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Review | Drift By Rachel Maddow

Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on March 9, 2012

Drift by Rachel Maddow

ISBN-13: 9780307460981
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Publication date: 3/27/2012
Pages: 288

What would you do if you were given the amazing ability to stir people to action? Would you be a good wonk? Or would you dismiss fact-checkers and repeat misinformation until it became true?

MSNBC’s Emmy Award-winning host Rachel Maddow takes an open and honest tack in Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.

To be released March 27, Drift is her new book on the history of American military readiness as well as a persuasive argument for reviving the peacenik character of our nation.

Maddow ascribes wisdom to the framers of the Constitution who built constructs to keep the power to declare war out of the hands of the executive. She proposes that a lone man’s decision to mobilize troops is not a good thing for anyone.

Maddow writes about the power vested in Congress:

The framers clogged up the works by making the decision to go to war a communal one. The Constitution assured the case for any war would have to be loud, well argued, and made in plain view.

Article 1, Section 8 gave Congress the task of deliberating the costs of waging war and the readiness of local militias. When these citizen-soldiers were mobilized, their communities also felt the sacrifice.

During Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson was hesitant to call up the reserves, the “weekend warriors” who lived and worked in our neighborhoods. LBJ also wanted to avoid the debate that might come with taking his case for war before Congress and the American people.

According to Maddow, more than half a million active-duty soldiers served in Southeast Asia, but the U.S. Army Reserve and the National Guard became refuge for sons of the well-connected to avoid service. Vietnam became a “a painful refresher course in the perils of lowering the barriers to war.”

Political backlash came in the form of the Abrams Doctrine, which placed the Guard and the Reserves back into the active-duty military. The War Powers Act of 1973 also gave muscle to Congress and its Constitutional prerogative to declare war.

Maddow writes of the post-Vietnam turnaround:

The questions of how we provide for the common defense, how we apportion our limited resources to the military, how we prepare for war, and whether or not we go to war were back where they belonged, out in the open, subject to loud and jangly political debate.

Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 would bring about change in military spending during peacetime. Serving as a pitch man for the Army Corps film unit in World War II, Reagan had become adept at “stirring America’s martial moxie.”

In his 1981 inaugural address, President Reagan brought his most practiced pitch about war and duty while strategically gazing upon Arlington National Cemetery. Reagan waved off fact-checkers who pointed out “problematic actualities” in his speech, while the Pentagon bided its time.

The Army’s advertising budget grew to more than $100 million during Reagan’s administration. Maddow jokes about a particularly memorable marketing jingle:

Be . . . all that you can be . . . ’cause we need you . . . in the  Aaaaaaaar- my.

Maddow tells  the story of the kooky Present Danger cabal, who lunched at Washington’s Metropolitan Club and “began scripting the dire warning that the Russians were coming, the Russians were coming.”

CIA Director George H. W. Bush invited them to participate in National Intelligence Estimates when Gerald Ford was President and Reagan hired many of the Present Danger crowd to serve in his own administration. Maddow writes that Reagan valued their rhetoric for the political traction it gave him.

Each time Reagan made defense appropriations requests, Congress would overwhelmingly cave.

Maddow insists the United States did not thrive as a result of defense spending increases during the Reagan presidency. We became a debtor nation, neglected our infrastructure and health care system and became more dependent on foreign oil.

Signing executive orders and keeping Congress in the dark, Reagan pleaded ignorance and forgetfulness when asked about money from illegal arms sales being diverted to aid Contras.

His legacy would survive. U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese argued an alternative interpretation of the powers of the executive in making decisions about foreign policy and national security.

This inherent powers argument would serve every President after Reagan, including Clinton in the Balkans, Bush in Afghanistan and Obama in Abbottabad.

Maddow proposes we can “revive that old idea of America as a deliberately peaceable nation.”

If specific decisions in time landed us where we are today, we can unmake those specific decisions. We can walk them back.

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow is a highly worthwhile read which will amuse or enrage the most misinformed and unengaged of us about America’s war-waging apparatus.

Category: Nonfiction, Politics, Military

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