Long frontpage takeout taking out the Kagans today in the Washington Post. The so-what-else-is-news headline -- "Civilians Held Petraeus' Ear in War Zone" -- almost caused me not to read it, given this obvious fact has driven so many posts and columns here over the years. There is news in the story though, all of it stomach-turning. As I read it, Petraeus, in addition to everything else, is a weak commander who used the Kagans as a crutch. The Post, meanwhile, is more interested in underscoring what the Kagans gained from the relationship.
Some excerpts, starting with the Post's equation of No Salary (the Kagans refused USG compensation) + Petraeus Access = Defense Contractor Contributions.
The pro-bono relationship which is now being scrutinized by military lawyers, yielded valuable benefits for the general and the couple. The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank. For Petraeus, embracing two respected national security analysts in GOP circles helped to shore up support for the war among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. ...
I doubt Petraeus' support on the GOP side of Capitol Hill was ever in question given the slavish adulation for miitary brass that lawmakers engage in, mistaking it, I suppose, for patriotism. It is true, nonetheless, that this adulation for Petraeus in particular, plus the Kagans' centrality in Petraeus COIN effort, magnified the Kagans' influence over the GOP Establishment's disastrously flawed understanding of war in the Islamic world.
Just in passing we learn:
After the couple’s most recent trip in September, they provided a briefing on the war and other foreign policy matters to the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Back to the military-industrial-think-tank-complex:
The Kagans said they continued to receive salaries from their think tanks while in Afghanistan. Kim Kagan’s institute is funded in part by large defense contractors. During Petraeus’s tenure in Kabul, she sent out a letter soliciting contributions so the organization could continue its military work, according to two people who saw the letter.
On Aug. 8, 2011, a month after he relinquished command in Afghanistan to take over at the CIA, Petraeus spoke at the institute’s first “President’s Circle” dinner, where he accepted an award from Kim Kagan. To join the President’s Circle, individuals must contribute at least $10,000 a year. The private event, held at the Newseum in Washington, also drew executives from defense contractors who fund the institute.
“What the Kagans do is they grade my work on a daily basis,” Petraeus said, prompting chortles from the audience. “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.” ...
Maybe he was telling the truth...!
After Obama was elected, he [Fred Kagan] made clear that his strategic priority was Afghanistan. The Kagans soon shifted focus. In March 2009, they co-wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that called for sending more forces to Afghanistan.
And I wrote: "What Do You Mean, If We Ever Want to Leave Afghanistan?"
When Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal assumed command of the war that summer, he invited several national security experts to help draft an assessment of the conflict for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The 14-member group included experts from several Washington think tanks. Among them were the Kagans.
How about Greg "Three Cups of Deceit" Mortenson?
The members, who were not paid by the military, stayed in Kabul for six weeks in an advisory role modeled after a similar team Petraeus convened in 2007 to evaluate the war in Iraq.
The Afghan assessment struck an alarming tone that helped McChrystal make his case for a troop surge, which Obama eventually authorized.
The Kagans should have been thrilled, but they soon grew concerned.
They thought McChrystal’s headquarters was not providing enough information to them about the state of the war. The military began to slow-roll their requests to visit Afghanistan. In early 2010, they wrote an e-mail to McChrystal, copying Petraeus, that said they “were coming to the conclusion that the campaign was off track and that it was not going to be successful,” Fred Kagan said.
To some senior staff members in McChrystal’s headquarters, the e-mail read like a threat: Invite us to visit or we will publish a piece saying the war is lost.
Worried about the consequences of losing the Kagans, McChrystal authorized the trip, according to the staff members.
Fred Kagan said the message was not intended to pressure McChrystal, though he acknowledged, “I imagine that Stan didn’t appreciate receiving an e-mail like that.”
Indeed, McChrystal did not, according to the staff members. After an initial meeting in the headquarters, McChrystal asked his aides to leave the room and he proceeded to voice his displeasure to the Kagans.
After their trip, which lasted about two weeks, the Kagans penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal. “Military progress is steadily improving dynamics on the ground,” they wrote.
“We obviously came away with . . . a more nuanced view that persuaded us that we were incorrect in the assessment that we had gone in with,” Fred Kagan said in the interview.
Wielding the op-ed pen
When the couple returned to Kabul in late June 2010, they planned to stay for eight days. McChrystal had just been fired by Obama, and Petraeus was heading over to take charge of the war. They expected to meet with Petraeus, who had become a good friend, and then stick to their agenda of touring bases in the south. ..
The Defense Department permits independent analysts to observe combat operations, but the practice became far more common when Petraeus became the top commander in Iraq. He has said that conversations with outside specialists helped to shape his strategic thinking.
The take-home benefit was equally significant: When the opinion makers returned home, they inevitably wrote op-eds, gave speeches and testified before Congress, generally imparting a favorable message about progress under Petraeus, all of which helped him sell the war effort and expand his popularity.
Other commanders soon caught on. By the time the Kagans arrived in Kabul in June 2010, it was commonplace for think-tankers and big-name columnists to make seven-to-10-day visits once or twice a year. Two analysts from the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot and Stephen Biddle, were in Afghanistan at the same time at the invitation of Petraeus.
Petraeus asked the four to remain for a month to six weeks. Boot and Biddle couldn’t stay that long, but the Kagans were game, even though they had packed for only a short trip.
Petraeus called them his “directed telescopes” and urged them to focus on the challenge of tackling corruption and building an effective government in Afghanistan, a task they addressed with gusto.
“Petraeus relied on the Kagans for a fresh set of eyes . . . because he didn’t have the same nuanced understanding of Afghanistan that he had of Iraq,” a former aide to Petraeus said.
Islam-blind leading the Islam-blind.
When the Kagans told Petraeus they had planned a vacation in August, he urged them to go ahead. But, Kim Kagan said, “he demanded that we return.”
What a weak commander.
Higher security clearance
When they returned in September 2010, the Kagans’ writ no longer resembled the traditional think-tank visit or an assessment mission intended to inform an incoming commander. ...
The Kagans believed U.S. commanders needed to shift their focus from protecting key towns and cities to striking Haqqani encampments and smuggling routes, according to several current and former military and civilian officials familiar the issue.
In the late summer of 2010, they shared their views with field officers during a trip to the east. “They implied to brigade commanders that Petraeus would prefer them to devote their resources to killing Haqqanis,” said Doug Ollivant, a former senior adviser to the two-star general in charge of eastern Afghanistan.
But Petraeus had not yet issued new directives to his three-star subordinate or the two-star in the east. “It created huge confusion,” a senior military officer said. “Everyone knew the Kagans were close to Petraeus, so everyone assumed they were speaking for the boss.” ...
Allen, who succeeded Petraeus in July 2011, did not want to continue his predecessor’s arrangement with the Kagans, but he also did not want to upset them. Allen allowed them to stay for a few months. Two subsequent visits were kept to less thana month, according to a senior official in the Allen headquarters.
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. But her major backers appear to have been pleased that she cultivated such close ties with Petraeus, who went from Kabul to head the CIA before resigning this fall over his affair with Broadwell.
At the August 2011 dinner honoring Petraeus, Kagan thanked executives from two defense contractors who sit on her institute’s corporate council, DynCorp International and CACI International. The event was sponsored by General Dynamics. All three firms have business interests in the Afghan war.
Kagan told the audience that their funding allowed her to assist Petraeus. “The ability to have a 15-month deployment essentially in the service of those who needed some help — and the ability to go at a moment’s notice — that’s something you all have sponsored,” she said.
It's also something we all have been afflicted with.