I [am] a citizen of the United States and a believer in the essential goodness of American nationalism, a nationalism without which the security armature for any emerging global system simply could not have existed. I did not doubt that at some point, perhaps as soon as a few decades, American patriotism itsel might begin to become obsolete. I also had no doubt that we were not there yet. I had served in the military: in the Israeli rather than the American. In Israel in the 1970s, finding life exclusively among Jews in a small country claustrophobic, I discovered my Americanness anew.... My goal as a writer was simple and clear. I wanted to take a snapshot for posterity of what it was like for middle-level commissioned and noncommissioned American officers stationed at remote locations overseas at the beginning of the twenty-first century...
-Chapter 6, Imperial Grunts, Robert D. Kaplan
With much of the writing about Afghanistan and US military forces abroad coming from very young sources (even Sebastian Junger is a mere 46 as he dispatches to Vanity Fair; Bellavia is 24 when he first gets deployed; Internet journalist Kevin Sites is 39 as he enters Iraq; Luttrell, Wright, Swofford, Kyle, Parnell all in their twenties or early thirties as combat or embedded combat journalism is a work of young men), to large degree we receive the perspective of twenty-four year olds: certain, dedicated, black-and-white, aggressive, absolutist, and keen. To that degree, it's useful and beyond useful to have Robert Kaplan, currently sixty-one years old
on the ground in Djibouti and Afghanistan to provide a father and babyboomer's perspective, a professor and a long-time Atlantic's journalist's understanding.
Kaplan is right-of-centre. He is a Zionist. He tells us with his rheumatic eyes that 'whorehouses across Asia use a fishbowl presentation.' He has children. These may be unusual perspectives for the 2013 reader, brought up on Zinn and Nader, who is used to left-of-centre critique and who drinks 'riptide rush' gatorade flavor, remembers 'gnarly' and 'rad' as elementary school slang, likes x-treme sports. But if Internet research reveals that Kaplan is a Stratfor analyst and a former Naval Academy professor, at the same time divergence of perspective is important to the broadly ranging reader. And Kaplan is a skilled writer, an organizer of information. A known minority of b-list non-fiction books start strong and then slowly slowly decline as the writer realizes there is only a limited amount of material he or she understands and can write about. Kaplan's book peaks in the middle, with the battlefront of Afghanistan providing a severe backdrop to what is otherwise peaceful deployments. Like Kevin Sites, he does the global thing, covering the entire world of deployment, but unlike Sites, he has a wealth of connections and personal experience to draw upon, and the story goes deeper and sees deeper.
I can't say that I would be voting any time soon for Kaplan to high electorial office, and I don't know whether being designated a senior advisor by SecDef Robert Gates is an honor or merely a sign of establishmentarianism, but I am eager to read the rest of Kaplan's works, and perhaps his wikipedia page is actually sort of enticing for future theory and practice. 4/5 solid.