The question is why doesn't git rebase and merge have a  
--recurse-submodules  option so that it updates the submodules when the 
operation is completed successfully? The  submodule.recurse configuration 
will thus affect the rebase and merge commands so that the submodules are 
automatically updated when running rebase or merge, after all, this 
configuration is supposed to make working with submodules automatic, 
especially when one is not making changes in the submodule, but just 
referencing it.

This seems very intuitive since commands like checkout and especially reset 
have the --recurse-submodules option, and even on the git rebase 
page it describes part of the git 
rebase process ass effectively running reset:

The current branch is reset to <upstream> or <newbase> if the --onto option 
was supplied. This has the exact same effect as git reset --hard <upstream>
 (or <newbase>). ORIG_HEAD is set to point at the tip of the branch before 
the reset.

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