A literate, adventure-filled history of “special warfare” fought by small bands of hunters of men whose services, it appears, will be ever more in demand.
That history, writes Leebaert (Government/Georgetown Univ.; The Fifty-Year Wound, 2002), is “to be found among the interstices of day-to-day friction and counterblows of tribes rising into city-states, into robust nations and then perhaps into empires and superpowers.” WWII buffs know all about the epic battles between Nazis and Russians on the eastern front and Nazis and the other Allies in the west, whereas even the best-informed student of modern military history may not know much about the activities of the Lurps in Vietnam or the Delta Force in Afghanistan—for special-operations soldiers from the Myrmidons to the Gray Ghosts to the modern SAS aim to keep their activities secret. Leebaert offers a sweeping, quite fascinating look at these soldiers through history, remarking on the astonishing abilities of a few well-trained fighters who put “a premium on knowledge” to disrupt whole nations. He braves controversy by including in the mix the 9/11 hijackers, the Viet Cong, the minions of Somali warlords and assorted other bad guys, but the point is well taken; it is because so many battles are now being fought on “unfixed terrain” against stateless and irregular forces that fighters such as the Green Berets and Russia’s Spetsnaz are becoming central, and invaluable, less an adjunct in need than “a systematic arm of war.” Leebaert courts more controversy with his harsh assessment of the conduct of the Iraq war and the larger war on terrorism and about the capabilities of the current (“inept”) Secretary of Defense. He seems to stand on incontestable ground, however, when he prophesies that more terrorist mayhem is to come.
Smart and well-argued—and sure to anger at least some in the Pentagon.