For four decades after World War II, U.S. Special Operations Forces—including Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Air Force special operations aircrews and Special Tactics Group—suffered from mistrust and inadequate funding from the military services. They were nearly eliminated from the active force following the Vietnam War. But in the past fifteen years, special operations forces have risen from the ashes of the failed 1980 rescue of American hostages in Iran to become one of the most frequently deployed elements of the U.S. military. They are now adequately funded, better-equipped, and well-trained. Special operations forces are often the nation’s first military response when faced with a crisis in today’s uncertain and unstable international security environment.
What caused this dramatic turnaround? As this book shows, it was a long way from congressional outrage at TV images of burned bodies of U.S. servicemen in the Iranian desert to the establishment of a special operations force of nearly 45,000 active and reserve personnel. The drama of how this happened sheds light on how public policy is made and implemented. It illustrates the complex interaction between internal forces within the special operations community, as well as between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government. The implementation of legislation establishing a special operations capability is seen to rebuild and protect these forces to an extent never imagined by the early “quiet professionals.”
While offering insights into how the U.S. government makes policy, Susan Marquis also offers a revealing look at the special operations community, including their storied past, extreme training, and recent operational experience that continues to forge their distinctive organizational mission and culture. She describes the decade-long struggle to rebuild special operations forces, resulting in new SOF organizations with independence that is unique among U.S. military forces, an independence approaching that of a new military service.