Oppose Any Foe
The Rise of America’s Special Operations Forces
Basic Books, New York, 2016, 432 pages
Book Review published on: June 30, 2017
Mark Moyar, author and director of the Center for Military and Diplomatic History in Washington, D.C., has delivered another outstanding book with Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America’s Special Operations Forces. This book examines America’s most elite warriors: the special operations forces (SOF). While SOF have served with distinction since colonial America, Moyar’s focus begins with the Army’s establishment of the 1st Ranger Battalion in 1942 and records the evolution of SOF to their present place of prominence.
Oppose Any Foe goes behind the scenes in highlighting the extraordinary men who are the tip of the spear in taking the fight to any adversaries around the world. These men are a colorful cast, brimming with exceptional talent, courage, and selflessness.
SOF became instruments of partisan politics for a few presidents. President Lyndon Johnson used SOF to jab North Vietnam during the presidential campaign of 1964, when he wanted Vietnam to stay out of the newspapers. President Barack Obama sent SOF surreptitiously and in contravention of public promises that U.S. troops would not participate in combat, for what appeared as reasons of political self-interests.
Resistance to special operations by conventional forces is a common thread throughout SOF history. Moyar chronicles resistance by conventional forces commanders who disparaged elite forces as an unwise segregation of the Army’s top talent and resources. Recommendations to expand the Rangers during World War II provoked stiff resistance from a number of senior Army leaders, including Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, who warned the diversion of high-quality officers to Ranger units would seriously handicap the selection and training of leaders who were so essential in the Army’s existing training program for the conventional forces. This view was not limited to the Army. Lt. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, Marine Corps commandant, stated that Marine Corps infantry battalions could do everything British Commando battalions could do. Marines were already elite so forming an elite within the elite would merely concentrate resources disproportionately in a few units and antagonize the rest.
Oppose Any Foe spares no feelings in shedding light on the skeletons in the SOF closet. Skeletons include the roguish behavior of Navy SEAL Cdr. Richard Marcinko, and how Adm. William McRaven’s vision for expanding the United States Special Operations Command ran afoul of Congress. Moyar is candid in chronicling the few times of failure. For example, he recounts the disaster when the entire 6615th Ranger Task Force (Provisional) was destroyed 31 January 1944 at Cisterna, Italy. He describes the numerous failed attempts d to infiltrate highly trained teams into North Korea during the Korean War and into North Vietnam during the Vietnam War to conduct partisan operations.
Oppose Any Foe may be the most in-depth examination of American SOF published to date. In a nation where the military is the most popular institution, Moyar illustrates why America’s SOF have become the most popular members of the military. It is essential reading for those interested in special operations, and it provides a valuable resource to defense stakeholders at policy and practitioner levels.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas