Andrew Exum’s piece on putting faith in special operations is a little disconcerting. The measure of knowledge and insight required to successfully understand any foreign country isn’t contained in years clocked and degrees obtained. Arguably, the complex environments in which special forces (SF) operate require some very quick learning for detachment commanders, but their training, and the experience of their non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and the warrant officer ensure that their judgements are tempered. SF veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and OEF-where ever have been instrumental in shaping the operational environment in ways that a PhD could not conceive. Their tasks include engaging/managing tribal, political, commercial and governmental factions. The key difference is that SFODAs are actors having a significant impact in the futures of that geographic area whereas a scholar spends their time making detached observations and expanding the body of knowledge on that place. Scholars and experts from other fields help diversify SF operators’ knowledge and greater develop their understanding of a country or a place.
Special Forces are better attuned to understand, adapt to and manage the complex cultural and political situations that require precision especially in the context of a chaotic or violent situation. Sure, SF have areas in terms of depth, and baseline cultural and linguistic knowledge, but they should be the force or asset of choice to confront many of the national security challenges that are down the road for the US.