Conservatives Critical of Suggestions in Iraq Report

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The Iraq Study Group's new report has already drawn criticism from some conservatives. Robert Kagan, contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, disagrees with most of the report's recommendations. He shares his thoughts with Mike Pesca.

MIKE PESCA, host:

On the pages of The Weekly Standard and in every other form he's been afforded, Robert Kagan has been arguing against the major policies advocated by the Iraq Study Group. He, like Senator John McCain, wants more troops in Iraq, not less. He joins me now from Brussels, Belgium, and that's in old Europe, I think.

Thanks for joining me, Mr. Kagan.

Mr. ROBERT KAGAN (The Weekly Standard): It's my pleasure. Thank you.

PESCA: Robert Kagan, to you the bulk of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group must look exactly like the ideas of Democrats and some Republicans, ideas that you've been arguing against for quite a while now. Did anything in it surprise you?

Mr. KAGAN: Well, let me just add that it also looks a lot like the ideas of Don Rumsfeld, which I've been arguing against for the past three years. I would say the only thing that's really new in this proposal is the call for negotiations with Iran and Syria. The military and security prescriptions for Iraq are really pretty much this same old strategy that this administration has been trying unsuccessfully to pursue for the past three years.

PESCA: So what about those calls for diplomatic engagement? Do you reject those calls?

Mr. KAGAN: Well, I'm just skeptical that they can have any useful end. I mean, I do not understand what's in it for Iran or Syria to help the United States gracefully extricate self from Iraq and leave behind the kind of government that we would like to leave behind. I think they are enjoying the American predicament. I think they would like us to leave but with our tails between our legs and leaving behind a government that's amendable to their interest.

If you look at Iran, what they most want out of us is to get off their backs about their nuclear weapons program. What Syria wants is to be able to act freely in Lebanon to restore their hegemony there. I don't think we're prepared to make either of those concessions in exchange for a dubious deal with Iraq. So you know, it sounds good in theory. The report talks a lot about what Iran should do, what Syria should do, but why they should do it escapes me.

PESCA: James Baker probably has a lot of - he is famously called a realist -and I guess that depends on if you agree with him or not. But James Baker, I'm sure, is dubious about how much Syria or Iran wants to engage, but he still does advocate reaching out to them. So you probably share a lot the skepticism. He says we do need to try to engage diplomatically. You say no. What's the difference between you and James Baker?

Mr. KAGAN: He may be skeptical, in which case he has written a dishonest report, because there's no skepticism in the report. And I also think, you know, James Baker is a negotiator. He never met a negotiation he didn't want to try to pursue, and sometimes, I suppose, you could argue that he's been successful. I guess I would explain Baker's proposal as a way of compensating for the fact that he and his group were unable to come up with any particularly promising solution in Iraq itself.

PESCA: Here's how the panel members are talking about the people who disagree with them. This is former Republican Senator Alan Simpson. He was talking about people he perceived to be critics of this report.

Mr. ALAN SIMPSON (Former Republican Senator): A hundred-percenter is a person you don't want to be around. They have gas, ulcers, heartburn and B.O. And they seethe. They're not seekers. They're not seekers, they're seethers, and there are a lot of them out there. And we're going to get it from the right, far right. We're going to get it from the far left. We're going to get bombs-away, and everybody will say it can't work.

PESCA: How do you react to Alan Simpson's characterization?

Mr. KAGAN: Oh, come on. We've been listening to Alan Simpson's stand-up routine for decades now. I mean, he's basically a funny guy. He's a clown. He doesn't know anything about what's going - I mean, the number of people on this commission who have zero expertise or even pretended expertise in these matters is very large, and Alan Simpson is one of them.

I mean, let's face it. This commission is supposed to be creating goodwill and trust. The people who disagree with this commission on both the right and the left disagree for sincere reasons that they do not believe what the commission is proposing is going to work. So it's easier for Alan Simpson to, you know, talk about ulcers and gas or whatever he was talking about than to explain how this is going to work. The report is very disappointing in that regard.

PESCA: Robert Kagan is a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard. He's the author of the new book “Dangerous Nation: A History of American Foreign Policy.” Thank you very much.

Mr. KAGAN: Thank you.

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