Why is Kim Kagan Throwing Young Analyst Under the Bus?

Elizabeth O'Bagy
Elizabeth O’Bagy

By now, if you have been following the political minutiae of the Syria debate in Washington, you know that a young Syria analyst (who turned out to be a pro-opposition advocate) was fired yesterday from her job at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which is run by neoconservative interventionist Kimberly Kagan, for ostensibly lying about having a PhD. There seems to be some confusion about whether Elizabeth O’Bagy, 26, and her newly-minted masters degree at Georgetown University had merely been a candidate for a doctoral degree, or was even registered in any Georgetown PhD program at all. On Sept. 9 she told Politico that she had submitted but not defended her dissertation, while she appears to have said the complete opposite in this Daily Caller piece on the same day. Bottom line: in her numerous media and think tank appearances, as well as a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, and most importantly, on the ISW website, she was listed as Elizabeth O’Bagy PhD. In the Daily Caller interview she told the reporter, “you can call me doctor if you want.”

We care about this even a little because O’Bagy was recently cited by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain as a credible source of research on the opposition groups operating on the ground in Syria. O’Bagy’s line jibed well with theirs, that there were enough moderate rebels in Syria to work with the United States toward peace in Syria after U.S. air strikes degraded Assad’s own military capabilities (Read: regime change ). O’Bagy, who reportedly traveled extensively among rebel groups in Syria, was also a key orchestrator of McCain’s secret trip there. Her affiliation with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an opaque pro-strike opposition group run by a guy who fronted a similar pro-strike group during the Libya debate, was never listed in her official bios, nor by the numerous media (FOX News, BBC, etc) she appeared on, nor even the ISW website. Her story began to unravel there.

kimberly-kagan-011
Kimberly Kagan

What’s most interesting about her final fall, which splashed across the media webzines and Twitter universe yesterday, is that no one seems to wonder how Kagan did not know her primary spokesperson for Syria did not hold a full-fledged doctorate and why Kagan, by all accounts, is now throwing O’Bagy under the bus. Kagan, friend and hagiographer to David Petraeus, counselor to Stanley McChrystal, sister-in-law to Robert Kagan and wife of Frederick Kagan, pro-war hawk and author of the so-called “surge strategy” that convinced a failure-stunned George W. Bush to put 20,000 more troops in harms way in Iraq in 2007, should know better. She has a PhD, right? Simply put, her subsequent interviews with reporters after O’Bagy’s firing Wednesday reeks of something, and it rhymes with CAT.
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Calling Out the NOBama Mommas and Company

The debate over Syria is on, and it looks like libertarian-leaning Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Justin Amash are leading a strong Republican charge against President Obama’s plan for airstrikes in Syria. Much to the consternation of neocon spear points John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the watered-down version of Obama’s proposal passed in the Senate (10 to 7) yesterday is headed for a big fight in the House, thanks in part to Amash and other Republicans who have expressed principled skepticism about the continued use of the U.S military as a global police force.

Sarah Palin
Sarah “let Allah sort it out” Palin

But we could not let this moment go by without noting (with great irony and perhaps a tiny shiver) that this Republican anti-interventionist movement has been enjoined if not infused with great enthusiasm and support by rightwing elements who could give two Tomahawks about the Constitution or Syrian civilians or the follies of U.S empire. They are the NoBamas — rightwing pols and mouthpieces who reject anything Obama does even if what he is doing is no different from his illustrious predecessor George W. Bush.

Shrillest and most grating among them are the mommas — Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney — both who were unnervingly candid about their bloodlust during and after Bush’s Global War on Terror. One need only to revisit (if you dare) Palin’s 2008 speech at the GOP presidential convention or her creepy sermon at old Glenn Beck Lincoln-side revival in 2010 to realize that war is her religion. Suddenly, with the prospect of a Democrat thumping his chest and reigning down bombs on Muslims, she says, “let Allah sort it out.” Indeed.

Liz Cheney at CPAC 2010
Liz Cheney at CPAC 2010

Meanwhile, Cheney, who on Tuesday compared herself to Winston Churchill facing down Adolf Hitler, told an audience of captive Wyoming voters that she wouldn’t support Obama because his plan is amateurish. Maybe so, but is this not the same woman who called for the 2010 CPAC audience to heap “thanks and praise” for the CIA torturers, who chided the president — to standing ovation — for not defending his country enough, for in essence, being a sissy?

Excuse me NoBama mommas, but your slips are showing, and your claws.

No matter, they are in great company with Ann Coulter and  Laura Ingraham, both of whom were zealous champions for war in Iraq and used their extraordinary access to the mass media to promote war for a decade. They now say it is not in our national interest to pursue it under Obama. Indeed. Maybe Ingraham hopes we forget her gushing 2006 embed diary in Iraq, where she shamelessly played military apparatchik, parroting the Bush democracy-building line and cooed things like, “(Gen. George Casey) talked of incremental steps toward victory — a slow, tough road but one that is vital to our security back home. The time frame is still so short, he said, from dictatorship to free elections. We’re making progress.”

G.I Ingraham in Iraq, 2006
G.I Ingraham in Iraq, 2006

 

Ingraham now joins (reformed?) 101st Flying Keyboard Brigade Commander Jonah Goldberg in whining over the use of the term “isolationist,” hurled lately by their own kind at other conservatives who oppose military action. Welcome to the party people, but please, don’t insult our intelligence by implying you never used that invective or at least condoned it when Ron Paul was running for president in ’08 and ’12. We have memories too.

And we cannot forget the Jabba the Hutt of  radio hosts, Rush Limbaugh, who has also found his inner anti-interventionist and (we guess Paul and Amash should thank him here) is whipping up minions of NoBamas against strikes on Syria as we speak.

“I get into arguments with people about this who still do not understand that no matter what the issue, no matter what day of the week, the either No. 1 or No. 2 objective in the world of Barack Obama is the elimination of any opposition,” Limbaugh said. “You cannot take the 2014 midterm elections out of this equation. You cannot remove from this equation just how desperate the Democrats are to win the House in 2014, anything that can be done to blame the Republicans.”

rush_limbaugh6Come On, Rush, you know as well as we do that your biggest radio paydays are when Dems win elections, so what are you up to? Never mind, he’s joined by a fleet of eager B-team jocks like Dana Loesch, who actually said Syria “will be Obama’s Iraq.” Hey now, we thought you and your friends loved Iraq, in fact, every chance you get you all wheel out your savior David Petraeus and say what a “victory” he led for us. What’s changed?

The sad truth is, even if what they are doing is right, we know they are doing it for the wrong reasons and it’s greasy. If their new-found sentiments had been applied to Iraq in 2003, and the Afghan “Surge” in 2009, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved. If they had applied their new aversion to the surveillance state to Bush in 2006 when it mattered, Obama wouldn’t have been able to blow it out in 2008. They are hypocrites and their hypocrisy has consequences. It can’t hurt to keep that in mind when the mommas roar.

 

 

They’re Baaack: Neocons Launch Push for Regime Change

In most Hollywood horror franchises we know that the villains – take your Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or your rakish Freddy Krueger – always come back. No matter what painful death or injury felled them in the previous romp, an endless string of potential victims means room for one more film. Make that 17 more.

The neoconservative war doctrine of aggressive military force and self-serving regime change did not die after the failed wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, which proponents pushed with an enthusiasm not equaled since the world tilted on its axis and Freddy met Jason in an epic hack-off.  No, the neocons went nearly dormant (there is a Bram Stoker trope here, somewhere), reduced really, to sniping at Obama, but more or less biding their time until the next opportunity to manipulate global affairs in the Middle East.

That time, it seems, has come. We’re seeing subtle signs already this week as President Obama takes the country one step closer to air strikes against Bashar Assad’s military assets. We know one thing: neither the administration or military seem particularly interested in pursuing regime change or nation building (their “punitive strike” strategy of course is a topic for another post). However, with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham as neocon spear points — push, push, pushing for military force, now! —  neoconservative voices, old and new, are starting to hint that “to do it right,” we might be in Syria for a long time afterwards, helping the “new” government find its way.

Take for instance, Elizabeth O’Bagy.

365px-Frederick_and_Kimberly_Kagan_in_Basra
Fred and Kim Kagan consulting the military in Basra in 2008

Never heard of her? She is clearly a protégé of the Kagan Clan, representing Kimberly Kagan’s Institute for the Study of War. Kim Kagan, who is married to Fred Kagan (brother of Robert Kagan), is no doubt happy to put someone besides a Kagan to front her think tank, which frankly, is now aligned with the demise of Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who turned to her and Fred as “consultants” in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the last several years, she’s written “The Surge: A Military History,” and numerous magazine articles and op-eds as panegyrics to General Petraeus and “his generals” and their now-discredited COIN pop-doctrine.

So sending out the signal for another regime change must be done carefully and with none of the old baggage.  O’Bagy has a Ph.D but this appears to be her first job. She says she has traveled extensively with the rebel groups in Syria to essentially prove that there are moderates out there who the U.S can work with.  But her recent appearances on FOX and other venues come across as bullet-point briefings with very little color. The bottom line for O’Bagy: the rebel groups can be parsed. We need not worry about the “extremists,” she insists, they are are outnumbered by the “more moderate groups” who will welcome American assistance (echoes of the Iraqi National Congress?).

Elizabeth O'Bagy
Elizabeth O’Bagy

And then for the capstone — “there needs to be more than just punitive measures” she charged on FOX Monday night. “These moderate forces .. could quickly be taken over by the ideology of these extremist groups,” if we don’t do more than just strike, she added. O’Bagy doesn’t say “regime change” is necessary, but she certainly suggests it.

This is fascinating because this is the second time, at least, that O’Bagy has been given over 5 minutes of coveted Special Report time on FOX to describe events in Syria, even though there is a city filled with more experienced foreign policy and military analysts and journalists outside [Note: Special Report gets about 1.9 million viewers each night]. She’s spreading the word at different think tank discussions in Washington, too, like here and here.

While O’Bagy appears to be a gentle enough scout for what will no doubt turn into a full-blown message-control and lobbying campaign, there are more strident neoconservative foot soldiers in the ranks. Like Charles Krauthammer, who all but dared Obama to take out Assad on Special Report tonight. Like former George W speechwriter Michael Gerson, who in Tuesday’s Washington Post laid it all on the line:

The best-case scenario is probably this: a negotiated outcome in which Assad departs and other regime elements agree to form an interim government with the non-extremist members of the opposition. The new government would then need to engage in a multi-year power struggle (aided by the United States) with the jihadists. But this approach would require convincing the regime it can’t win militarily. Which would probably only happen after a Kosovo-style, Western air campaign.

Wow. If I close my eyes and listen to this read out loud and replace “Assad” with “Saddam,” I can almost make out the contours of our failed war in Iraq. If I close my eyes long enough I may see Freddy Krueger, which to tell you the truth is a less scary prospect. Sorry Freddy, maybe it’s time to find another day job after all.

 

UPDATE: We cannot forget the notoriously neoconservative Washington Post editorial page, which on Tuesday warned that seeing “moderate forces prevail … can’t be achieved with one or two volleys of cruise missiles.” Here’s more:

The United States can’t dictate the outcome in Syria, and it would be foolish to send ground troops in an effort to do so. But by combining military measures with training, weapons supplies and diplomacy, it could exercise considerable influence. The military measures could include destroying forces involved in chemical weapons use and elements of the Syrian air force that have been used to target civilians, as well as helping to carve out a safe zone for rebels and the civilian populations they are seeking to protect.

Such military action should be seen as one component of a policy that finally recognizes a U.S. interest in helping to shape Syria’s future.

UPDATE II : The old gang, back together: The Weekly Standard publishes fatuous letter to the president offering assistance with Syria. Supposedly it includes signatories from “all over the ideological spectrum,” but that is a joke. Not when you are talking Bill Kristol, Elliot Abrams, Cliff May, Joe Lieberman, Robert Kagan, Martin Peretz, Karl Rove, Dan Senor …. you get the point. And not a true realist or anti-interventionist in sight. Not surprising, though, when you see the bottom line :

It is therefore time for the United States to take meaningful and decisive actions to stem the Assad regime’s relentless aggression, and help shape and influence the foundations for the post-Assad Syria that you have said is inevitable.

Iraq: This is what it looks like when you rip off the Band Aid

Iraqi Children look at aftermath of a spring bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad (AFP)
Iraqi Children look at aftermath of a spring bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad (AFP)

As of July 1st, there have been 1,405 people killed in Iraq, mostly civilians. That number is likely to change by the time you read this — just yesterday, 45 people died as a result of numerous terror attacks across the country. One bomb had been planted near a cafe, another by a playground. According to reports 1,057 people were killed in July (2,326 wounded) alone, which means as of today, 348 Iraqis have been slain only in the last two weeks.

These are numbers not seen since the bloody days of 2008.

If you Google “Iraq ‘band aid’ war” you get about 3.7 million results. That’s because, beginning in 2007, astute observers noted that the so-called “Surge” into Iraq was nothing more than a bandage on a gaping wound — one we opened over the course of the previous four years. We allowed (if not assisted) a sectarian bloodbath against the Sunni population, then when Al-Qaeda became a problem, paid poor, battle-wracked Sunnis to fight them off. Then we supported the Iranian-Shia-backed Nouri al-Maliki’s government against his Shia opposition (Muqtada al-Sadr), pumped up Maliki’s Army, and were on our way.

Many had predicted the tenuous “peace” would not hold. It only needed a spark. Some say it was Maliki’s crackdown on Sunnis who were protesting not only the poor government services, but a lack of jobs for their people and disproportionate imprisonment and even torture. The so-called Sunni  “Sons of Iraq” whom the U.S had paid to do its bidding, are again penniless, and disenfranchised. But armed.

Today we see what it looks like when the Band-Aid is ripped off the wound. Whether it was Maliki who did it doesn’t matter. The blood is flowing.

Currently, I am reading (Ret) Col. Gian Gentile’s new book, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. Gentile is a friend of Antiwar.com, having sat for an interview back in 2009. His consistent criticism of counterinsurgency (COIN) amid the unprecedented drumbeat for it by the civilian and military power establishment was both vilified (by COINdinistas) and welcome to those of us opposed to U.S war policy overseas. In his book, he has the last say, gazing on the ruins of American power in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything he predicted then is playing out each night on the (very) brief news reports about Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) attacks against Maliki’s government and the civilian populace. But we doubt Gentile, who fought in Iraq during its deadliest moments in 2005, is taking any satisfaction.

Meanwhile,  the national security writers clique remains as aloof and somewhat deluded as ever. Most people aren’t talking about Iraq at all. But this piece by Jason Fritz, a regular online raconteur during the heady COIN days, takes a rare stab at making sense of what is going on in Iraq. But he gets it all wrong. First, he attempts to use mythology as metaphor, bringing in a version of the Labours of Heracles, who kills his family in a fit of madness after taking on 12 heroic “labours” to prove himself to the gods. Fritz suggests that the Iraqi people are in a fit of madness, one that threatens everything they had accomplished thus far.

Writing for the new War on the Rocks, Fritz says:

Iraq has traveled a long and violent road and endured many labors in an attempt to build a modern state for its people. And yet madness and fury have returned, drawing the country back down that long and violent road.

This seems a bit strained, to say the least. It was our “labors” that set Iraq on its current course; it was our “Band Aid”  that held it together until we could beat it out of there with enough face to declare “peace.” However subtle, Fritz’s chiding of the Iraqi people for letting that peace slide is patronizing and completely off the mark, overlooking the American catalyst for all of it. Just take this ex-soldier’s take on the current troubles in Iraq, shared with NBC News last month:

What it makes me feel is deeper guilt,” said Mike Prysner, an anti-war activist who, at 19, was part of the 2003 Army invasion. He served in Iraq for 12 months and left the service as a corporal. 

“One of our roles was to shred their national identity. What is happening today is a direct result of the U.S. occupation’s strategy,” added Prysner, 30. “I remember the Iraqi government being setup along ethnic lines by the U.S. occupation. I remember arming certain ethnic groups to fight others. I’ll live the rest of my life knowing I was a part of that.”

Worse, Fritz takes the opportunity to suggest more U.S intervention might be necessary. As though we hadn’t already done enough. Is this not a touch of madness in itself?:

We now have a new question: if Maliki is unable or unwilling to stem the growing violence and infringements on Iraq’s sovereignty, is it up to the United States to do something to create the necessary capability or will to affect the situation?

Certainly the United States should not reintroduce general purpose forces into Iraq. That war is, by all accounts, done and dusted even if the political objects (impossibly framed as they were) were never achieved. Still, the United States could provide more policing and counterterrorism training, procure more advanced weapons for Iraq’s air defenses, and apply the political pressure necessary to get Maliki to act in a positive way that averts a civil war while meeting both Iraqi and U.S. objectives.

No offense, but our  “training” — which has already amounted to billions of dollars and that much more in weapons, equipment, armored vehicles and aircraft — has done squat for the Iraqi security forces, which can’t seem to get a handle on the insurgency terrorizing the country today. But that is of no consequence, really — Washington has long said sayonara to Iraq, and frankly, looking at the piddling news coverage of today’s violence (which should be front page news, considering our huge investment), the rest of America has too.

But soon, it will become too much to ignore or explain away with Greek myth or COIN folklore. The Band Aid is off. What happens now not even the gods will be able to contain.

Cry Baby Defense Contractors Doing Just Fine

Not more than a year ago Lockheed Martin’s Bob Stevens was all but pulling at his hair and gnashing his teeth in anticipation of sequestration. Clearly doing the Republican warhawks’ bidding ahead of the presidential election, he warned that Lockheed may not be able to support U.S forces in the field and that working families might be devastated by layoffs — 123,000 in fact — if congress didn’t do something to stave off the $459 billion in prospective budget cuts over the next decade.

Stevens, who took home more than $23 million in compensation in 2011, wasn’t the only defense contractor CEO to play chicken little last year, but he was one of the most melodramatic, threatening to issue 123,000 layoff notices before the major contractor even scheduled any. He also joined an immense lobbying effort that peddled the hyper-narrative (based in part on this industry-generated report)  that sequestration would shave  1% off the U.S. gross domestic product, raise the unemployment rate by 0.7%, and kill 1 million jobs.

Well we knew the layoff notices were a kabuki dance from the beginning, and that was confirmed when Stevens’ abruptly withdrew the threat just before the election. We also got an inkling that things couldn’t be so bad when it was reported in April that CEOs from all these major contractors were getting raises, including Stevens, whose compensation went up to $27.5 million in 2012.

Now, according to The Washington Post this morning, we’ve learned that these defense contractors have been “weathering the federal budget sequester far more easily than they projected, in part because they have gradually eliminated jobs over the past few years in anticipation of spending cuts.”

That’s right, while they tried to keep our attention on the falling sky, these cry babies had been trimming budgets for years (plenty of people were reporting this, by the way) to whether the storm. The bloviation and bluster was all a political show. In fact, good old Lockheed reported $859 million in profit in the second quarter of 2013, a 10 percent increase year-over-year.  It also reported $1.6 billion in profit for the last six months ending in June, up 12 percent over the year before. In addition:

Lockheed Martin had predicted that sequestration would wipe out $825 million in revenue this year, but it no longer expects such a big hit. In fact, the company said, profit will be higher than initially projected.

Of course, none of the contracts that were already set before sequestration were affected, a small fact that also got lost amid the roar of lamentations inside the Beltway last summer and fall. So far, no major programs have been eliminated or big cuts exacted where it could really count. All that is still being deliberated with much hand wringing and more political theater. But for right now, the only ones who seem to be really suffering are the 650,000 civilian defense workers slapped with 11 days of unpaid leave, resulting in a 20 percent cut in their paychecks from now until September or maybe longer.

That includes people like LaWanda White, a DoD employee and single mom, who says she is struggling to keep up with her bills and had to seek help through the Federal Employee Education & Assistance Fund to pay the rent. Maybe she is in a better place than say, the Lockheed workers who had been laid off over the last five years, but she is infinitely worse off than CEO Bob Stevens and his multimillion dollar pay package.

Interestingly, The Washington Post story noted that while being at a standstill, the Beltway defense contractor job market is holding relatively steady.

“..the region and the industry are not experiencing anything close to the economic cataclysm that defense lobbyists warned about,” the paper said.

Yeah, the real pain may be “trickling down” as analysts note, but let’s face it, “trickling up” might be a better phrase right now. Basically, the whole thing just exposes the industry for what it is: a bunch of crybabies who turn blue to get what they want, and then play “baby alright now” when no longer politically necessary or when soothed and coddled by their nanny benefactors.

Yuck.

Surprise! Sequester Cuts Affect Mental Health for Vets

So the planned furloughs for some 650,000 civilian workers at the Department of Defense have begun. Roughly speaking, this will mean about a 20 percent cut in each paycheck until September. This is supposed to save the Pentagon $1.8 billion, which is a drop in the bucket in the savings they are supposed to be making elsewhere (and could be — like in runaway health care and retirement costs, over-extended and unnecessary weapons programs, rampant redundancies and war waste) in the budget. But putting workers on the chopping block appears to be the politically expedient way for the Pentagon to get headlines in protest of sequester, and really, who cares about civilian pay anyway? They’re just federal drones who probably make more money than they deserve, right? pentagon2

Well, truth is, while Planet DoD may have created too many jobs sucking up our dwindling taxpayer resources, the civilian jobs range from the executive all the way down to the secretary, with every pay scale in between. They also include, as we’re reading today, mental health care providers for servicemembers suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). From Stars and Stripes today:

Due to sequestration, furloughs that affected a variety of civil service employees including behavioral and mental health providers began last week. The mental health directorate of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune sees more than 1,500 patients between civil service employees, active duty service members and contract employees. Prior to the furloughs civil service employees accounted for 425 of those appointments. Now they will only be able to render 365.

“My provider is a civilian facing furlough,” (Cpl. Eric )Smith said. “Before the furloughs she wanted to see me once every 10 days, but that couldn’t happen because of her patient load. Now the furlough is just going to push my treatment days even further apart.”

Smith, who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury during one of his two deployments to Afghanistan, was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder in 2010.

Smith compared a cognitive therapy group he attends to Alcoholics Anonymous but for service members suffering from PTSD — and says it has been the most therapeutic treatment he has been afforded.

“I’m not nervous about what will happen to me with these furloughs — I’m over the hump in treatment,” Smith said. “I’m worried about the one’s just starting out. They’re the one’s we need to watch out for.”

As this one writer points out, the size of the civilian workforce has gotten out of control. We know that, and something needs to be done about it before we can bring the defense budget back into balance with reality. But it would seem there is no serious plan for reducing it in any practical way that tackles real waste and redundancy first, while protecting individuals from abrupt financial strain and from losing necessary services to boot. As this story today about one of the latest soldier-suicides suggests, politically expedient Band Aids may not have quite the effect the spinmeisters in the E-Ring were looking for. In fact, in some quarters, it may make things a whole lot worse.