Calling Up the Reserves

CALLING UP THE RESERVES….Apropos of nothing in particular, I note that Phil Carter has a post up about problems with readiness and morale in the reserves. In it, he relates a familiar bit of history:

Much of this problem traces to the overreliance of America’s military on the reserve components. A generation ago, Gen. Creighton Abrams removed a great deal of support capability from the active force and put it into the reserves, as a mechanism to prevent any future wars like Vietnam where the President chose to fought without the mobilization of the reserves — and without popular support. As I wrote in an op-ed last year, this concept has run into serious problems since Sept. 11, with so many reserve units being called up for long-term deployments.

Now, this is all true: a lot of our military capability is now invested in reserve forces, and the idea behind this was that any serious war would require us to call up the reserves, and this in turn would be politically impossible unless the war commanded widespread public support.

But whenever someone brings this up, the subtext is that, in hindsight, this has turned out to be an error. But is it? After all, surely the war on terror doesn’t change the fact that securing public support for any kind of lengthy military engagement really is critically important. And if our reserve-heavy force structure compels a president to rally public support ? or prevents him from prosecuting further wars due to lack of support ? isn’t that a good thing?

I certainly agree with Phil that reserve forces shouldn’t be treated shabbily, but on the larger question it appears that Creighton Abrams’ long shadow is doing its job rather well. There should be constraints on a president’s ability to wage war, and I suspect our current constraints are probably a pretty good reflection of the actual level of public support out there. It’s the public support that’s the root cause here; reserve morale is merely a symptom.