EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Given the inherent professional tension between heads of state and their ministers of defense, most critically manifested in moments of grave national crisis, it might be preferable for the national leader to hold the defense portfolio as well.
The recent resignations of Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis shed light on the age-old professional tension between heads of state, who are charged with running a country’s national affairs, and their defense ministers, who are tasked with overseeing national security.
From time immemorial, the successful conduct of wars has been considered the ultimate test of kings and kingdoms. The tribes of Israel, when demanding a monarchy, asked the prophet Samuel for “a king like all other nations, who will lead us to battle and enable us to fight our wars.” It is true that even warlike monarchs, like King David, were assisted by able military commanders. But from the point of view of ordinary people, it was always the monarch to whom they looked for deliverance from wars and their horrendous consequences. This primordial yearning for heroic leadership to save the day in stark moments remains as abiding as ever in the modern nation state.