The author of megaselling novels in the techno/gung-ho genre (The Bear and the Dragon, 2000, etc.) that he practically invented adds an untimely entry to his body of nonfiction dissections (Every Man a Tiger, 1999, etc.) of what makes our military so great: everything you wanted to know about Special Forces except for Afghanistan.
Teamed this time with a retired former chief of US Special Operations Command, Clancy delves into the origins and evolution of the Special Forces concept. Presidents Kennedy and Reagan get special credit for a relevant grasp of realpolitik: the need for a new kind of force capable of Cold War dirty tricks, counterinsurgencies, and holding terrorists to account for their crimes anywhere in the world. Some action vignettes from SF roots in WWII and Vietnam rival Clancy fiction, but things get bogged down with military trivia as the author and General Stiner interweave narratives (liberally laced with the kind of DOD jargon that makes a ship a “naval platform” and an airplane an “aviation asset”) on the Achille Lauro (hijacked cruise liner) incident, “taking down” Noriega's Panama, and other actions. The central theme is a somewhat predictable one of guys in the field taking heat, or worse, because Washington never quite gets it. For example, only after Vietnam, when the Pentagon finally allows that the standard US ground soldier is frighteningly inept at forging good relations with “friendlies,” does that become a top SF training priority. Also well documented is the depth and breadth of opposition to any concept of elite units by mainstream military commanders who tend to see Special Ops planners as “princes of darkness” out to rob the “Big Army” of budget and resources. Obviously caught with the book already in the publishing pipeline when the 2001 War on Terrorism was declared, Clancy awkwardly tacks on a final chapter to cover repercussions of September 11 (but not including any military operations in Afghanistan), which adds nothing original either in his analysis of the Al Qaeda brand of terrorism or proposed countermeasures.
Valor vs. red tape with the soul of democracy at stake.