Prolific world-traveler Kaplan (Mediterranean Winter, 2004, etc.) goes where the boots are. And where they are, he suggests, there stands the American Empire.
“The Big Army doesn’t understand that force protection means force projection. They’re killing us in Iraq because they see that we’re scared.” Thus a Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan, speaking with the customary openness of soldiers in the face of someone they trust—Kaplan, in this case, who over the years has been along for many rides when the bullets are flying and who, at one point, catches himself wondering what for: “I was fifty-one years old. Why was I doing this?” He answers by bringing home absorbing stories from warriors at the edges of the empire, who are somehow different from soldiers in past wars: For them, all the world is “Injun Country,” monitored by “singular individuals fronting dangerous and stupendous landscapes.” Indeed, the troops who patrol the streets of Djibouti and scout the jungles of Colombia and the Philippines look like surfers, talk like cowboys and have a healthy disdain for the meaningless regulations of the Big Army. But, in the parlance, they’re exquisitely sensitive to the mission, which has changed markedly since 9/11, involving a newfound resolution “to whack people quietly” while trying to win hearts and minds. The Big Army, of course, does things more noisily, though its middle managers—the captains and majors who run the show, “the true agents of the imperium”—seem keen to remake the organization for an ever-unpredictable world. Those who question whether or why the U.S. is an imperial nation will not be comforted by Kaplan’s assurances that, after all, “Rome, Venice, and Britain were the most morally enlightened states of their age”—and that democracy at home and a ruthless authoritarianism abroad are not necessarily incompatible.
A provocative survey of a changing military charged—it seems ever more apparent—with making the world American, regardless of the world’s view of things.