Wednesday, December 9, 2015

revisionist history

Not long after General Creighton Abrams returned from Vietnam and became Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, I had the privilege of sitting next to him at a breakfast briefing on the Army budget. "How are you finding your new job?" I asked. He smiled but grumbled, "All the acronyms have changed." He was having trouble following the briefings which typically used shorthand for everything.

I had a high regard for Abrams then and since. I think he ran the Vietnam war much better than his predecessor, General William Westmoreland. But I also came to believe that his restructuring of the Army was driven by a desire to prevent a future president from going to war without calling up the reserves and thereby risking popular opposition.

As an article by Army War College historian Conrad Crane argues, this belief became the conventional wisdom during the 1990s and was enshrined in a 1998 study of the Total Force. It said:
After acknowledging the problems with having so many critical combat support and combat service support enablers in reserve components that were “not designed to respond as rapidly overall as the regular Army,” the report recommended against changing that balance, arguing that the policy was designed to “limit the executive branch’s ability to commit troops to substantial overseas contingency operations without ensuring there was sufficient political support for the mission.” If the Army altered its force structure to better meet requirements for speedy deployments, “this political ‘check and balance’ would no longer exist.
Crane disputes that notion.
There is no documentation to support the claim that Abrams also had a dominant vision to ensure that no president could ever again fight a war without mobilizing the reserves. That motivation was never mentioned in congressional hearings or explanatory briefings or articles. In a series of interviews of Abrams’ subordinates conducted after his death that are housed at the Army Heritage and Education Center, that idea is never mentioned. In fact, Secretary of Defense Schlesinger considered the general the epitome of the “good servant” who always deferred to civilian control of the military and would not purposefully try to circumvent it.
The sources for the supposed "Abrams doctrine" were Army officers in the mid-1980s -- at precisely the time of the so-called Weinberger doctrine [which was never approved by President Reagan] that argued against future wars that were limited in objectives and lacked public support. It was a post facto argument for a force structure chosen for other reasons. I'm persuaded; in this case, the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence.

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