The Bottom Line
Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power" by Rachel Maddow (Crown Publishers, $15)

I took up this book without the slightest trepidation because I have watched author Maddow's MSNBC program for more than a year a year or so now. I expected from the title to find finely pointed superlatives, never banal, and commentary about the now-ridiculed counterinsurgency direction our military was (is) engaged in through two wholly unnecessary wars. After all, a man with a gun rarely wins the hearts and minds of those whom he's willing or tasked to kill if they don't give up their hearts and minds to him.

I was treated, however, to a thought-provoking assessment of history ranging far beyond an exposé of General Petraeus' defunct military theory.

Maddow's essay shows the change, extended as a "drift," in the relationship between the people and their government's use of the military. We, as a people, have allowed our Executive Branch to replace Congress as the arbiter of the wars we enter with our military. Her book merits a read.

Maddow, through James Madison and a host of other founders, establishes why our Constitution was constructed so as to give the declaration-of-war powers to Congress rather than a sole Executive. A "standing Army" was abhorrent to the founders because it was believed that the Executive would be forever looking for a "speck of war" in the utilization or flexing of Executive power. History, at least since Vietnam, has borne out the founders' concerns.

Discerning different motives between successive Executives going back to L.B.J., she displays in a credible way. L.B.J. boosted the draft to keep from creating backlash by calling up the Reservists and National Guard. Reagan, who sorely wanted a war somewhere, utilized the CIA and Security Council operatives to carry out acts of war with an agenda expressly outlawed by Congress. George H. W. Bush discerned that support of NATO supplied him with sufficient authority to wage war in Kuwait to dislodge Saddam Hussein, dragging Congress into the equation only a few days before the launch of Desert Storm. Clinton, for all his intention of turning to domestic issues, embraced the subterfuge of allowing massive arms and "instructors" to intervene in the Bosnia conflict without the concurrence or advice of Congress in the undeclared war. Dick Cheney, who had worked his way into the fabric of the Executive, launched his own method of supporting war through privatization of essential support services to the military, outsourced functions with no Congressional oversight. The use of drones, first by George Bush and inherited, utilized and amplified by Barak Obama, are but further examples of Executive wars undeclared by Congress.

Maddow's excursion through history is supported by an exhaustive source index, as per her mien. She concludes by creating a corrective "to-do" list, should you share her concerns regarding the drift away from the Constitution.

Without giving it away, I'd say her laudable aim is to "revive that old idea of America as a deliberately peaceable nation," not simply "our inheritance but our responsibility."

Perhaps the most chilling quote is her reference to a comment by New York Times commentator David Carr, who observed that we've become a nation "at peace with being at war." That observation has convinced me that there is a need to find a 'to-do' list and Maddow has constructed a substantial start.

-- Reviewed by Ronald E. Hignight

Book News:

"The Emperor of Carysfort Reef" by Jack Dunbar is a novel set in the author's favorite places in the Florida Keys and Europe. Dunbar says he "grew up staring at ancient maps that depicted lost civilizations and lost empires and those who lived in each of their heydays." His careers in the U.S. Army, the intelligence community and in law enforcement "each provided a rich school for my writing."

"The Emperor of Carysfort Reef" is available as a Kindle Edition and in paperback from the CreateSpace eStore.

"Dallas Noir" edited by David Hale Smith($15.95) is the latest in a series of noir anthologies published by Akashic Books of New York that includes the award-winning bestseller "Brooklyn Noir." This new entrant of 17 tales includes "Swingers Anonymous" by former Dallas and now Key West resident Jonathan Woods, set in the M Streets district of the city. BookPeople Bookstore in Austin, Texas named Woods' "Death in Mexico" one of the top five debut crime novels of 2012.