Robert Kaplan is one of the best writers on the US military and its role in our foreign policy. He’s done a number of great pieces in the Atlantic, most recently “Imperial Grunts” (subscribers only). First he says there are two kinds of warfare: “Unconventional war and direct action. Unconventional war represents the soft, humanitarian side of counterinsurgency: how to win without firing a shot. For example, it may include relief activities that generate good will among indigenous populations, which in turn produces actionable intelligence. Direct action represents more-traditional military operations.” He concludes that we need to do more unconventional war which is much tougher but more effective that grand democracy installments. Despite being a serious commentator, even Kaplan was enamored with the makeup of our special ops men:
These Green Berets had thick beards and wore traditional Afghan kerchiefs, called deshmals, around their necks and over their mouths, Lone Ranger—style, as protection against the dust. On their heads were either flat woolen Afghan pakols or ball caps. Except for their camouflage pants, M-4s, and Berettas, there was nothing to identify them with the U.S. military. They brought to mind the 2001 photos of Special Forces troops on horseback in Afghanistan that had mesmerized the American public and horrified the old guard at the Pentagon.
Hidden behind the vehicles and veils of swirling dust were canvas tents, a latrine, a crude shower facility, and the perennial Special Forces standby—a weight room. Almost everyone here was either a muscular Latino or a white guy dressed like an Afghan-cum-convict-cum-soldier. Half of them smoked. They put Tabasco sauce on everything. Back at home most owned firearms.