The Best Defense

Will Hagel withdraw? I’d say 50-50

But declining by the day. No, that hearing last week didn't reflect well on the U.S. Senate. But he didn't do well in it, either. He didn't appear that interested in the job.

He has the votes, but not much else. His big problem is that no one much wants him running the Pentagon. Congressional Republicans consider him a traitor. Congressional Democrats see him as anti-gay and anti-abortion, undercutting their support for him. And Northeastern Democrats (and some others) worry about his stance on Israel. Democratic support in the Senate appears more dutiful than passionate.

That said, I don't think that a Hagel exit would hurt President Obama much. SecDef nominees have blown up on the launch pad before: Remember John Tower (picked by the first President Bush) and Bobby Inman (picked by President Clinton to replace Les Aspin)? Interestingly, both were succeeded as nominees by men who went on to be very successful stewards of the military establishment: Dick Cheney and William Perry. Calling Michèle Flournoy?

The prospect of a Hagel regime at DOD is a real problem now because the next SecDef will need to do two things: Work with Congress to reduce the defense budget thoughtfully, and work with the military to re-shape the military to make it relevant to future conflict. At the moment, Hagel appears to lack the political capital to do the former, as well as the intellectual appetite to do the latter.

Bottom line: Every business day that the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn't vote to send the nomination to the full Senate, I think the likelihood of Hagel becoming defense secretary declines by about 2 percent.


The Best Defense

Some questions about COIN (III): Just what do we think we are doing out there?

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

Question Set Three -- If we aren't fighting a series of counterinsurgency campaigns, then what are we doing? There are (at least) two possible answers to this question, both of which raise further questions.

The first is that we are fighting a series of punitive campaigns, designed to show to the world the effect of our wrath and the results of crossing us. In which case, why are we concerned with cultural sensitivities and the like -- given that it is presumably their culture (or some part of it) that has led them to displease us in the first place? This may be simplistic (it is) but it is still a question that requires an answer.

The second possible answer is that we are fighting old-fashioned wars of imperial aggression, designed to alter the behavior of other countries so that they better fit into the global system at the head of which sits us; in short, we are compelling our opponent to do our will. This raises a further intriguing question -- if this is the case, why do we look to historical case studies of decolonization for guidance, rather than case studies of colonization? Is it simply so we can feel better about ourselves? There is a third option: We are compelled to invade a country to change its government because it is sheltering terrorist networks that are attacking us. What then?

Or another option, we are compelled to invade a country because of its foreign or nuclear policy that is hostile to our interests but have no interest in reshaping the society and culture in our image at all. What then?