Thomas's Reviews > Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

Drift by Rachel Maddow
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's review
Apr 07, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: politics, military, war
Read in April, 2012

This is a great book, by a liberal from a military family. Throughout, Maddow treats the military with the respect it is due, but calls out numerous politicians and power-players at the top (including many military commanders) who have misused military power and managed it badly -- with the result that American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines get the short end of the stick, and no appreciable societal benefit of the post-WWII style is provided. A book about a sad and infuriating phenomenon engendered by a bureaucracy of cynical political opportunists who don't give a damn about fighting men and women.

I gave it four stars instead of five because I feel she glossed over the GWB years slightly....probably wanting to avoid opening up that can of worms, since she's pretty much known for being their arch enemy.

My guess is that she felt her point had been made about those years and their misuse of military power. But it troubled me to not hit hard on these years, given the grotesque misappropriation of military resources, with great cost in American lives -- and the fact that, as far as I can tell, the underlying motive that caused all the privatization that so doomed the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq appears to have been a hatred of the American system on the part of Cheney and Rumsfeld -- that is to say, a Friedman-influenced desire to "drown government in a bathtub." As in, the FEDERAL government. As in, THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT. In any other country, that sentiment would be regarded as treason -- what other definition for "treason" does one need than the actual destruction of the American system? -- but in this country, its true believers were given free reign to form a government that got to send a bunch of Americans off to die for no earthly reason than to further their profit motives, and with no ultimate long-term geopolitical effect, I suspect, other than to essentially hand over influence in the Levant, Iraq, North Africa and possibly the Gulf to such far-more-enlightened motherfuckers as Shiite Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, radical Sunni fundamentalists, and (in business terms) China. "What's a Sunni? What's a Shiite?" Cheney has been said to have asked, probably sarcastically. Whether that's true or not, I think Maddow missed low-hanging fruit by not pointing out how fantastically ineffective the geopolitics of the GWB administration has been in furthering American dominance.

Whether or not Maddow or I are in favor of American dominance, the Bush administration bungled that move so badly that it achieved just the opposite. I believe that makes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the most disastrous American military operations of all time, by a huge margin.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm an internationalist (though not a globalist) and a Democrat, albeit a far more liberal one than most other Democrats. I'm not a huge fan of unbridled American hegemony. I'm also a policy hawk -- I think an extremely strong American military, used properly, is the best bet the world has to see the influence of democracy, small d, increase over the next 100 years.

Unfortunately, under (to some extent) Clinton and (far more obviously) under Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, American hegemony was not furthered, but fumbled -- in a way that will result in far more destructive forces taking far more power. This isn't the wretched of the earth taking their rightful power. These are corrupt and dangerous fascists getting free reign to fuck up the developing world far more than the Western powers have managed to fuck it up already -- which is saying something.

By squandering American prestige, influence, and money, by managing the wars so badly that they were inevitably lost in the long run, by telling the rest of the world to go to hell, and showing widespread incompetence, the Bush administration managed to divvy that growing hegemony up between to Russia, China, India, to some extent Europe, and far less stable countries like Pakistan and Iran.

"Unmooring" indeed. Maddow should have addressed those events in this book more than she did.

For what it's worth, however, even if they're not extensive enough for my taste, her arguments that the Bush-era military privatization has been a complete disaster are spot-on. The long-term geopolitical strategic situation in the Gulf and Central and Southern Asia is not really what Maddow was addressing, so, hey, it's cool.

On every other level, I found this a great book. Maddow has a particular political bent; I'm not about to pretend she doesn't. It tends to be pretty close to my own political bent, as well. However, the difference between Maddow and conservative writers is that she backs her claims up with specific facts. I feel that she's done that here, quite effectively. And any objective reading of this book should leave anyone who loves America (or people in general) horrified at just how royally the U.S. military has been left at the mercy of business interest and of politicians who are ill-equipped to dictate political or military affairs.
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message 1: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan Great review, Thomas. I'm swiping my mother's copy next time I'm in Santa Barbara.

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