Kimberly Kagan is founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. A military historian and frequent collaborator with her husband, American Enterprise Institute fellow Frederick Kagan, Kagan has authored numerous books, essays, and op-eds that look favorably upon long-term U.S. engagements in the "war on terror," particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to her ISW biography, she has taught courses at West Point, Yale, Georgetown, and American University, and has served in a civilian advisory capacity to Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus in Afghanistan.
Relationship with Military Brass
Kimberly Kagan has been a close adviser to U.S. generals serving in recent U.S. wars. These relationships have drawn scrutiny, particularly the relationship Kagan and her husband Fred had with General Petraeus. According to a December 2012 Washington Post investigation, the Kagans visited Afghanistan repeatedly and extensively throughout Petraeus' tenure there, during which time they received extraordinary accommodations for civilian visitors—including near round-the-clock access to military and intelligence officials, top-level security clearance, and priority travel to anywhere in the country, as well as desks and military email accounts. In return, the Kagans advised Petraeus and penned supportive op-eds about the general and the war effort when they periodically returned home.
Although the Kagans did not receive compensation from the U.S. military for their advisory work, the Post noted that they continued to receive paychecks from their respective think tanks while they were advising Petraeus. "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," it observed. "But her major backers appear to have been pleased that she cultivated such close ties with Petraeus."
Many of ISW's major contributors and fundraisers—including DynCorps International, CACI International, and General Dynamics—are military contractors with active interests in the Afghan war. At a 2011 ISW event honoring Petraeus, Kagan thanked her corporate supporters for sponsoring her "ability to have a 15-month deployment [in Afghanistan] essentially in the service of those who needed some help."
The Kagans' free-ranging and high-level access during their time in Afghanistan created considerable consternation among some military leaders. In one incident reported by the Post, the Kagans apparently insinuated to field commanders in eastern Afghanistan that Petraeus wanted them to direct their energies toward combating the Haqqani network, despite the fact that Petraeus had not yet issued any such order. "It created huge confusion," said one. "Everyone knew the Kagans were close to Petraeus, so everyone assumed they were speaking for the boss."
The Post also suggested that many leaders were suspicious of the Kagans' role. "Some officers questioned whether they funneled confidential information to Republican politicians—the Kagans said they did not. Others worried that the couple was serving as in-house spies for Petraeus," it said. One colonel mused that "the situation was very, very weird. It's not how you run a headquarters."
At a $10,000-a-head dinner ISW held in his honor after the end of his command in Afghanistan, Petaeus himself acknowledged his close relationship with the Kagans. "What the Kagans do is they grade my work on a daily basis," he said to laughs from ISW donors. "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."
Kimberly Kagan has written frequently on the Afghan War and other U.S. foreign policy issues, often with a view to extending U.S. military interventions. In a November 2012 Post op-ed, Kagan and her husband wrote: "It's this simple. Either we keep the necessary number of troops in Afghanistan or operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan cease." The Kagans recommended keeping 68,000 troops in the country through 2014, and leaving at least 30,000 indefinitely thereafter.
In February 2013, shortly after President Obama announced plans to withdraw 34,000 troops that year, the Kagans took to the neoconservative Weekly Standard to criticize the plan as "unwise" and likely to increase "the risk that al Qaeda will be able to reestablish itself in limited safe havens in Afghanistan over time."
Kagan was also an avid backer of the troop "surge" in Iraq (which was formulated in part by her husband) and fervently criticized the Obama administration for its drawdown of U.S. military forces there.
After President Obama announced that U.S. troops would exit the country by the end of 2011, the Kagans co-wrote a series of op-eds lambasting the decision. "The president has enunciated the Obama Doctrine: American retreat," they wrote in the Weekly Standard. In the Los Angeles Times, they declared: "The American withdrawal, which comes after the administration's failure to secure a new agreement that would have allowed troops to remain in Iraq, won't be good for ordinary Iraqis or for the region. But it will unquestionably benefit Iran."
Kagan has also written on U.S. policy in Iran. In February 2008, she coauthored a report published by the American Enterprise Institute that discussed the extent of Iranian influence across the Middle East. "Much as America might desire to avoid war with Iran," the report warned, "continued Iranian interventions ... might ultimately make that option less repulsive than the alternatives."
Kagan also published a report in 2007 that concluded that U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran would be counterproductive, supporting a speech made by then-President Bush alleging that Iran was supporting the arming of "Shia extremists."