Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy

Frederick W. Kagan

• Paperback: 432 pages
• Publisher: Encounter Books (September 25, 2006)
• Language: English
• ISBN: 1594031509
• Sales Rank: #26,997

Review on 24 November 2006 by Donald N. Anderson (a version of this review is on

Frederick Kagan has written a very important book that may help guide our thinking about military transformation back onto the very successful path we pursued in the 70’s and 80’s. Our focus at that time on defeating the Soviet military threat with limited manpower and taking advantage of our all volunteer force gave us a military that is second to none in its ability to win against a stand-up enemy.

He points out (correctly I believe) that we have changed our focus from a specific future threat to the task of destroying abstract future improvements in such a stand-up enemy’s army. The goal has become how we can improve our forces destructive capabilities rather than emphasizing the political goal to be achieved by a war. He believes we have gone adrift in our attempts to leapfrog generations of military hardware not because the equipment is not impressive or useful but because it does not efficiently address the process of imposing our will on an enemies political options.

Now that terrorist type enemies have emerged as the principal foe, we have been caught with a military still in some ways focused on how warfare might have evolved over the Fulda Gap.

He suggests we return to positing each potential enemy and planning what political outcome is needed if a war is necessary with that foe. We need to plan wars and their aftermath starting with the desired new political arrangement and work back toward the forces needed.  The current hardware orientation is understandable given the budget competition among the services (and the various congressional delegations), but it is now obvious after the Afghanistan and Iraq experiences that refocusing on the political goals to be achieved is very necessary.

He has some suggestions for augmentation of the regional combat commands with planning staffs focused on the desired post-war political arrangements.

Since Kagan’s book is about the thinking necessary to generate military transformation, he makes very few suggestions about specific current problems. Among those items he offers is that because of the up close and personal nature of regime-change wars, our army and marines are undersized by about 200,000 men.  Also the M-1 tank has received much criticism because its extreme weight seriously slows its deployability.  Kagan defends it and shows that it’s ability to work close to a potential foe without personnel loss is essential in the type of war we are now actually engaged in. While weight is a serious problem it’s capabilities cannot be addressed by vehicles that must operate in a stand-off mode.

Frederick Kagan has written a valuable and clearly argued attempt to bring our military planning focus back to the actual potential enemies.  I only hope everyone serious about the future of our country reads this book.