Imperial Grunts

I apologize for the light blogging lately; we're going into final exams here at school. But if you read nothing else today, read this interview of Robert D. Kaplan by Hugh Hewitt. Kaplan has spent the last few years writing "Imperial Grunts," about the soldiers on the front line of American power around the globe (hat tip: Instapundit). There is so much good stuff in this interview that I couldn't possibly capture it in a few quotes, but just to get you started:
RK: Yes, one of the things that I think really kind of unnerved the elite, is that while there are all these conferences and discussions in Washington and elsewhere about should we support Afghan warlords or not, should we create an Afghan national army or not, what should our foreign policy be in Yemen or Colombia or in Iraq. I discovered a world of basically working-class people, who were operationally far more sophisticated and knowledgeable about all these issues, who spoke languages, who had personalities that didn't fit into any one neat division. They were evangelical, but they spoke two exotic languages. People like that who...so while all these discussions are taking place, foreign policy is being enacted on the ground by majors and sergeants and lieutenants, who are utterly oblivious to most of these discussions. And you know what? They're doing these things very, very well.

RK: Yes, and it's also...you know, people say America's imperialist. It's bad because it's in Iraq. Actually, Iraq is a perversion of intelligent imperialism, rather than an accurate expression of it, because the British and the French and the others were at their best when they had small numbers of troops training host country militaries, so that the British were not overextended financially, or in any other sense. And so American military influence works best when we have the least...when our military footprint on the ground is the smallest. I've seen one man accomplish miracles in Mongolia. I've seen dozens do great work in Algeria this past summer when I was working for Volume II. I've seen hundreds do great work in the Phillipines and Colombia, where treading water with ten thousand or so in Afghanistan, and 150,000, whatever one's views on Iraq, does constitute a mess.

HH: I had very little grasp of how insidious the Abu Saaef guerillas are. Are you an optimist about the Philipines?

RK: Not really. I'm not a pessimist, either. I think that the Philipines will be a more accurate barometer for the U.S.' ability to manage the world, than Iraq will be, because we've been involved in the Philipines going back a hundred years. We invaded the country. We fought a long, difficult counter-insurgency there a hundred years ago. We developed the country. There's strong ties with the U.S. and the Philipines islands. But there's very few other places where the Chinese are more active now, trying to displace us.

HH: Oh, how so? Explain to people—

RK: Yeah, so the Philipines is the ultimate barometer to kind of—the relative power between the United States and China in the coming decade.

RK: Absolutely. Absolutely. In fact, the military now, another tactical frustration they have in Iraq, is they say where is the State Department. We want desperately to hand over responsibility to USAID, the State Department. Now, the State Department may be an unhealthy agency. It may be in desperate need of reform. The military knows it can do a better job than these civilian government departments. And yet nevertheless, they are very uncomfortable with their expanding role.
As they say, read the whole thing.

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