating major increases in defense funding at a time when a nervous administration would prefer to focus on stimulating the economy. The economy is important, but winning the war is nonnegotiable. We no longer can ask why we should fight in a far-off land of which we know nothing -- the connection between Kabul and New York is painfully clear. This is not a time for half-measures or turning inward. Above all, it is not a time for fear. It is a time for leadership that lives up to the quality of the American people, who have shown themselves ready for sacrifice. And it is a time for decisive action.

This is like an ur-text for Green Lantern thinking. If only we can overcome fear then our rings will work on yellow objects we'll be able to eliminate all terrorist groups and Saddam's regime simultaneously. In the meantime, Kagan just asserts without evidence (and as we now know, wrongly) that Saddam Hussein was not only developing biological and chemical weapons (which was at least widely believed) but also that he was developing them in order to launch a devastating attack on the United States (through what mechanism?) which was always preposterous.

But whatever. Agree with Kagan or you're the next Chamberlain.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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