America: the world’s policeman—and, as depicted here, an equal mix of Dirty Harry and Barney Fife.
No sooner had American helicopters cleared the rooftops of Saigon than a band of Khmer Rouge boarded the USS Mayaguez off the coast of Cambodia, capturing its crew and throwing still another crisis at the Ford administration. Though still smarting from defeat in Vietnam, writes retired naval officer Huchthausen (Hostile Waters, 1997, etc.), the contingency planners at the Pentagon swung into action, launching a combined assault of soldiers, marines, sailors, and aviators at the surprised kidnappers, who released their captives and disappeared into the jungle. Thus it would be for the next quarter-century, though with a few surprises gumming up the works, as when the Somali warlord Muhammad Aidid divined that downing a Black Hawk helicopter would draw such rescuers “into a location of his choosing where he could concentrate a massive number of his rabble in arms and gain a major victory against the Americans.” With a few qualified exceptions, Huchthausen writes approvingly of American intervention around the world, caressing the details of such coups as Grenada, “a job done at the right time, though in haste,” and Panama, which proved, at least to the brass, the virtues of both surprise and the use of massive firepower against enemies who could not hope to respond in kind. (Think of Iraq in 2003, which lies just beyond the author’s scope here.) Huchthausen offers useful remarks on strategy and a pointed critique of the dangers of “employing civilian management techniques” in military operations, as with the failed attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980. Still, it’s a too-shallow treatment of complex events, far less satisfying than Max Boot’s more ambitious and more capable Savage Wars of Peace (2002), which covers much the same ground.
Cliffs Notes for interventionists.