Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

I’m an Academic, and I’m Here to Help…

In his recent Foreign Policy blog post, Stephen Walt offers up some ideas for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Walt believes that the Pentagon’s upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review "won’t make real progress without examining the fundamentals of U.S. grand strategy," and he’s got the team to do the job. He believes that the secretary of ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In his recent Foreign Policy blog post, Stephen Walt offers up some ideas for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Walt believes that the Pentagon's upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review "won't make real progress without examining the fundamentals of U.S. grand strategy," and he's got the team to do the job. He believes that the secretary of defense needs the assistance of "knowledgeable people whose views aren't warped by long service inside the Washington bubble or by years spent inside the Pentagon itself...people who don't work for defense contractors and who don't depend on Defense Department consulting contracts for their livelihoods."  He also excludes "people at think tanks that receive a lot of defense-industry dollars and anyone who has ever spoken at the Aspen Security Forum."  Perhaps not surprisingly, the list of "smart academics and independent thinkers" that Walt puts forward more or less share Walt's advocacy of a diminished international role for the United States. Walt also advises Hagel to "remind everyone [that] the name of the organization in question is the ‘U.S. Department of Defense.' It is not the ‘Department of Imperial Power Projection,' ‘Department of World Order Maintenance,' the ‘Department of Democracy Promotion,' or the ‘Department of Regime Change and Global Pest Control.'"

I agree with Walt that the secretary of defense should seek out the advice of the best minds from across the political spectrum and including those who possess diverse views of the way the world operates. Moreover, I have high regard for a number of the "academics and independent thinkers" on Walt's list.  I have consistently found Barry Posen to be a thoughtful and articulate proponent of "offshore balancing," and Daryl Press has written thoughtfully about nuclear weapons. The secretary of defense appoints members of the Defense Policy Board to advise him, and Hagel could do much worse than to appoint to the board members of the caliber of Posen and Press. 

However, Walt's call for Hagel to undertake a review of U.S. grand strategy is misplaced. The Defense Department is not the right customer for Walt's grand strategic ideas, because it is not in the grand strategy business. Grand strategy is (or should be) the concern of the president, who is elected by and accountable to the voters. That is as it should be. Although Hagel may choose to follow Walt's advice and remind everyone that we're not in the "regime change" or "democracy promotion" business, the president may have other ideas. Hagel is no doubt aware that this President has already engaged in one "regime change" in Libya, and other such operations, whether wise or unwise, are not out of the question.

In his recent Foreign Policy blog post, Stephen Walt offers up some ideas for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Walt believes that the Pentagon’s upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review "won’t make real progress without examining the fundamentals of U.S. grand strategy," and he’s got the team to do the job. He believes that the secretary of defense needs the assistance of "knowledgeable people whose views aren’t warped by long service inside the Washington bubble or by years spent inside the Pentagon itself…people who don’t work for defense contractors and who don’t depend on Defense Department consulting contracts for their livelihoods."  He also excludes "people at think tanks that receive a lot of defense-industry dollars and anyone who has ever spoken at the Aspen Security Forum."  Perhaps not surprisingly, the list of "smart academics and independent thinkers" that Walt puts forward more or less share Walt’s advocacy of a diminished international role for the United States. Walt also advises Hagel to "remind everyone [that] the name of the organization in question is the ‘U.S. Department of Defense.’ It is not the ‘Department of Imperial Power Projection,’ ‘Department of World Order Maintenance,’ the ‘Department of Democracy Promotion,’ or the ‘Department of Regime Change and Global Pest Control.’"

I agree with Walt that the secretary of defense should seek out the advice of the best minds from across the political spectrum and including those who possess diverse views of the way the world operates. Moreover, I have high regard for a number of the "academics and independent thinkers" on Walt’s list.  I have consistently found Barry Posen to be a thoughtful and articulate proponent of "offshore balancing," and Daryl Press has written thoughtfully about nuclear weapons. The secretary of defense appoints members of the Defense Policy Board to advise him, and Hagel could do much worse than to appoint to the board members of the caliber of Posen and Press. 

However, Walt’s call for Hagel to undertake a review of U.S. grand strategy is misplaced. The Defense Department is not the right customer for Walt’s grand strategic ideas, because it is not in the grand strategy business. Grand strategy is (or should be) the concern of the president, who is elected by and accountable to the voters. That is as it should be. Although Hagel may choose to follow Walt’s advice and remind everyone that we’re not in the "regime change" or "democracy promotion" business, the president may have other ideas. Hagel is no doubt aware that this President has already engaged in one "regime change" in Libya, and other such operations, whether wise or unwise, are not out of the question.

The secretary of defense’s job is to determine how the military can best support the President’s strategy. That calls for creative approaches to acquisition, deployment, doctrine, and training. That is a tough enough job without taking on American grand strategy.

The Pentagon very much needs realistic assumptions upon which to base planning for the future. I also strongly agree that such assumptions should be questioned before they are accepted. For example, even offshore balancers acknowledge that a powerful and aggressive China would threaten U.S. interests, although reasonable people may disagree about the probability and proximity of such a contingency. It is unclear, however, just how seriously the Pentagon has taken the challenge posed by Chinese military modernization.  Similarly, although sea power will play an important role in the future, it is unclear whether the U.S. Navy has received the level of support that it requires to be able to protect U.S. interests in the future.

The Pentagon is very much in need of new ideas, but those offered by Walt and his colleagues are likely to be of limited use.

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