Recalling Reagan-Era Military Policy

Article excerpt


After World War II, the United States veered from one strategic military policy to another. The mutual assured de- struction of President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers gave way to the graduated escalation of Robert McNamara during the Vietnam era.

But the blossoming of terrorism and insurgencies in the last decades of the 20th century posed unprecedented challenges. How should the United States respond to adversaries who operate out of the darkness, with foreign sponsors such as Cuba (to cite one of many) providing covert arms and other aid?

During the Reagan administration, military policy was redefined in what became known as The Weinberger Doctrine, as enunciated by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He argued that U.S. forces should be sent abroad only when it is deemed vital to our national interests, or those of our allies. Intervention should be done wholeheartedly .. with the intention of winning and

with clearly defined political and military objectives There must be a reasonable assurance of support from the public and Congress, and the size of the forces involved should be adjusted to meet changing circumstances.

Army Lt. Col. Gail Yoshitani teaches history at the U. S. Military Academy. She casts her book in the form of studies of three uses of the Weinberger Doctrine: the dispatch of Marines to Lebanon; support of the Democratic government of El Salvador against insurgents; and the intervention in Granada to prevent establishment of a Castro-backed government. To say that she made intense use of the Weinberger papers at the Reagan Library is an understatement; indeed no less than 97 pages of her 250-page book are devoted to source notes. These papers offer insight into how the Weinberger Doctrine was crafted over a period of weeks with input from throughout the national security establishment.

So what is the scorecard? Although both Israeli and Syrian forces were pressured into withdrawing from it, Lebanon (and the rest of the Middle East) remain mired in seemingly insoluble turmoil. In the instance of El Salvador, communist guerrilla forces were put down. (Conscious of Vietnam-era sensitivity over the word advisers, military men sent to El Salvador were called trainers. ) The Sandinista government in Nicaragua was toppled in free elections. In Grenada, a fast-moving joint task force put the Cuban-led guerrillas to flight. …