Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I've got Rachel Maddow's new book "Drift" at the top of my list of books to buy. David Horsey has a very helpful review of the book, and it has whet my appetite.

Her book very much reflects the way she comports herself on TV. It is smart and deeply documented. It is entertaining and occasionally whimsical. (In any other book about national security issues, you would not find the word "whoopsie," nor would the word "ally" be rhymed with "schmally" in one phrase.) And, far from being a left-wing screed, it presents a sharply argued commentary that many conservatives could buy into.

Maddow's core thesis is that in the decades since the end of the war in Vietnam, there has been a steady and dramatic shift in the way the United States goes to war. There was a time when Congress stepped up to its constitutional responsibility to say when the country would send troops into battle. Once engaged, the entire country took part. Now, Maddow writes, the president can churn up a war anytime he wants, Congress rolls over, and only a tiny fraction of Americans do the fighting while the rest blithely carry on with their normal lives. ...

The best thing Maddow does is resist portraying the drift to unfettered war power as a conspiracy concocted by an evil cabal. These choices were made by intelligent men and women who seemed to truly believe they had the best interests of the country in mind. These very smart, patriotic people promoted really foolish policies because they were guided by poor information, blinded by ideology or driven by political expediency. With rare exceptions, they were not motivated by actual wickedness. (For pure wickedness, check out Maddow's chapters covering the misdeeds and greed of private contractors in the Balkans and Iraq.)

Rachel Maddow is wise enough to recognize that, even at the highest levels of government, human folly explains far more than any conspiracy theory. It's really all about "whoopsie" moments on a disturbingly grand scale.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I have to admit that my tinfoil chapeau vibrated madly at this conclusion by Horsey (and presumably by Maddow). I think that especially during the Bush administration there was almost a total overlap with the administration and the private contractors (e.g., Cheney and Halliburton). The Pentagon's private contractors then, as now, seemed to have a direct line to the White House and to many in Congress. Still, the more innocent argument does have merit.

My other concern was expressed perfectly by Florence at Ruminations, an elder blog that I visit daily.

...This is a great, important, well researched, and well written book that I just could not read. That's not exactly accurate--I read the prologue, the first chapter, and the epilogue in detail. The problem was all the chapters in between. I just couldn't take the return in excruciating detail of Grenada, Iran-Contra, and Oliver North, from there we move on to Kuwait, Halliburton, and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, followed by Bosnia, leading inexorably to Afghanistan and Iraq. It was like nails on a chalkboard for 7 of 9 chapters. Don't get me wrong, Maddow nails it completely in the description of our not so slow drift toward the replacement of our Constitutionally designed plan that going to war should be a difficult thing to do to our current state of perpetual war which can be initiated unilaterally by the President. It's just that I lived through all of it and I just get mad all over reading about it. [Emphasis added]

Florence still thought the book was worth the price. I'm off to Vroman's later this week and I'll let you know what I think sometime soon.

[Note: Ordinarily I would give the link to Amazon for the book, but I intentionally didn't this time because I'm mad at Amazon for being a supporter of ALEC. I intend to bus it over to my independent book store in Pasadena for all purchases until Amazon retracts that support. I urge you to avoid Amazon for the same reason.]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Drift, and I learned a lot. Well written, and worth the time.

7:12 AM  
Anonymous Brooklyn Girl said...

My understanding is that Barnes & Noble is a very liberal outfit. You might want to consider ordering it from them ...

3:34 PM  

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