Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Did You Catch Rachel's "Drift"?

The Rachel Maddow Show is my favorite non-sports TV program. Actually, I don’t watch TV much except for a few athletic contests, such as now some of the Chiefs’ games (which are pretty hard to watch this year) and most of the Missouri University Tigers’ football and basketball games—and the Rachel Maddow Show (maybe about a third of the time, including watching some of it online the following day ).
For you who may not know, Rachel Maddow (b. 1973) earned a degree in public policy from Stanford in 1994. She received a Rhodes Scholarship which led to her earning a Doctor of Philosophy in politics from Oxford University in 2001. Since 2008 she has hosted “The Rachel Maddow Show” five nights a week on MSNBC.
Earlier this year when I heard about Rachel’s (or should I say Dr. Maddow’s?) new book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, I wasn’t immediately inclined to read it. But because it was Rachel’s book, I decided to take a look at it. I found it quite well done—and quite important.
In the first chapter, Rachel cites Thomas Jefferson, who in 1792 wrote, “One of my favorite ideas is, never to keep an unnecessary soldier,” and seven years later he declared that he was “not for a standing army in a time of peace” (cited on p. 9). Throughout her book Rachel points out how greatly this country has drifted away from that idea, which was long upheld in the U.S.
“Stupid Regulations” (words spoken by Ronald Reagan) is the title of the fifth chapter, and early in that chapter Rachel writes, Every Congress is meddlesome, disinclined toward war, and obstructive of a president’s desire for it—on purpose” (p. 96). But, largely due to the Iran-Contra scandal (remember that?) and the work of Ollie North (remember him?) things changed greatly.
Among other things, North solicited funds for the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty and operated a “mirror image” of the CIA’s secret support to the Contras. “But unlike the CIA, which had to depend on money from Congress, this privately funded entity had added value: the privatization of Reagan’s foreign policy initiative turned out to be just the ticket for evading all those barriers the legislature had erected. (Stupid regulations!)” (p. 112).
In his written dissent to the congressional investigation of the Iran-Contra affair, Dick Cheney insisted that “Reagan was right to defy Congress, because there was nothing in Congress, nothing anywhere in America’s political structure, that could constrain a president from waging any war he wanted, however he wanted” (p. 124).
Thus, “By 9/11, the war-making authority in the United States had become, for all intents and purposes, uncontested and unilateral: one man’s decision to make” (p. 125).
There is much more I would like to share from Rachel’s Drift. But I will close with just a couple of items from Rachel’s “to-do list” for the country:
Going to war, being at war, should be painful for the entire country, from the start. Henceforth, when we ship the troops off to battle, let’s pay for it. . . . Whenever we start a new one, we should raise the money to pay for it, contemporaneously. . . .
Let’s do away with the secret military. If we are going to use drones to vaporize people in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, the Air Force should operate those drones, and pull the trigger (p. 249).
Soon I plan to write about how this country keeps droning on.


  1. It's interesting how difficult it has become, just in my lifetime, to deal with this issue since the right has done so much to equate patriotism and support of an expanding military, and demonized any criticism of the military or our military activities.

    1. Anton, as always I think your comment is correct. Those of us who are in the Anabaptist tradition are often considered suspect by the Religious Right that is so pro-military.

  2. An interesting view worthy of contemplation.
    Sadly, in a nuclear world with other large standing militaries, it is probably necessary to maintain a significant standing defense, otherwise treaties are nonsense. Israel, Switzerland, and several other countries require a trained and armed citizenry of all capable people of age, available for call-up at all times (a national guard), and probably hinted at in the Second Amendment. This is not a bad concept either.
    Your point that the constitution provides for the process of declaring war is well taken. It provides for a short-term declaration by the President, in the event of attack, until Congress can act.
    The concept of war was address by Jesus and the early Church fathers in a limited,but practical way.

    To Anton Jacobs point, the current view, seems fueled by nationalist Americanism. Our current president seems wishy-washy on this concept.

  3. The United States is spending itself into a state of overall decline because of military and diplomatic over reach. Paul Kennedy in his book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), showed through a study of the examples of historical powerful nations from 1500 to 1980 that as the military expenses grow, investments in economic growth decline, which eventually "leads to the downward spiral of slower growth, heavier taxes, deepening domestic splits over spending priorities, and weakening capacity to bear the burdens of defense." It has happened before, it’s happening again, and we seem incapable of learning from history.

    1. Clif, thanks for posting your comments. I have read Paul Kennedy some in years past, but I don't recall reading the book you mentioned. As you wrote, what he said 25 years ago certainly seems applicable today.

  4. Once again, a brief, and pertinent, comment from my esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky:

    "Thanks for calling attention to that book, Leroy. We really need serious examination of our military perspectives."