Transcript: AEI Scholar Frederick Kagan on 'FNS'

Written by Chris Wallace / Published July 15, 2007 / Fox News Sunday

The following is a partial transcript of the July 15, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: Our next guest, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, was an early and strong advocate of a troop surge in Iraq, the plan, of course, to use additional forces to quell sectarian violence. He joins us here now.

Good morning. Welcome.

FREDERICK KAGAN: Good morning.

HUME: You just heard Senator Levin make an argument that I think many in Congress and many in the country would agree with, which is that the Iraqis — yes, they've made some progress in some areas, but these key, very sensitive areas, the oil and gas wealth sharing law and so on, have not been enacted and show no particular signs that they're going to be.

What's wrong with that argument, if any?

KAGAN: Well, I never expected that the Iraqis would have passed all of these laws by July 15th. Frankly, the legislation doesn't specify that they pass all these laws by July 15th.

HUME: Which legislation is that?

KAGAN: The supplemental legislation that put these benchmarks in place. It also looks for a report on progress. It doesn't look for the laws to be passed now.

And that's why there's supposed to be another review in September, and I don't know how many of them will be passed by then.

I think that we focused excessively on centralized legislation, which is one of the hardest things to do given the makeup of the Iraqi government, and we have a problem that we've got a huge political progress taking place at the grassroots in Iraq, especially in Anbar, but not just Anbar, that isn't accounted for in these benchmarks.

And so the question is at the same time as you have people demanding that we change our military strategy from month to month, they're insisting that we continue to pursue the same political strategy all through without any changes and any accounting for variations in the situation in Iraq. It doesn't make sense.

HUME: All right. Now, what about the notion that you heard Senator Levin articulate that the surge is now complete? What about the surge? How is it going? Steve Hadley says it's going well. What do you say?

KAGAN: The surge is going very well. Major operations began on June 15th. The period prior to that was a period of preparation, deployment of forces.

We've now begun the largest coherent counterinsurgency operation we've conducted in Iraq. It has no precedent in the way we fought the war to date. We're hitting all of the major Al Qaeda sanctuaries in the country simultaneously, something that we haven't done before.

We're also going after Jaish al Mahdi fighters and other Shia groups — the JAM, the Shia militia groups.

HUME: Right.

KAGAN: And you know, it's a very large-scale coordinated offensive. The notion that you can stand here less than a month into that operation and say, "The whole thing's a failure, forget about it," is nonsensical.

That's an operation that's going to take several more weeks, possibly months, to play out, before you can really evaluate whether it's going to achieve security.

And even when you've done that, there will be more time needed before you can really hope, I think, for substantive political progress.

HUME: A clear distinction is made by war critics between the operations against Al Qaeda, targeted at Al Qaeda, and what they describe as getting in the middle of a civil war, and that presumably means our efforts to shut down the Shiite death squads and the other elements of sectarian, purely sectarian, violence.

What is your view of that distinction? And what percentage of the trouble that's now being noticed in Iraq is being caused by the one or the other?

KAGAN: Well, I can't — I don't think you can talk about percentages, because people are trying to make a false dichotomy here.

The reason why we have a civil war in Iraq, the reason why we have sectarian violence, is because Al Qaeda deliberately set out to create and foment sectarian violence.

It was the bombing of the Samarra mosque in 2006 which set off this round of intense sectarian violence, which only began to drop again in January as the surge began, and Al Qaeda's still at it. That's why they went after the minarets of the Samarra mosque not very long ago.

And so Al Qaeda — their whole strategy revolves around generating sectarian violence, because that's how they embed themselves in local communities in Iraq.

So the notion that we could somehow fight Al Qaeda without concerning ourselves with the sectarian violence completely misunderstands the realities to the ground.

This isn't Afghanistan. These guys aren't living in big training camps in the middle of the desert like they did in Afghanistan. They're mingling with the population and they're using sectarian violence to force the population to support them.

If you don't stop that dynamic, then talking about fighting Al Qaeda is just nonsensical.

HUME: But if we assume that our operations against Al Qaeda succeed, as you suggest they are beginning to, do you believe that will naturally result, therefore, in the diminution or even perhaps the end of the sectarian violence that's been carried out by militia groups and death squads and so on?

KAGAN: Well, the interesting thing is that as we began the surge, the Shia militias stood down to a very considerable extent and dramatically reduced the degree of sectarian violence they were engaged in, and they have continued to be stood down to a very large extent, even despite a large Al Qaeda surge, I think largely because they believe that we are going to go after Al Qaeda and take care of this problem for them, and for other reasons.

We will still have to worry about the Shia militias. We are worrying about them. We've taken out thousands of their leaders and facilitators, because if you're talking about a stable Iraq, now we have to be concerned also about Iranian influence, and Iranian influence with Shia militias is very heavy, and it's something that we have to deal with.

And after all, we don't want Iraq to be a militia state, and death squad activities that the Shia carry out could recreate support for Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups in the Sunni community if we don't bring it under control.

So we have to worry about all of these things. But the priority right now from the standpoint of American national security and also from the standpoint of progress in Iraq is going after Al Qaeda.

We're doing that in a new way. It's being very effective so far, and it's something we need to continue.

HUME: So is it fair to say, based on what you've seen, that we are winning or not?

KAGAN: It's too early to tell. We've definitely reversed a slide. By the end of 2006, I would have been prepared to say unequivocally that we were losing.

All of the trend lines were bad. Sectarian killings were going up month to month. The violence was increasing. Things were looking very bad. We've absolutely reversed that trend.

And so it's no longer the question, as people keep talking about pulling the plug on a disastrous strategy that is spiraling into the abyss. That is not at all what's going on.

We've reversed those trends, and now we see a lot of positive trends, including positive political trends, particularly at the grassroots. That's something that I think that we can build on.

We're in the middle of a war. You rarely know in the middle of a war what the outcome will be. If you'd asked Lincoln early in 1864 who was going to win the Civil War, he would have said the South. So it's too soon to tell.

But I think right now we've reversed negative trends and we're moving in the right direction. If we keep pursuing the right strategy, there's reason to hope that success is still possible.

HUME: Fred Kagan, good to see you, sir. Thanks for coming in.

KAGAN: Thank you.

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