Thursday, July 26, 2007

Arm chair generals help shape surge in Iraq

Rowan Scarborough
The Washington Examiner
2007-07-25 15:30:00.0

WASHINGTON - When it comes to the troop surge in Iraq, a bunch of arm chair generals in Washington are influencing the Bush Administration as much as the Joint Chiefs or theater commanders.

A group of military experts at the American Enterprise Institute, concerned that the U.S. was on the verge of a calamitous failure in Iraq, almost single handedly convinced the White House to change its strategy.

They banded together at AEI headquarters in downtown Washington early last December and hammered out the surge plan during a weekend session. It called for two major initiatives to defeat the insurgency: reinforcing the troops and restoring security to Iraqi neighborhoods. Then came trips to the White House by AEI military historian Frederick Kagan, retired Army Gen. John Keane and other surge proponents.

More and more officials began attending the sessions. Even Vice President Dick Cheney came. "We took the results of our planning session immediately to people in the administration," said AEI analyst Thomas Donnelly, a surge planner. "It became sort of a magnet for movers and shakers in the White House." Donnelly said the AEI approach won out over plans from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command. The two Army generals then in charge of Iraq had opposed a troop increase.

In January, President Bush announced the surge, which kicked off the next month. "I think without the AEI exercise, it would be highly unlikely we would have followed a completely different course over the last six months in Iraq," Donnelly said.

Keane already had done some ground work. He won a private meeting with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in September. The retired four-star bluntly told him that he would lose the war unless he changed tactics.

The emergence of AEI as a power player on Iraq belies the notion that neo-conservatives are on the decline in Washington. AEI brags an impressive roster of neo-con thinkers. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, an Iraq war architect, arrived at AIE this summer, joining such prominent conservatives as John Bolton, David Frum and Michael Ledeen.

With its plan in place, the AEI Iraq team is not sitting still. Keane is an adviser to Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. He has inspected war conditions on two visits. Kagan left for Iraq this week.

"It was kind of the 11th hour, 59th minute," Donnelly said of AEI's surge plan. "It's the function that think tanks are supposed to perform to provide independent advice and analysis."

rscarborough@dcexaminer.com

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