Review: Drift

In Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Rachel Maddow lays out the proposition that through the late 20th century the executive has slowly pulled the power to take America to war away from the people. She does an excellent job both laying down the research that led to that position and explaining how it fits together and why Americans should care.

I was careful to say that the executive had taken the power from the people, not from Congress, though that’s true as well.  One of Maddow’s key observations is that the 20th and 21st centuries have steadily compartmentalized the sacrifice involved in going to war.  Sacrifice motivates people to assess the benefits of warfare; blunting that pain removes an incentive to consider it.  It is a keen observation that she explains clearly and supports strongly.  By itself it illuminates a fair amount of policy.

She’s also clear and precise about the other, more commonly heard arguments about how the executive has drawn this power to itself with few setbacks.  There were some important ones, however, that indicate that the trend need not be inevitable.  After Vietnam, Congress did assert some amount of power and pull back some of the rights from the executive.  But Congress is directly responsive to the people in the best and worst senses of that.  When supporters and donors lose interest, congresspeople fight other battles.

That is all only a curiosity if she does not argue that Americans should care.  While you will not find a chapter in Drift called “Why You Should Care,” Maddow does a good job of underlining the problems without beating you over the head with them. The philosophical and practical issues both get some time in the spotlight, from who should bear the risk and cost of war to what it means to commit the power of the US military on the say-so of a few of the powerful.  These are important issues given appropriate weight.

Overall this is a timely, clear argument about the current state of our warmaking engine and a history of how it got to be that way.  It is well worth understanding and probably changing.

Strongly recommended.

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