BRIAN LAMB: Kim Kagan, how would you describe what you do for a living?
KIM KAGAN, PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: I’m a military analyst and a military historian. I am the President of the Institute for the Study of War which is a non-partisan think tank here in Washington, D.C., that aims to educate civilians and civilian policymakers in particular about military affairs, military policy, and the ongoing operations that they have to encounter and wrestle with in their decision-making here in Washington.
LAMB: Why do you do this?
KAGAN: Well, as you know it is a cornerstone of our democracy that civilians actually have some very important decision-making power about military affairs. And in order for democracy to flourish, civilian policymakers must be able to evaluate commanders, evaluate strategies, and make determinations about what our nation’s overall policies should be.
And that’s actually sometimes a very difficult thing for civilians to do, particularly in this era of a volunteer army in war time.
LAMB: Let’s just go through a series of things. You are from what town in America?
KAGAN: Well, I am from New York, New York. I grew up in Marlboro, New Jersey. And now I live in Washington, D.C.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
KAGAN: I went to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. And I spent a large portion of the past 15 years in and out of Yale.
LAMB: Did you get a Ph.D. from Yale?
KAGAN: I did. And then I was there as a fellow and as a faculty member a couple of years ago teaching in Yale’s directed studies program, which is humanities program for outstanding freshman and also in their international studies program.
LAMB: Where else have you taught?
KAGAN: I’ve taught also at West Point which was my primary faculty appointment from 2000 to 2005. I taught history there to please (ph), that is to say to freshman, and then also to juniors and seniors who were majoring in history.
LAMB: Have you ever been in the military?
KAGAN: I’ve never served in the military. I have, of course, a West Point employee, been employed by the Department of the Army but as a civilian. West Point’s faculty is now 20 to 25 percent civilian as mandated by Congress in 1993.
LAMB: Can you think back to when you got interested in history and in war history?
KAGAN: Well, I’ve been interested in history all of my life. And I’ve been interested in military history, oh, probably since high school, certainly since college.
When I arrived at Yale as an undergraduate, Sir Michael Howard was a distinguished Chair and Professor of Military History really (ph) arrived (ph) at Yale University. And he taught a marvelous course on war and nationalism in 19th century Europe.
And it was really quite a fascinating course. I was probably interested in war and military history before then, but I was, of course, more so after the class in part because war is such a complex problem. It’s so central to human development, the development of states and societies, and because it seems so complicated to understand and quite frankly it was very difficult to find someone to explain it to me.
And so I think that it became a passion as a matter of study precisely because it was complex and precisely because it was very ordinary in new (ph) events but very extraordinary to understand in intellectual terms.
LAMB: How did you make yourself an expert?
KAGAN: Oh that is a difficult thing to do. On the one hand I studied war and military history, history, and also classics as a Yale undergraduate and then again as a graduate student at Yale.
But I think that it really I think my expertise really came from the time that I spent at West Point working with the officers that were also serving on the West Point faculty.
West Point’s faculty, as I told you, is about 20 to 25 percent civilian. Fifty percent of the faculty at West Point are captains and majors who come in from the regular army after serving as company commanders and then go back to army advanced schooling and then hopefully to command the earningest (ph) which served in south positions back in the real army, as they say.
And having those colleagues was an extraordinary education for me since I was a civilian. I was very interested in war. But I didn’t have the source of expertise and technical language really to refine my study.
And it was working with them that I think really helped me to understand military operations in a way that I’d always wanted.
LAMB: Now, I noticed you also taught at American and Georgetown and Yale.
KAGAN: I did.
LAMB: So is there a difference between among these different student groups? For instance, when you’re looking at the cadets at the military academy versus the civilian schools.
KAGAN: Well, I think that 18, 19, 20, 21 year olds are on the whole very similar at any good college or university. And so I found that the cadets were not so different from dailies (ph) nor were they different from students in American or the students at Georgetown.
There, of course, had they (ph) served yet as officers and so they are learning about their profession and about the concept of war and what that means as part of becoming an officer.
That said, one of the things that struck me most about teaching cadets was particularly the passion that many of them had after 2001 for their service and their determination to be part of something larger.
It’s not something that I found was absent in students at Yale or students in American. It was just I think more eagerly expressed and more easily resolved in the context of being a cadet and serving one’s country.
LAMB: What kind of a family did you grow up in?
KAGAN: Oh, I grew up in a wonderful family. My father, Cal (ph), is an accountant. And he has worked in New York and New Jersey and has most of his interest lies in his work. My mother was actually a teacher, and she also held elected political office in our town, Marlboro, New Jersey, where she was a councilwoman when I was growing up. And she, of course, interested me very much in politics.
And my brother, Eric, is a wonderful sibling, and he has worked mainly in the child care profession of recent years. So it’s a family that’s particularly interesting and particularly, I think, dedicated to teaching and research.
And that’s really where I grew up. I grew up in a family that was interested in teaching.
LAMB: I have a stack of things here called the Iraq Report by Kimberly Kagan. It’s a whole bunch of them. How much have you written about the Iraq war?
KAGAN: Oh, well, I’m just completing Iraq Report number eight, which I hope will be published on our Web site, understandingwar.org, and on the Weekly Standard Web site some time over the course of the next week.
But I’ve written eight-plus reports and they’re fully documented reports. My goal with the Iraq Reports was to explain these complex military operations that everyone here and in Washington and, indeed, so many people in America are deeply interested in but which sometimes seem like random acts of violence that are completely incomprehensible.
And I think one of the problems with comprehending the Iraq war is that many people assume that because it is a counter insurgency because there is irregular warfare and because there are so many suicide bombs that go off, it’s somehow inexplicable, not understandable, not comprehensible.
And so my goal with the Iraq Report was to explain what was going on in Iraq using the concepts that military professionals use to explain military operations but in a way that civilians could understand and not be scared by that technical language that sometimes the military uses that seems incomprehensible.
LAMB: How much of war have you seen up close?
KAGAN: I’ve been to Iraq twice, the first time in May, 2007, and the second time at the very end of July, 2007. So I can’t say I’ve seen it up close in the way some of my students and friends have. But I have been able to do some battlefield circulation, which is what officers call it when they go and make a tour of the sub units in the field serving under their command and make an assessment of what those units are doing and what’s going on, as they say, in the unit’s battle space.
So to give you a concrete example, that means that when I go to Baghdad I would visit different units, the units in Northwest Baghdad, spend some time at the brigade level with the brigade commander, and then spend some time with the subordinate battalions and companies to see and get a feel for their activities in their neighborhoods of Baghdad.
And since this war’s so complex and it varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, it’s very interesting and important to get that feel for what’s going on on the ground from the commanders on the ground.
LAMB: Your involvement in the surge, is there any way to describe it?
KAGAN: Oh, I don’t know that I’ve had much involvement in the surge overall. That’s a decision, as you know, that was debated here in Washington very much last year in the November/December 2006 timeframe.
And I will tell you that at the time I was very interested in the possibility of surging forces into Iraq. And it seemed to me as though there was an opportunity to secure the population of Iraq in a real counter insurgency fight using counter insurgency principles and thereby dampening the level of violence.
And I did, in November and December 2006, participate in a study at the American Enterprise Institute known as the Iraq Planning Group which did recommend a surge of five brigades into Iraq in order to improve the security situation.
And so I would describe myself as an early participant or advocate in the debate about the surge, but I really think that that was part of an overarching review that military commanders on the ground, the White House, the Department of Defense, undertook in November and December of last year to figure out what to do in Iraq since it was very clear last year that things were not going well and the mission was not being accomplished.
LAMB: As I told before we start (ph) I want to try to connect the dots. And to do that, if we start with a clip from December 9, 2005, when somebody named Kagan appeared on one of our call-in shows.
FRED KAGAN: My father is Donald Kagan, Yale Constance (ph). My brother is Bob Kagan. And there’s another Kagan coming behind me, my wife, Kim Kagan.
LAMB: What does she do?
KAGAN: Well, she had been teaching with me at West Point until May. And she’s been teaching at Yale this past semester. And she’ll be down here teaching at Georgetown this coming semester.
LAMB: So your father is at Yale teaching.
LAMB: And your brother is over in Belgium.
LAMB: What’s he doing there?
KAGAN: He’s working on public policies at the (ph) Carnegie Institute and also with the German (ph) Marshall Fund. And he’s continuing his work on the massive history of American Foreign Policy.
LAMB: And who is his wife?
KAGAN: Victoria Nuland who is the U.S. Ambassador to NATO.
LAMB: What’s this mean to you?
KAGAN: Oh, that is of course my husband, Fred Kagan. And he was introducing the members of his family and mine, the Kagan side. And it is, of course, an interesting family also to be part of, again, a family of teachers, historians, and people interested in strategy.
So it was, and has been, a very wonderful time. My husband and I have been married for almost 15 years now. And I have certainly benefited a lot from having a collegial family who’s also interested in the same kinds of things that I’m interested in.
LAMB: Where did you meet him?
KAGAN: At Yale as undergraduates. We met, by the way, through a mutual friend. And we worked together and took some classes together while we were Yale undergraduates.
LAMB: Now, when you worked on the report from AEI, what role did he play?
KAGAN: He was their lead writer and the lead organizer of the Iraq Planning Group at the American Enterprise Institute. And so I was actually very keen to participate in the group as a military historian, as a military analyst, and as someone who had been following Iraq somewhat intensely over the past six months, even as I was teaching military history at Georgetown to civilians or shepherding master’s students at Georgetown through their master’s theses.
LAMB: Here is a video clip from June 18, 2006, on this program.
VICTORIA NULAND: I met Bob Kagan in George Shultz’s State Department. He was George Shultz’s speech writer and I was a freshly minted baby diplomat. And we had some friends in common. And we ended up at one of those nerdy, wonky (ph) lectures in the basement of State Department and sort of were interested in each other and it went from there.
LAMB: She used to work for Vice President Cheney. And now she’s a U.S. Ambassador to NATO and she’s married to Bob Kagan who is your husband, Fred Kagan’s, brother. You know, the dots take a long time to connect here. What difference does that make to you as her do you have to when your family’s all together, do you all argue about this kind of stuff?
KAGAN: Well mostly about Yankees baseball and 1940s movies. So those are the subjects of family passion and family discussions. But of course we’re all interested in U.S. foreign relations. But we all think about the problems differently.
Victoria comes at problems from her career in the United States Foreign Service. Fred and I come at problems from our experience as historians and also our experiences at West Point. Bob, of course, has an incredible grasp on American history and U.S. foreign policy and has the background in the State Department in Foreign Relations.
And so that means that even on any issue we can have an argument amongst the four of us that’s truly vigorous and truly interesting reflecting our own individual perspectives on a problem.
LAMB: Well, let’s continue to connect the dots. Here is Bob Kagan, your brother-in-law.
BOB KAGAN: Donald Kagan’s my father. He’s an Ancient Starling (ph) at Yale. He’s been teaching there for I guess over 40 years. And Fred Kagan is my younger, smarter brother. He’s also a historian. He’s now at the American Enterprise Institute. And, you know, in many respects is the sort of formulator of the idea of how you would view (ph) the surge in Iraq right now.
He’s a military historian with tremendous expertise on current and past military issues.
LAMB: What would you say is an issue that you all would disagree on?
KAGAN: Oh, I think I think actually the question of the specific posture of the United States ought to take within the world is something that we can’t actually debate. We all agree that the United States needs to take an active role in foreign policy.
But of course on specific issues we might disagree. So of course there are many issues on the table right now such as perhaps what the United States strategy should be in the Middle East and how important it is compared to its obligations in Europe or in Asia and what kinds of priorities and focuses the United States should have over the next decade, whether the problems that we’re seeing in Iraq are likely to be the central problems in the U.S. foreign policy for the next decade or whether there’s almost a blip on the radar screen.
And that’s something that the four of us can have an intent argument about. And I think only time will tell which one of us is right.
LAMB: What’s your position on the Iraq war in the first place?
KAGAN: How do you mean?
LAMB: Should we have done what we did?
KAGAN: I think that we should have done what we did in 2003. It seemed to me in 2003 that the containment policy that we had adopted for the past decade plus had failed and had produced repercussions in the region that were destabilizing.
So when we think about Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorist acts of his group, they were based in part on the fact that the United States had established a large military presence in Saudi Arabia.
And when I think about the idea of Saddam Hussein gaining that weapons with mass destruction, which all intelligence services from all of our lives pointed to at that time, I think that was a very scary problem and possibility. And the idea of containing Iraq had failed. The idea of reducing the weapons of mass destruction program through inspections had apparently failed.
And so given the information that we had, that was the correct decision at the time. Now, of course, there’s absolutely no, as it turns out, that Saddam Hussein did not have a weapons of mass destruction program. He had an elaborate deception program to make us think he had weapons of mass destruction, perhaps to deter us from invasion.
But that doesn’t mean that the containment policy had been working such that we understood that it was working in 2003. So I think it was the right decision. And if I had to do it again, I would say you have to judge decision makers by what they know at the time.
And that’s how it looked to all intelligence services in 2003.
LAMB: Is there would you be a neo com (ph)?
KAGAN: People use that term. And I don’t really know what that means. I don’t define myself as part of any particular political group or sub group.
LAMB: Does your husband?
KAGAN: No. No. I think that we would probably both describe ourselves as military analysts and as historians. And insofar as we think about the events that are going on here in Washington, we’re both very interested in defense policy issues but not necessarily in a wider range of policy issues that of course are important, too, on the American agenda.
LAMB: What was the first war you studied in depth?
KAGAN: The first war I studied in depth was probably the Panic (ph) Wars, Roman warfare. And in fact my degree is in ancient history. And the first war that I ever wrote about at length was actually Caesar’s Gaelic (ph) War. And Caesar is an absolutely fascinating commander.
And I found that the study of ancient warfare is actually an excellent introduction to problems of military history because we do not have the archives full of information about all of the small decisions that all of the units on every battlefield undertook.
But we do have some tremendous monumental accounts of warfare in the ancient world that describe military decision making in a way that I think an ordinary human being can grasp.
And so you can approach the problems of command, of organization, of the relationship between commanders and soldiers and of war of a phenomenon very easily through the ancient sources. And of course it’s fun to read Caesar. It’s fun to read Bucities (ph). It’s fun to read Polibeus (ph) and learn about the concept of war in ancient times.
I can go on forever about this, though, so, you know, before you let me do that, you should decide whether you want me to.
LAMB: Well, I want to stick another film or not film tape in here of another person in the Kagan family. I know I’m on the Kagans. By the way, what was your maiden name?
KAGAN: My maiden name was Kessler (ph).
LAMB: So here’s another Kagan. And the reason I put this here is because one of the wars he wrote about was the Peloponnesian Wars and other things. He goes way back also. Here’s Donald Kagan.
DONALD KAGAN: Bob and Fred are my two sons. Bob is the older and he is a very interesting fellow who went to Yale and then he went to the Cayman (ph) School of Government at Harvard. And then he went into the government and he put in a batch of years working mostly in the State Department
LAMB: As a political job?
a political job. Right.
LAMB: Which president?
KAGAN: For President Reagan. And he has taught me so very much that I would never have known otherwise because as a practitioner in the world of international relations, foreign affairs, he has brought the real war home to me and taught me an amazing amount. And I wanted to express my gratitude for that.
Now he’s decided that he, of all things, he wants to be a historian, fear (ph) the Russian historian, and wanted his assistances (ph) to me was, first of all, that he can read Russian and I can’t. So he was able to translate documents for me and get me that stuff I couldn’t have gotten out otherwise.
But he also has a very wonderful understanding of the history of Russia and of the Soviet Union and how it works. And he particularly was able to instruct me in military doctrine and the way in which politics and the military worked in Soviet Russia, something I didn’t understand adequately.
And I think many people who write about the subject don’t understand adequately. So it’s a logo (ph) that Fred educated me.
I strongly advise people to have children because you can learn a lot from them.
LAMB: That was 12 years ago, almost right after you got married. Did he ever teach you in class?
KAGAN: He never taught me in class. I was never one of his students. I did actually work as a teaching assistant while I was a Yale graduate student in ancient history. And so since he was the Greek historian, I taught as TA in his class so I finally got to hear his lectures after many years by sitting in his class as a teaching assistant.
He is, of course, a tremendous role model for all of us and for many generations of Yalees (ph) who were interested in war, who were interested in policy, and who were interested in history but didn’t really know how to study those subjects.
And he was extremely key in all of his teaching to make sure that his students could understand those human dimensions of decision making in war, so many of which are constant over time and also the political systems in which those decisions arrive, democratic offense (ph). Oligarchic (ph) spoya (ph) was an apparatus of kings and advisors. And the way in which those political systems constrained decisions.
And then finally, the political and international systems in which those two city states found themselves very complicated relations among states. And so he in the ancient world allows a complicated and perhaps as complex as the modern world.
But again, he made ancient history a proper introduction to the study of policy.
LAMB: Now, put this together for us. If you’re outside of this town and don’t know how it operates and you look in and you see Fred Kagan with American Enterprise Institute, Bob Kagan with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace no, let’s take
KAGAN: That’s right. International peace.
Victoria Nuland, U.S. Ambassador to NATO. You and Fred Kagan have taught at the academy. And now you have something that you’ve started called the Institute for the Study of War. I’m sure I’ve missed you were at Georgetown for a while. How does all this work? Where does all the money come to support all this stuff?
KAGAN: Well, of course as you know in Washington, D.C., there are a number of think tanks that are essentially private charitable organizations that are established through the Goya (ph) Corporation and a variety of processes with the IRS. And they receive donations with public charities.
And so the American Enterprise Institute is one. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is another. And the Institute for the Study of War is legally incorporated and applying for its status as a tax exempt charitable institution.
LAMB: And that’s your institution?
KAGAN: That’s my institution.
LAMB: Is it connected to Harvard?
KAGAN: It is not connected to Harvard. I have been truly fortunate over the past several years to be affiliated with Harvard’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, which is a premier academic institution for teaching young professionals all about strategic studies and their connection to both policy and war.
And I’ve been assimilated (ph), in fact, for a lot of different project on how it is that powerful states become empires. And it was a subject that Professor Steve Rosen (ph) at Harvard at the Olin Institute was keen to study when I was there in the 2002-2003 academic year, the year that the United States decided to go to war in Iraq.
And that’s something that I was very interested in as a historian, was America becoming an empire. And if so, how might we know? And so I have undertaken a large research project under Olin auspices on that subject. I’ve put together an edited volume and it lurks in review processes right now. And hopefully it will be published in the next several years.
LAMB: Now, if you listen to a conservative talk show host, you would hear them rail against Yale and Harvard and Princeton and these Eastern schools. But here you have Olin, John M. Olin, well I mean, tell me if I’m wrong, conservative, a man who’s been dead for a lot of years but he lived until 1982 and was in the chemical and munitions business and gave money to the foundation, spent $370 million but went out of business, which is we almost never hear of a foundation going out of business.
How did he get associated with Harvard? And how did and has the Olin Foundation done anything with you at all? Have they funded I know they’re not in existence any more, but did they start you on the way?
KAGAN: No. Actually the Olin Institute did not. The Institute for the Study of War is new, actually, and so in essence posted (ph) the Olin Foundation’s foreign policy program.
But I don’t actually know how Olin how the Olin Institute, how the Olin Foundation got involved with both Harvard and Yale and a number of other colleges and universities. But I can tell you that it was keenly important for the prosperity of military history and strategic studies as a field within the academic world.
And of course they have a problem in military studies which is that it can be seen as a professional discipline only (ph) to be really studied by those who are in uniform, something that should be taught at war colleges, staff colleges, at military academies, rather than a subject that should be part of the study of humanities and of social sciences in a civilian, academic university.
And I think that that’s a fundamentally flawed concept because since the point of a liberal education in the humanities and social sciences is to educate students so that they can be active participants in civil society. And since active participation in civil society means making judgments about military operations, about strategy, about military leaders, and about policy, it seems to me very disturbing that there should be so many folks within the academy who don’t think that the study of warfare should be part of intellectual curriculum for all students.
I think it’s just as valid a subject of study as government or economics. And as we enter a period of war time and war time foreign policy, diplomacy, and decision making, something that is extremely important for the next generation of Americans to understand.
LAMB: On your Institute for the Study of War, how did you start the whole thing?
KAGAN: I did. I had one thought about the problem of educating civilians in military affairs, especially because I had been a civilian keenly interested in war and warfare and understanding the relationship between politics and war and as one who really could not understand it simply through the academic processes at Yale even though there were actually fairly robust when I was an undergraduate and a graduate student.
And as I told you, I really learned about war from my time working with, associating with officers at West Point who could educate me on their experiences. And when I first arrived at West Point there were still commanders there who had served in the first Gulf War who could educate me about their experiences.
And then I worked with a generation of commanders who saw the peace keeping deployments of the ’90s and now who have seen the war-time deployments in the current conflict in Iraq.
And so I really wanted to learn I really wanted to communicate what I had learned from them to other civilians knowing full well that if I could learn it as an intellectual discipline, so could other people. there’s not really a grave special fear that keeps the comprehension of military affairs apart from the comprehension of all other affairs.
LAMB: If you were talking to a civilian audience and you wanted to recommend them to go buy one book that would help you understand war, what would you say? And it doesn’t have to be just one if you’ve got one, two, or three. Where would you send them?
KAGAN: Oh my goodness. That’s just that’s a phenomenal question. And I have to tell you I don’t think there has been one book written yet that will adequately introduce students to the subject of the study of war.
LAMB: Send us in a direction though.
KAGAN: All right. I’ll send you in a variety of directions. If I may be so bold as to suggest, again, beginning with some ancient authors, reading Fucidetis (ph) or reading Caesar. I think that’s actually a really fun thing to do to raise awareness of one’s awareness of interesting military campaigns.
But that doesn’t really tell you about war as a whole. One can think about a wonderful book called, For the Common Defense, that’s really an education on the U.S. military and what role it serves. I think that might be a fantastic
LAMB: Who wrote it?
introduction. That’s Allan Millett’s book. And then of course if one wants to read about the history of warfare, my former colleague and the former chairman of the West Point History Department, Colonel Bob Doty, is the editor of a two-volume history on warfare in the western world that, again, I think provides a splendid introduction.
But it does tell you a little bit about the academic field of military history. But there really is no one book out there that explains the concepts behind modern warfare the professionals use to understand it.
For me, I’d bury (ph) those concepts through army doctrine, through talking with professionals and through their use of terms of concepts.
LAMB: I’ve got to be careful how I say this. And don’t get me wrong well, maybe you will. But you’re a small person compared to, let’s say, a big, strapping, you know, military person with all the gear on. And here you are, 15 years into doing this business, standing in front of cadets at West Point.
How do you get credibility in front of that group?
KAGAN: Well, one of the reasons why civilians were introduced at West Point as faculty members was precisely because it was so important to educate cadets at a young age that they needed to be responsive to civilian authority because in America, of course, civilians have ultimate control over the military.
The commander in chief of the United States Armed Forces is the president. And the second in command in the chain of command of course is the Secretary of Defense then down to the combatant commanders.
And so that is a really important lesson that officers need to wrestle with from the beginning of their career. But quite frankly, I’ve found that as long as one knows what one’s talking about, one can gain the respect of any audience regardless.
LAMB: Do they test you?
KAGAN: Of course they do.
LAMB: How do you know you’re being tested?
KAGAN: Oh, I think it depends on the situation. I’ve had students in the classroom test me and test my authority by coming late to class, which at West Point is, of course, not permitted. But that’s one thing that they do.
Or they try to ask question, intellectual questions that they think that you can’t answer. But I’ve found that it was really actually very easy to get the respect of so many of my students and to attain that respect over time.
And here again I think West Point is a particularly interesting sociological experiment, if you will, because it encourages all of the professors to develop long-term relationship with its cadets. And now some of my cadets have deployed multiple times to a lock (ph).
I’ve even had the privilege of visiting some of them in their company commands in Iraq and seeing what they’re like as officers rather than what they’re like as students.
LAMB: I have one of your reports, the Iraq Report. How can the general public watching this get your reports if they want to read them?
KAGAN: They can go to the Web site at the Institute for the Study of War which is www.understandingwar.org. And the Web site has all of these Iraq Reports plus other materials such as statistics, maps, and references.
And actually they’re launching a new Web site on or about the 19th of December, 2007, that I think will be an incredible resource for those who want to learn about military history.
And I think the Web provides us with an interesting way of teaching military history by having documents interact with maps. And I always tell new military historians, ”You have to read with the map. You have to open a map. You can’t understand or comprehend military history without a map.”
And so we’re developing some interesting accounts of the ongoing military operations in Iraq that will integrate relatives (ph) with maps so that, again, ordinary people can understand what’s going on on the ground.
LAMB: How many people work at your institute now?
KAGAN: Right now there’s me. I have some truly talented researchers, Marisa Cochrane, Patrick Gaughen, and Eric Sares (ph) are full and part-time employees at the Institute. And they’re a terrific research team.
They’re all young, recent graduates of either college or master’s degree programs that focus on security studies. They’re all civilians. They’re all keenly interested in learning about military operations.
And one of the purposes of the Institute for the Study of War is to raise a cadre (ph) of talented young people who 10 years from now or 15 years from now will be holding interesting government jobs or interesting positions of authority and policy and have analytic experience and capability to talk with their peers in the military regardless of their experience.
LAMB: Have you ever worked in a government?
KAGAN: I’ve only worked in the government as an employee at West Point. Now that is actually a very interesting lesson in bureaucratic politics and a very interesting lesson what it means to be a part of a huge institution and organization because, of course, West Point has congressional oversight, DOD oversight, and the oversight of teams (ph) of commanding generals.
But otherwise I have not actually worked for the United States government in any other capacity.
LAMB: No politics.
KAGAN: No politics. Of course, my mom was in politics when I was growing up and so I saw what she did and I determined quite early on that that’s not what I wanted to do.
LAMB: On your Web site I found a series of charts. And they come from a briefing I guess from General Petraeus to Congress.
KAGAN: General Petraeus, yes, releases numerous sizes (ph) to General Odierno, the second in command in Iraq.
LAMB: But if you go through them, I mean, and we’ll show our audience this on the screen, it shows all these charts show over the last several years that the lines went up and now they’re all coming down. Is that all related and this is in Iraqi civilian deaths up and down. It shows where the surge began on June 15 of ’07 and then the line basically keeps going down.
Ethno sectarian violence deaths gone down. Every one of these shows things going down. Troops are increased but these all these the violence trends are down. Does this prove you were right about the surge?
KAGAN: I can’t say that it proves that I was right about the surge. What I can say is that it shows that the command Inabock (ph) which was executed for a different plan from the one that we discussed in the AEI planning groups in December.
The command has been very successful in calling (ph) violence. And their statistics correlate almost exactly with what General Odierno calls the surge of operations. Remember in February, March, April, and May, our troops were still arriving in Iraq a brigade a month and establishing themselves in positions in and around Baghdad and around the support challenge that al-Qaeda was using in order to hone (ph) in it’s spectacular attacks at suicide bombs.
On June 15 the court, which is the largest military headquarters in Iraq that actually conducts combat operations, launched a series of offensives all throughout central Iraq in order to attack all of al-Qaeda’s safe havens at once.
And if you look at those violence charts that you find on understandingwar.org, you’ll see that the violence levels spiked for about a week after that surge of operations begins. And then they start to decline rapidly.
And that’s because in the first week of those operations you do see enemy responses and enemy attacks and quite a bit of fighting. But after that you see a wave of security being re-established in urban areas such as Bucuga (ph), Fallujah, and al-Jabbour (ph) which is a real safe haven to south of Baghdad.
LAMB: How do you when you’re about to write one of these reports, first of all, how long does it take you to write them? They’re about 15 pages long?
KAGAN: They vary. They’re between 15 and 20 pages long. And they’re fully documented. And so sometimes they have 100 endnotes at the end. And it depends on the complexity of the topic how long they take to write. Maybe as about three weeks or four weeks, but some of them spend months in preparation.
LAMB: Do you write them?
KAGAN: I do write them.
LAMB: And how I noticed that again as you listen to all the calls that we’ve gotten during the war and you listen to the different talk shows, people call up and complain about The New York Times, the Washington Post, all these publications. I noticed that a lot of your footnotes are from there.
KAGAN: I think the reporters often provide some very good information and from very good stories on what’s going on on the ground. What I do with the Iraq Reports is put some of the smaller stories in context.
I feel like it’s probably very hard in daily (ph) journalism environment to contextualize why a particular fight is occurring in a particular area, why has violence surged a little bit in northwestern Baghdad in March, April, May of this year. And why has it fallen dramatically in August and September?
Those are stories that are very difficult to tell in a short piece in a major newspaper. And also there’s really a tendency to focus on very engaging events such as car bombs or suicide bombs or small bottles without actually being able to step back and see the larger context of the operations that they’re fitting into.
And I think that it’s been very difficult for the press to do this because for so many years in Iraq, the United States pursued very reactive operations and didn’t really have a coherent strategy, a coherent offensive, that really addressed so many problems through so many areas.
And so there came to be a tendency to focus on these single acts of violence or these small acts of success and have those be the narrative of the war. But as a military historian I know very well that those acts of violence really don’t mean anything without the context. We have to understand what the enemy was trying to do and what U.S. forces were trying to do.
And if we take an area like Northwest Baghdad we see that there were al-Qaeda groups out on the western fringes that were trying to gain control of terrain while Dashon Meckni (ph) and other world (ph) militia groups were trying to move southward around the Tigris River and contest al-Qaeda’s expansion.
That’s a war that we can understand. But if you don’t put a violent act in that context, you don’t really understand what’s going on.
LAMB: So how do you when you finished well, first of all do you talk to military people before you write the report?
KAGAN: Sometimes. I work very closely with the materials that the U.S. military puts out. They put out something like eight press releases a day. And so there is just a huge amount of information put out by the U.S. military. But it doesn’t come with context.
And so by filing these operations continuously since February as I have, now I know what it means when a high value target is captured in Duminya (ph) in central south Iraq or how the ongoing fight in Diala (ph) Province has been going so I can contextualize these small events.
I have been doing some interviews that are available on the Web site with brigade commanders who are now rotating out of Iraq. And they are a fascinating source of information.
Their brigade (ph) is the Echelon (ph) Brigade (ph) Division, which is the Escholon (ph) below core colonels’ command brigades. And they have responsible for wide slots of terrain in Baghdad and in other places.
I’ve interviewed Colonel Sutherland up in DR (ph), Colonel Burton who just left Northwest Baghdad, Colonel Garrett (ph), who’s just left North Diala (ph) Province, and General Nixon who’s left Northern Iraq. And they’ve provided some very interesting information on how they perceive the enemy in their area, what they were trying to accomplish over the past 13 months, how the goal (ph) first changed what they could do, how General Petraeus’ new counter insurgency doctrine really changed what they were able to do.
And so I integrate those interviews into the materials that are published in the newspapers.
LAMB: You’ve got some criticism, I think, from Andrew Sullivan. You have been writing the Weekly Standard accounts. And the criticism came because you were on the AEI task force that your husband ran and then recommended the surge. What do you say to that criticism? I have not seen your reaction.
KAGAN: I say that these are academic papers. And I think that they speak for themselves. Of course, we all have very interesting policy here in Washington. But my purpose in these Iraq reports is to convey what’s going on on the ground, not to spin what’s going on on the ground as a positive or a negative development.
LAMB: Do you trust the reports you’re getting out of the military?
KAGAN: I do. And here’s why. They are the military public affairs offices are really quite devoted to telling the truth and getting stories to Americans back home about what their troops do.
What I find is that they need contextualization and that the U.S. military in part for operational security reasons doesn’t necessarily contextualize these small stories.
So the evidence that we get is very interesting, very important. But it takes the overviews by General Petraeus or General Odierno or brigade commanders in order for us to make sense of what’s going on.
For example, the surge of operations that began on June 15. A lot of reporters first started reporting that as combat operations in Bacuba (ph) or combat operations south of Baghdad. And it took about five or six days for the command actually to explain that they were conducting coordinated operations all around Baghdad and that this was significant because it meant that al-Qaeda couldn’t move from safe haven to safe haven.
But the initial press releases that we got from the commands in Baghdad were about fighting in Bacuba (ph) or fighting in Fallujah or fighting in Arabjib (ph) War. And so it takes a while to put this information together. And that’s a service that I can provide as a military historian who has synthesized many battles, many wars, ancient and modern in order to comprehend them.
LAMB: Go back to the Kagan family. And you’re all there on a holiday around the table. When is it they say, ”There Kim goes again.” Or when do they say, ”There goes Fred off on that tangent again.” Are there tangents in all of the Kagan family have around that table?
KAGAN: Well, I can tell you that I had thought that perhaps as my new profession, rather than starting the Institute for the Study of War I could actually stand in for A-Rod in the post season since in fact my contract doesn’t cost as much as his. And I probably hit about as well as he does in the post-season.
LAMB: And so about this time you’re driving them crazy because you’re talking about A-Rod.
KAGAN: Exactly. So that’s one of the issues that I go off on. And my mother-in-law objects because she likes A-Rod better than Derek Jeter. So that’s, you know, we do have family squabbles and family fun, but as I told you, sometimes they’re more about the fun stuff that all families talk about rather than some of these political issues that we all deal with in part because family time can be wonderful, better (ph) of relaxing and not thinking about the things we do at work.
LAMB: What does it feel like, though, to have been involved in recommending something called the surge and then watching it unfold?
KAGAN: I have to admit that it’s actually something that is that really think about my responsibilities as a civilian, as a defense analyst, as a strategist, but also my various responsibilities to my friends in the United States Armed Forces.
And when I was thinking about the surge policy and watching it go into place in January and February, I had numerous cadets whom I taught who were serving as lieutenants and captains down there on the ground in awful fights. They were in Sunni areas in Baghdad or north of Baghdad in which there was a great deal of al-Qaeda activity and a great deal of Shia extremist violence.
And on the one hand I knew how frustrated they were with what was going on on the ground, but it does humanize the responsibilities of decision making that we all have to think about one’s friends, one’s family members, and one’s American soldiers as individual human beings who are going to be deployed, perhaps, for a longer time, who are going to have to undertake a new mission, who are going to have to wrestle with and grapple with the problems that they see on the ground. And that’s scary.
LAMB: How do you feel about the brigades starting to come out?
KAGAN: Well, I think that there is a little bit of risk involved in that. The truth is that the security situation on the ground is being maintained by ongoing combat operations conducted by U.S. forces in partnership with Iraqi forces.
And so whereas before we had an ideal that first we could clear areas of the enemy and then we could move into a phase where we built them up, the current strategy in Iraq sees that there is an ongoing role for military operations.
This is one of the things that I discuss in Iraq Report seven about securing DR (ph). The Iraq Armed Forces continue to play an important role seeing to it that al-Qaeda does not reinfiltrate into Diala (ph) Province or into the Tigris River valley.
And so on the one hand I think that there is much greater capacity for the Iraqi security forces and the concerned citizens who have emerged in Iraq over the past six months to defend their neighborhood.
On the other hand, I think that it’s very important not to lose sight of the fact that combat operations conducted by American troops are going to be a part of counter insurgency strategy and a successful one over probably the coming year.
LAMB: Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of War, Kimberly Kagan, we’re out of time. Thank you very much.
KAGAN: Thank you so much for having me.