The Best Defense

What people are missing on Hagel

The significance of the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary is not that he is the first Vietnam vet to be tapped, but rather that he is the first combat-veteran enlisted man ever to be picked. (Like Forrest Gump, he served in the 9th Infantry Division.)

I think that is nice. But I don't think it particularly will help him with the job. I worry more about the lack of diversity in the backgrounds of the members of the Obama cabinet. Too many former members of Congress, too few people who know much about the real world.

It also is kind of weird that the three of the last four SecDefs picked by a Democratic president have been Republicans, at least in name (Hagel, Robert Gates and William Cohen). Where's that Democratic bench?

I remain a fan of President Obama, but I think he and his team have a certain tone deafness on national security. The military may just look like a political problem to certain offices at the White House, but it really needs to be considered as something more than that.

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The Best Defense

Emile Simpson’s ‘War From the Ground Up’: A book that should be better known

Over the Christmas break I read several books, but the one that will stay with me most, I think, is Emile Simpson's War From the Ground Up. His core theme is an examination of "the use of armed force that directly seeks political, as opposed to specifically military, outcomes," (p. 1). Kind of like Clausewitz's most famous dictum turned upside down. In Afghanistan, he writes, "the ‘war' is better understood as a direct extension of political activity."

First point: This guy knows how to write. Although the book is a rather dense academic study (the section on the British in Borneo mainly bored me to tears), occasionally he just lets loose an observation or aphorism that is striking. It is not always enjoyable reading, but just when you are about to MEGO, he hits you with a great line.

Second point: I was amazed this was written by a former lieutenant. It is an effort to put the war in Afghanistan into a Clauswitzian context. He succeeds. "The possibility that one can ‘win militarily' but lose a war is indeed perverse logic; it totally unhinges strategic theory, as it disconnects the use of force from political purpose," (p. 138).

Third point: I suspect we'll be hearing from this guy again. So you might as well get in on the ground floor and read it.

I plan in the coming days to delve deeper into the book in a series of posts. It is almost several books in one, so I will break out sections.

Oddly, this is the second book I have read recently with the title War From the Ground Up. The other one, last winter, was about the U.S. Army's 90th Division in World War II.

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