All that talk about tensions between President Clinton and the military cuts no ice with the National Guard. Its supporters see in Mr. Clinton, a former governor, and Defense Secretary Les Aspin, a former congressman, two politicians who are more responsive to the Guard and its legendary clout than counterparts in the Bush White House.
The latest manifestation of this love-in came last week when National Guard officials and their favorite watchdog on Capitol Hill, Rep. G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery, D-Miss., actually welcomed Mr. Aspin's plan to cut the strength of the Guard from 422,700 at present to 367,00 by 1999.
The reasons were not hard to find.
For starters, the reductions were less than those proposed by a Bush administration that was more attuned to the demands of the regular army. In addition, the Guard took only a 13 percent cut while the rival Army Reserves were chopped 26 percent. But what was most pleasing to the Guard was the assignment of an enhanced combat role for 15 of its brigades and a concurrent decision to use the Reserves mainly for support operations.
Many persons associated with the Guard are still smarting over the fact that three of its brigades assigned to "round out" three regular Army divisions never got a chance to see combat in the Persian Gulf war. While it is a matter of dispute whether they were actually ready for combat, the upshot has been Mr. Aspin's decision to provide more equipment to the enhanced brigades and have them train more closely with their pre-determined regular Army units.
No doubt Mr. Aspin's is a political decision that takes account of the presence of National Guard armories, led by prominent citizens, in nearly all congressional districts. But there is no doubt the armed services have to adjust to budget constraints by making greater use of National Guard and Reserves forces that are less costly than regulars. The downside is a morale blow to commissioned and non-commissioned officers who had planned to make their careers in the professional Army and see their chances of advancement curtailed.
In this period of post-Cold War downsizing, historic tensions among various components of the Army (as well as the other services) are as high as they have ever been. These can be relieved somewhat through cooperation and clear evidence that the Aspin plan is workable and realistic.