Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy

Article excerpt

Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy by Frederick W. Kagan. Encounter Books (, 900 Broadway, Suite 400, New York, New York 10003, 2006, 432 pages, $29.95 (hardcover).

Historian Frederick Kagan has captured the essence of transformation in the United States military from the experience of defeat in Vietnam, through an overwhelming victory in Operation Desert Storm, to recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Various authors have characterized changes in the military over the last three decades as a "revolution in military affairs," "transformation," "reinvention," and "military reform."

Kagan begins his treatment of military transformation by describing in detail the changes in strategy, technology, organization, training, and military doctrine that occurred after the Vietnam War. This transformation was "all encompassing" and threat based, focusing on the Cold War. Thus, true transformation took place because of the lessons of Vietnam; Kagan warns that attempting to transform while at the "height of power and success" after Desert Storm is the "most difficult of undertakings" (pp. 70-71).

Throughout the book, one finds a number of interesting threads that strengthen the author's arguments. One of the most striking (and satisfying) is the treatment of transformation in the military services. Each has transformed in its own way, particularly in terms of equipment and organization, although one finds striking parallels among the services regarding some transformation activities, such as training.

The author's treatment of the "Value of Diversity" also proves interesting. He describes different solutions that each service developed for some of the problems of warfare as well as the apparent redundancy of systems resulting from multiple responses. Kagan sees this phenomenon as a source of great strength-for example, the overlapping capabilities of the F-16, F-15, and F-14, and the Apache's "daunting array of capabilities" that "ensures that there is no single threat that can unhinge the U.S. air campaign" (pp. 66-67). Having a single "perfect" aircraft would have involved compromises whereas our current suite of systems provides complementary capabilities. …