Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America's Special Operations Forces

By Stapleton, Brad | The Cato Journal, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America's Special Operations Forces


Stapleton, Brad, The Cato Journal


Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America's Special Operations Forces

Mark Moyar

New York: Basic Books, 2017, 402 pp.

In recent years, special operations forces (SOFs) have assumed a prominent role in the ongoing U.S. global war on terrorism (though that term has fallen out of fashion). In the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), SOFs are fulfilling a number of significant responsibilities: launching periodic raids against high-value terrorist targets; providing tactical advice to partner forces from advanced positions; and coordinating fire support for lightly armed irregular forces on the front lines. Moreover, those activities extend beyond Iraq and Syria. A small SOF contingent is on the ground in Libya. The Pentagon has deployed an SOF task force to the Horn of Africa and Yemen, and special operators make up a significant portion of U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan. Without a doubt, SOFs are enjoying something of a heyday within the U.S. military.

In Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America's Special Operations Forces, Mark Moyar clearly demonstrates that the current stature of SOFs within the U.S. military is rather exceptional. He provides a comprehensive history of the institutional evolution of U.S. SOFs and their operational contributions from the Second World War to the present. In doing so, he paints a picture of an entity in search of a role. Largely unappreciated by the conventional military leadership through most of their history, SOFs have frequently been employed in situations for which they were ill suited and poorly equipped.

For readers who enjoy detailed narratives of military operations, Oppose Any Foe will be quite entertaining--although the inherent drama of those operations is frequently compromised by Moyar's penchant for bizarre similes that distract more than they illuminate. Moreover, some readers (myself included) would prefer a more detailed discussion of the politics driving the employment and institutional development of SOFs. One of the most interesting aspects of the history of SOFs is the "intense rivalry between special operations forces and regular forces," which Moyar highlights as an enduring challenge. Unfortunately, skirmishes within the Pentagon receive much less attention than those on the actual battlefield.

Although Oppose Any Foe is a history, the book is clearly oriented toward the future, highlighting a number of important questions that have yet to be resolved. First and foremost, Moyar questions the extent to which SOFs should be expected and tasked to address the myriad security challenges currently facing the international community. In the wake of the massive interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, numerous experts (both inside and outside government) have suggested that SOFs provide a means for effectively addressing a range of security challenges with a relatively "light footprint." Particularly as the U.S. campaign to roll back the Islamic State has gradually succeeded, more and more observers have suggested that SOFs should be used in a similar fashion to combat future challenges "by, with, and through" local forces. …

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