Laura Dean asks:

Secretary Gates tells us: the 2010 defense budget cuts will “profoundly reform how this department does business.” Well alright, but whom do we look to to help usher in this new era of military responsibility?

At the Middle East Institute last week, David Kilcullen, the widely discussed “counterinsurgency theorist” presented his book, The Accidental Guerilla. On the face of it, David Kilcullen and his ilk seem a welcome alternative to the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney. An anthropologist by training he advocates (convincingly) for “large scale civil military assistance” with the military serving primarily to protect the population while living among them to allow for more informed and targeted deployment.

The dangers with the Kilcullens of the world though, are perhaps the very things we admire about them: their emphasis on cultural competency and a humane approach, their nuanced understanding of the region.If implemented his strategies would mark a shift from a military occupation to a primarily civilian one. Indeed the very vocabulary bandied about at the MEI last week, “a systemic presence,” and “living among the people” conjured images of the more benign provincial governors of the British Raj and the specter of colonialism looms ever larger as the objectives become qualitative and a fixed date for withdrawal recedes.

At present, immediate withdrawal does not seem to be an option, nor am I convinced it should be. But whatever new strategies we pursue, the last shred of difference between the US and former imperial powers is time. Without specific time limits on our presence in either Afghanistan or Iraq we run the risk of reviving a form of government that the world has just spent half a century recovering from.