Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy

By West, F. J. "Bing" | Naval War College Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy


West, F. J. "Bing", Naval War College Review


Kagan, Frederick. Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy. New York: Encounter Books, 2006. 432pp. $29.95

How has American military strategic thought evolved since the fall of Saigon? How did each service reinvent itself, shake off old ghosts, and restore morale and purpose? How did each decide upon a different doctrine to guide its training, procurement, and deployment? How much influence do civilian defense officials wield over strategy and doctrine? Is the country well served by the process that produces strategy and doctrine inside the services? Military historian Fred Kagan provides here a tremendous primer on these issues. He has written a clear, definitive, and opinionated history of the development of strategy and doctrine in the American military since 1975. His clarity of prose and the evenhandedness of his presentation enable the reader to separate the history from Kagan's interpretation. That is the mark of a fine scholar.

Kagan is well known among military historians. A serious researcher and author of a major work on the Napoleonic wars, his greatest strength is his down-to-earth, friendly, inquisitive style. As the resident military scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Kagan has the venue and cachet to draw ambassadors and four-star generals routinely to his conferences, where they join captains and majors fresh from the battlefield. Building upon his years as a professor at West Point, Kagan has developed a broad network of military contacts that makes this book a blend of scholarship and insider knowledge. Though he is plugged into the daily skirmishes of Washington's political arena, as a historian Kagan's chief interest lies not in the immediate issues but in focusing upon the underlying trends.

The author blends brief synopses of such past campaigns as Bosnia, DESERT STORM, and IRAQI FREEDOM with portraits of strategic iconoclasts like John Boyd, John Warden, Douglas MacGregor, and Arthur Cebrowski, emphasizing how doctrine changed and with what results related to budgets and force structure. Kagan does not believe that force structure evolves slowly over the decades. Instead, he illustrates how the few influence the many, and how strategic leadership affects the direction of each service for good or ill.

On the positive side, Kagan recounts how in 1978 the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Thomas Hayward, came to believe that the downward spiral in the naval budget was the result of an intuitive strategy held by Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and his senior staff. These civilian defense leaders were concerned that the Soviet Union was increasing its geopolitical pressure across Europe, gaining both economic and political advantage in the shadow of its presumed superiority in land forces. Accordingly, the Office of the Secretary of Defense was focused on building up Army and Air Force strength in Western Europe, while naval forces languished because they were seen as of lesser utility. …

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