Imperial Grunts : On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond
In this landmark book, Robert D. Kaplan, veteran correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and author of Balkan Ghosts, shows how American imperialism and the Global War on Terrorism are implemented on the ground, mission by mission, in the most exotic landscapes around the world. Given unprecedented access, Kaplan takes us from the jungles of the southern Philippines to the glacial dust bowls of Mongolia, from the forts of Afghanistan to the forests of South America-not to mention Iraq-to show us Army Special Forces, Marines, and other uniformed Americans carrying out the many facets of U.S. foreign policy: negotiating with tribal factions, storming terrorist redoubts, performing humanitarian missions and training foreign soldiers. In Imperial Grunts, Kaplan provides an unforgettable insider's account not only of our current involvement in world affairs, but also of where America, including the culture of its officers and enlisted men, is headed. This is the rare book that has the potential to change the way readers view the men and women of the military, war, and the global reach of American imperialism today.
America is no less an imperial power than Britain and Rome in their times, claims veteran journalist Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts, etc.)-one that is backed by the same sort of enforcers. To illustrate, he travels to seven nations and describes how American troops are, if not ruling the world, working to persuade it to follow our lead. The author joins elite units (generally marines or special forces) sent to shore up friendly governments, win people's hearts, train security forces and defeat terrorism-an increasingly vague term that includes narco-guerrillas, local warlords, unruly tribes and criminal gangs. Living among working soldiers, Kaplan makes no secret of his admiration for their camaraderie, practicality and rational if politically incorrect views. All roll their eyes when our leaders proclaim that defeating terrorism requires democratic governments; according to Kaplan, they believe this is nonsense in Colombia, Kenya, Yemen and the Philippines-all democracies. Forbidden to fight in these countries, Americans are building infrastructure and gathering intelligence as they instruct local units, hoping American-trained leaders will eventually rise to positions of authority. Military buffs will prefer the chapters on Iraq and Afghanistan, where the soldiers are slugging it out. Stabilizing all these nations may take decades, these men and women say-except in Iraq, where it may take longer. (On sale Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 12, 2006
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Excerpt from Imperial Grunts by Robert D. Kaplan
CHAPTER ONE: CENTCOM
YEMEN, WINTER 2002
WITH NOTES ON COLOMBIA
"Yemen was vast. And it was only one small country.... How to manage such an imperium?"
In November 1934, when the British traveler and Arabist Freya Stark journeyed to Yemen to explore the broad oasis of the Wadi Hadhramaut, the most helpful person she encountered was the French aesthete and business tycoon Antonin Besse, whose Aden-based trading empire stretched from Abyssinia to East Asia. Besse, dressed in a white dinner jacket with creased white shorts, served excellent wine at dinner, and was described as "a Merchant in the style of the Arabian Nights or the Renaissance." In December 2002, when I went to Yemen, the most helpful person I encountered was Bob Adolph, a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Special Forces, who was the United Nations security officer for Yemen.
Adolph, whose military career had taken him all over the world, had the chest of a bodybuilder and a bluff, bulldog face under wire-rim glasses and a creased ball cap. I spotted him on the other side of passport control, waiting in the dusky warehouse under fluorescent lights that functioned as the Sana'a airport.
Because of their own al-Qaeda problem, the Yemenis were suspicious of anyone with a Pakistani visa inside his passport. I was pulled over by a man smoking a cigarette and wearing a torn sweater and slippers. Adolph, seeing that I was making no progress, ambled over to him, speaking in bad but passable Arabic, gritting his teeth each time he made a point. Others were also haggling with customs and passport officers. It was a typical third world scene: confusion and a cacophony of negotiation in place of fixed standards.
After more of Adolph's pleading, I got back my passport. We headed for the parking lot. It was 2 a.m. Two beggar boys grabbed my bags and put them in the Land Cruiser. Adolph slipped them half a dollar in riyals. I was relaxed. The Arab world, while afflicted by political violence, had little or no common crime. In this sense, Islam had risen to the challenge of urbanization and modern life, and was a full-fledged success.
"This is the most democratic state in Arabia. For that reason it's the most dangerous and unstable," Adolph said, explaining that when Western-style democracy replaced absolute dictatorship in places with high unemployment rates and weak, corrupt institutions, the result was often a security vacuum that groups like al-Qaeda could take advantage of. "I've drawn up multiple evacuation plans for the U.N. staff here, updating calling-tree lists," he went on. "If the place goes down during the night, I can have all our people in Asmara the next day in time for brunch at the InterContinental there. The trick is to keep doing favors for people in the army, the police, and the tribes, and never call them in, until you need them to get your people out."
He veered to avoid another head-on. "Notice the way people drive here, you've got ten-year-olds propped up on phone books driving Granddad around town. Forget about rules and licenses. Keep all of your cash in different pockets. Despite all of the guns, ready cash always gives you more power in Yemen than a gun. Everybody in this country is a businessman, and a good one." His tone was commanding, didactic.