Understanding the young men and women in the military, fighting (conventionally and unconventionally) in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other chaotic regions of this dangerously chaotic world is vital.

They are, for better or worse, our real ambassadors, ambassadors on the ground. They fight, but they also train indigenous armies, build infrastructure, implant charisma and attempt to win hearts and minds.

Two new audiobooks offer views of the front, one macro, one micro. Robert D. Kaplan's Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground looks at elite U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Yemen, Colombia and the Philippines. Whether or not you fully accept Kaplan's premise that we are a vast empire impelled forward by a succession of real or imagined security threats, his is an insightful, incisive analysis of what is really happening and who is making it happen.

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