The Best Defense

Some questions about COIN (IV): Do people prefer freedom or electricity?

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

Question Set Four -- What makes us think that schools and hospitals are going to help us alter the behavior patterns of others and win people over to our way of thinking? In the magnificent remake of the classic film Red Dawn, there is an excellent scene in which the North Korean occupiers offer medical facilities and electrical power in return for cooperation with their regime. The bargain is not successful. Americans, it seems, prefer freedom to electricity. At the risk of drawing theory from the scriptwriters of Red Dawn, this seems to me to be a reasonable reaction -- it is certainly in line with the reactions I experienced to development projects in Iraq. People want electricity, yes, and they will accept development projects if they are offered -- just as the Indian people accepted and (perhaps) benefitted from railways, the telegraph, and the legal system imposed by the British during the Raj. They still wanted the British to leave, though. Why would this have changed? This does not mean that ignoring the material needs of the population is helpful nor that it cannot work if you select an endstate they do want (e.g. their independence) and couple it with development. It does follow that development is not enough and cannot be detached from politics: we must remember that politics is the art of the possible.


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.