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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Kagan, Kimberly

  • Institute for the Study of War: Founder and president

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Kimberly Kagan is founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. She is an advocate of long-term U.S. military engagement abroad, particularly in Afghanistan and Syria. She has been critical of both current and past U.S. administrations, arguing that both Donald Trump and Barack Obama failed to implement “a robust enough humanitarian or civil society or military approach” in U.S. foreign affairs.[1]

In 2018, Kagan said, “I think we’re at a moment where we’re at risk of embracing dictatorship in favor of order. The order that a dictator like (Bashar) Assad will create will be very illusory and temporary and will not actually be backed by institutions that are accepted by the Syrian people and it will be enforced by coercion that will continue the rise of extremist insurgency against the regime. So, we actually have to take the long view rather than prioritizing stability itself.”[2]

A military historian and frequent collaborator with her husband, American Enterprise Institute fellow Frederick Kagan, Kagan has authored numerous books, essays, and op-eds that look favorably upon long-term U.S. engagements in the “war on terror,” particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to her ISW biography, she has taught courses at West Point, Yale, Georgetown, and American University, and has served in a civilian advisory capacity to Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus in Afghanistan.[3]

On Syria and Iran

Speaking in March 2018, Kagan called for a deeper U.S. involvement in Syria. “Hard power and soft power are both necessary in many circumstances. Each has its role,” Kagan told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “I wouldn’t say the Trump administration is pursuing a hard power strategy in Syria. In fact, we see extraordinary continuity between President Trump and President Obama, mainly an effort to expel ISIS from its territorial control, a backing of the Kurdish groups that have fought with us, an effort at international diplomacy that was begun under President Obama. I think neither had a robust enough humanitarian or civil society or military approach.”[4]

Kagan also accused the Assad regime of failing to combat ISIS in Syria. “The Assad regime is not fighting ISIS. The Assad regime has every incentive to make sure that extremist groups perpetuate themselves in Syria so that outside powers can’t come in and strengthen the opposition and make it legitimate and democratic.”[5] This statement has been directly[6] contradicted[7] by many reports[8] and experts[9] on the Syrian conflict.

Kagan views Syria primarily through the lens of supposed Iranian influence. Writing with her husband, Frederick Kagan, in 2017, she stated, “As the revolt against Assad deepened, Tehran added thousands of fighters from Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraq’s Shi’a militias. Conventional combat forces of the IRGC joined in when a Russian air campaign in support of Assad started in late 2015.

Today, Iran commands tens of thousands more fighters in Syria than it did before the Arab Spring uprising. It has established its own military headquarters and embedded troops and advisors so deeply in the Assad regime that it cannot survive without them.”

Therefore, the Kagans recommended that the United States “shift the focus of its efforts to southeastern Syria, where neither the Kurds nor Al Qaeda have yet coopted Sunni tribes.  We must send troops to fight alongside the tribes, first against ISIS, then ultimately against Al Qaeda, Assad, and the Iranians. Only then will we escape the dilemma that paralyzes us—the fear that weakening Iran and Assad will hand Al Qaeda or ISIS the victory.

“We’ve tried the hands-off, no-boots-on-the-ground approach for six years, and it has brought us to this unacceptable dilemma,” they continued. “This is no call for a 2003-style invasion of Syria.  The U.S. must work primarily through local partners.  But we must choose the right partners, not the most expedient ones. In the current situation, when no good partners exist, we must help create them.”[10]

The Kagans were more specific in another op-ed published a few days earlier in the Wall Street Journal. “The key is finding new Sunni partners and taking the fight to new terrain, specifically, southeastern Syria, where ISIS leaders have refuge. American military forces will be necessary. But the U.S. can recruit new Sunni Arab partners by fighting alongside them in their land. The goal in the beginning must be against ISIS because it controls the last areas in Syria where the U.S. can reasonably hope to find Sunni allies not yet under the influence of al Qaeda. But the aim after evicting ISIS must be to raise a Sunni Arab army that can ultimately defeat al Qaeda and help negotiate a settlement to the war.”[11]

Journalist Robert Parry reflected the critical view that the Kagans had “touted the idea of a bigger U.S. invasion of Syria” in their op-ed.[12]

Relationship with Military Brass

Kimberly Kagan has been a close adviser to U.S. generals serving in recent U.S. wars. These relationships have drawn scrutiny, particularly the relationship Kagan and her husband Fred had with General Petraeus. According to a December 2012 Washington Post investigation, the Kagans visited Afghanistan repeatedly and extensively throughout Petraeus’ tenure there, during which time they received extraordinary accommodations for civilian visitors—including near round-the-clock access to military and intelligence officials, top-level security clearance, and priority travel to anywhere in the country, as well as desks and military email accounts. In return, the Kagans advised Petraeus and penned supportive op-eds about the general and the war effort when they periodically returned home.[13]

Although the Kagans did not receive compensation from the U.S. military for their advisory work, the Post noted that they continued to receive paychecks from their respective think tanks while they were advising Petraeus. “For Kim Kagan, spending so many months away from research and advocacy work in Washington could have annoyed many donors to the Institute for the Study of War,” it observed. “But her major backers appear to have been pleased that she cultivated such close ties with Petraeus.”[14]

Many of ISW’s major contributors and fundraisers—including DynCorps International, CACI International, and General Dynamics—are military contractors with active interests in the Afghan war. At a 2011 ISW event honoring Petraeus, Kagan thanked her corporate supporters for sponsoring her “ability to have a 15-month deployment [in Afghanistan] essentially in the service of those who needed some help.”[15]

The Kagans’ free-ranging and high-level access during their time in Afghanistan created considerable consternation among some military leaders. In one incident reported by the Post, the Kagans apparently insinuated to field commanders in eastern Afghanistan that Petraeus wanted them to direct their energies toward combating the Haqqani network, despite the fact that Petraeus had not yet issued any such order. “It created huge confusion,” said one. “Everyone knew the Kagans were close to Petraeus, so everyone assumed they were speaking for the boss.”[16]

The Post also suggested that many leaders were suspicious of the Kagans’ role. “Some officers questioned whether they funneled confidential information to Republican politicians—the Kagans said they did not. Others worried that the couple was serving as in-house spies for Petraeus,” it said. One colonel mused that “the situation was very, very weird. It’s not how you run a headquarters.”[17]

At a $10,000-a-head dinner ISW held in his honor after the end of his command in Afghanistan, Petaeus himself acknowledged his close relationship with the Kagans. “What the Kagans do is they grade my work on a daily basis,” he said to laughs from ISW donors. “There’s some suspicion that there’s a hand up my back, and it makes my lips talk, and it’s operated by one of the Doctors Kagan.”[18]

Writings

Kimberly Kagan has written frequently on the Afghan War and other U.S. foreign policy issues, often with a view to extending U.S. military interventions. More recently, she has focused her attention on Syria, both as conflict in itself and as a battleground in U.S. conflicts with Iran and Russia. In a 2016 op-ed co-authored with Frederick Kagan, she criticized the Obama administration’s approach toward Russia, writing, “Manipulating the U.S. to support Russia’s aims is, in fact, Putin’s primary goal and purpose. It is astonishing that anyone who has participated in this scenario in Ukraine over the last year could imagine that the outcome will be different in Syria this time. And yet, at Foggy Bottom and in the White House, they apparently do.”[19]

In a November 2012 Post op-ed, Kagan and her husband wrote: “It’s this simple. Either we keep the necessary number of troops in Afghanistan or operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan cease.” The Kagans recommended keeping 68,000 troops in the country through 2014 and leaving at least 30,000 indefinitely thereafter.[20]

In February 2013, shortly after President Obama announced plans to withdraw 34,000 troops that year, the Kagans took to the neoconservative Weekly Standard to criticize the plan as “unwise” and likely to increase “the risk that al Qaeda will be able to reestablish itself in limited safe havens in Afghanistan over time.”[21]

Kagan was also an avid backer of the troop “surge” in Iraq (which was formulated in part by her husband) and fervently criticized the Obama administration for its drawdown of U.S. military forces there. She co-produced The Surge: The Whole Story, a documentary on the campaign in Iraq from 2007 to 2008.[22]

After President Obama announced that U.S. troops would exit the country by the end of 2011, the Kagans co-wrote a series of op-eds lambasting the decision. “The president has enunciated the Obama Doctrine: American retreat,” they wrote in the Weekly Standard.[23] In the Los Angeles Times, they declared: “The American withdrawal, which comes after the administration’s failure to secure a new agreement that would have allowed troops to remain in Iraq, won’t be good for ordinary Iraqis or for the region. But it will unquestionably benefit Iran.”[24]

Kagan has also written on U.S. policy in Iran. In February 2008, she coauthored a report published by the American Enterprise Institute that discussed the extent of Iranian influence across the Middle East. “Much as America might desire to avoid war with Iran,” the report warned, “continued Iranian interventions … might ultimately make that option less repulsive than the alternatives.”[25]

Kagan also published a report in 2007 that concluded that U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran would be counterproductive, supporting a speech made by then-President Bush alleging that Iran was supporting the arming of “Shia extremists.”[26]

 

SOURCES

[1] USIP staff, “U.S. Policy on Fragile States: An On-Air Discussion,” United States Institute of Peace, March 22, 2018, https://www.usip.org/index.php/publications/2018/03/us-policy-fragile-states-air-discussion

[2] “Syria’s Fragile Future,” VIDEO, The 1A, WAMU, March 21, 2018, https://the1a.org/shows/2018-03-21/syrias-fragile-future

[3] ISW, Kimberly Kagan bio, http://www.understandingwar.org/press-media/staff-bios/dr-kimberly-kagan

[4] USIP staff, “U.S. Policy on Fragile States: An On-Air Discussion,” United States Institute of Peace, March 22, 2018, https://www.usip.org/index.php/publications/2018/03/us-policy-fragile-states-air-discussion

[5] “Syria’s Fragile Future,” VIDEO, The 1A, WAMU, March 21, 2018, https://the1a.org/shows/2018-03-21/syrias-fragile-future

[6] Shaun Walker, “With Assad’s fate secure, Russia sets its sights on Isis fighters in Syria,” The Guardian, September 16, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/16/russia-islamic-state-syria-assad-forces-recapture-town-okeirbat

[7] Mara Karlin, “After 7 years of war, Assad has won in Syria. What’s next for Washington?” Brookings, February 13, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/02/13/after-7-years-of-war-assad-has-won-in-syria-whats-next-for-washington/

[8] Alex Ward, “Experts to Trump: Russia is not our ally in the war on ISIS,” Vox, May 16, 2017, https://www.vox.com/world/2017/5/16/15646202/trump-russia-isis-syria-assad

[9] Conflict Monitor, “Weakening Syrian government would extend life of the Islamic State’s caliphate,” HIS Markit, April 19, 2017, http://news.ihsmarkit.com/press-release/aerospace-defense-security/study-shows-islamic-states-primary-opponent-syria-governmen

[10] Kimberly Kagan and Frederick Kagan, “It’s time for the US to quit enabling Iran in Syria,” Fox News, March 16, 2017, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/03/16/its-time-for-us-to-quit-enabling-iran-in-syria.html

[11] Frederick Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, “A New Strategy Against ISIS and al Qaeda,” Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-new-strategy-against-isis-and-al-qaeda-1489530107

[12] Robert Parry, “The Kagans Are Back; Wars to Follow,” Consortiumnews.com, March 15, 2017, https://consortiumnews.com/2017/03/15/the-kagans-are-back-wars-to-follow/

[13] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[14] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[15] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[16] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[17] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[18] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[19] Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, “How Russia controls American policy,” Fox News, February 12, 2016, www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/02/12/how-russia-controls-american-policy.html

[20] Kimberly and Frederick Kagan, “Why U.S. troops must stay in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, November 23, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-us-troops-must-stay-in-afghanistan/2012/11/23/e452bb92-3287-11e2-9cfa-e41bac906cc9_print.html.

[21] Kimberly and Frederick Kagan, “The Afghan Endgame,” Weekly Standard, February 13, 2013, http://www.weeklystandard.com/print/articles/afghan-endgame_701325.html

[22] ISW, Kimberly Kagan bio, http://www.understandingwar.org/press-media/staff-bios/dr-kimberly-kagan

[23] Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, “Retreating With Our Heads Held High,” Weekly Standard, October 21, 2011, http://www.understandingwar.org/otherwork/retreating-our-heads-held-high,.

[24] Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, “Out of Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2011, http://www.understandingwar.org/otherwork/out-iraq-los-angeles-times.

[25] Khody Akhavi, “Report Shows New Neocon Angle on Iran,” Right Web, , February 27, 2008, http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/Report_Shows_New_Neocon_Angle_on_Iran.

[26] Jim Lobe, “Outsourcing the Case for War With Iran,” Lobelog.com, August, 29, 2007, http://www.lobelog.com/outsourcing-the-case-for-war-with-iran/

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Sources

[1] ISW, Kimberly Kagan bio, http://www.understandingwar.org/user/kkagan.

[2] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[3] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[4] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[5] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[6] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[7] Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 18, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civilian-analysts-gained-petraeuss-ear-while-he-was-commander-in-afghanistan/2012/12/18/290c0b50-446a-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_print.html.

[8] Kimberly and Frederick Kagan, “Why U.S. troops must stay in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, November 23, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-us-troops-must-stay-in-afghanistan/2012/11/23/e452bb92-3287-11e2-9cfa-e41bac906cc9_print.html.

[9] Kimberly and Frederick Kagan, “The Afghan Endgame,” Weekly Standard, February 13, 2013, http://www.weeklystandard.com/print/articles/afghan-endgame_701325.html

[10] Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, “Retreating With Our Heads Held High,” Weekly Standard, October 21, 2011, http://www.understandingwar.org/otherwork/retreating-our-heads-held-high,.

[11] Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, “Out of Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2011, http://www.understandingwar.org/otherwork/out-iraq-los-angeles-times.

[12] Khody Akhavi, “Report Shows New Neocon Angle on Iran,” Right Web, , February 27, 2008, http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/Report_Shows_New_Neocon_Angle_on_Iran.

[13] Jim Lobe, “Outsourcing the Case for War With Iran,” Lobelog.com, August, 29, 2007, http://www.lobelog.com/outsourcing-the-case-for-war-with-iran/.

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Kagan, Kimberly Résumé

Affiliations

  • Institute for the Study of War: Founder and president
  • Spirit of America: Former board member

Government

  • Civilian Adviser to General David Petraeus: 2010-2011
  • McChrystal strategic reassessment team for Afghanistan: Member, 2008-2009
  • Joint Campaign Plan Assessment Team for Multi-National Force-Iraq: Member, 2009

Education

  • Yale: BA, PhD

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