Drift: the Unmooring of American Military Power, Rachel Maddow (Crown Publishers, New York)
This is an unusually fine book in that Dr. Maddow makes her primary point convincingly, clearly, and with well written simplicity. She traces the evolution, or progression of war-making powers from the Congress, where it has long been constitutionally supposed to reside, to the Executives that have slowly and questionably usurped it. She also makes the case that this has resulted in increasingly “unmooring” our wars from both Congress and the American public. Before she finishes there is a commentary on our obscenely and ridiculously bloated defense budget, another on drone and nuclear warfare, and finally an offering of how we might be able to repair the serious problems that arise from all of the above. She could, of course, have done a great deal more, and there are places where one might cry out for more, but I do not believe it is kosher to criticize authors for things they did not do that one might wish they had done.
This is the kind of book that more often than not would be loaded with footnotes and references. Mercifully, it is not. She often quotes directly from Presidential diaries and speeches and explains in some detail where her information can be found. It might be possible to perhaps challenge her on some points but given her known penchant for fact checking I suspect it would be most probably unrewarding. She writes with the authority of someone who knows the facts, has an awesome command of the relevant literature, and is not afraid to state her position clearly, just as she does regularly on her weekly television show. She goes about this with such apparent ease I think it is possible to overlook the underlying scholarly achievement involved. It is also masked by what many applaud as her disarming sense of humor, but I think some may confuse irony and sarcasm with humor. It is effective, nonetheless.
As I read further and further about the questionable machinations of all our recent presidents, from Johnson, through Nixon, and on up to the present, especially through Reagan, and Bush/Cheney, I was struck by the thought the book could be more appropriately titled “Grift,” and by the time I finished reading I thought perhaps it should even be called “Adrift.” There is no doubt that the process of unmooring Maddow describes has occurred, and also no doubt of the many terrible consequences our nation has endured because of it. Wars that used to be difficult to enter and necessarily involved the entire nation are now much easier to begin and become virtually impossible to end. They are now fought by mercenaries in secret at bankrupting prices, and supervised by increasingly anonymous CIA agents and who knows who else. They are not only unmoored from Congress and the public, but also from common sense and reason, becoming sometimes wars merely for the sake of war (and our military/industrial/political complex).
There might be an element of humor in Maddow’s account of how we have been managing and caring for our nuclear warheads, certainly material to rival the Keystone Kops, if the terrifying potential for disaster were not so serious. I was not comforted to learn that we have admittedly lost eleven nuclear warheads, at least two of which are resting somewhere on the ocean floor. This part of the book is only tangentially related to her major thesis but is well worth reading. Although she is almost certainly our foremost contemporary Liberal, the book is by no means a polemic, basically just stating the facts about where we are and how we arrived there.
As someone who was opposed to a volunteer army from the beginning, I must say her account makes me even more convinced it is a terrible idea, made even more terrible by the growth of a huge, secret, mercenary army whose loyalty may well lie with who pays them rather than national interest or the constitution. This is an exceedingly dangerous situation that should never have been allowed by Congress’s “chickenshittery,” as Maddow colorfully describes it, in the first place. She has a remarkable ability to both perceive a problem and explain it in simple terms even to the less gifted. Too bad so few Americans read these days as this is a book that should be a must for everyone who, whether they like it or not, are in the same rapidly sinking boat with those of us who definitely do not like it.
I do not always agree with Frau Doktor Rachel Maddow, who I believe may be in general too optimistic, but I confess that I now think of her as a national treasure. Republicans no doubt hate her as she speaks truths they fear and do not want to hear. I wonder how much longer she will be allowed to continue? Long enough I hope for several more books.