Shelves: nonfiction , military-and-intelligence-non-fic , american-history , history Suppose they gave a war and no one protested? That sounds like heaven on earth for some politicos, some military leaders and a whole lot of contractors who have been growing Jabba-the-Hutt chunky on public dollars. Rachel Maddow, the most charming, and surely one of the brightest political commentators on the scene, has written a thoughtful analysis of how we got from what, in law if not always in practice, was a disinclination towards war, to the current state of affairs in which presidents can Suppose they gave a war and no one protested? Rachel Maddow, the most charming, and surely one of the brightest political commentators on the scene, has written a thoughtful analysis of how we got from what, in law if not always in practice, was a disinclination towards war, to the current state of affairs in which presidents can pretty much lock and load at will. The founders feared that maintaining [a standing army] would drain our resources in the same way that maintaining the eighteenth-century British military had burdened the colonies. They worried that a powerful military could rival civilian government for power in our new country, and of course they worried that having a standing army would create too much of a temptation to use it.

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Crown Publishers, , pp. Drift is an extended monograph of nine chapters, including a prologue and conclusion that might be characterized as a constitutional discourse on war-making powers disguised as a critique of the growth and abuse of US military power by recent presidents. Or, perhaps the opposite: it is a discourse on the growth and abuse of military power disguised as a critique about constitutional war-making powers.

It is difficult to discern because the author, Rachel Maddow, does not indicate which subject she prefers to address in any rigorous fashion. Maddow is a television personality known for fearless opinions that manage to both delight and enrage people who hold political views across the spectrum. Maddow is not your typical television pundit: she attended Stanford University and later earned a PhD in politics at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. It would be a mistake to categorize her national security views based on voting record or party preference—she is an equal opportunity thorn in the sides of both conservatives and liberals with respect to national security issues.

Drift gives Maddow a platform to air her particular defense views while capitalizing on her ability to deliver a narrative that is breezy, witty, and showcases her national security bona fides. Her intent appears to introduce the theme that the US military complex had grown too large and needs retrenchment to fulfill its original purpose, but a casual reader will be unable to recognize a central argument early in the reading.

Maddow does not present a discernible declarative thesis in the prologue or chapter 1 that indicated why US military power was disconnected from its original purposes or the essential evidence that points toward the unmooring. Readers may be easily confused as to the object of extended analysis: did she seek to critique the growth of the national security apparatus and its effect on decisions about using military power, or was she more interested in the constitutional struggle between the presidency and Congress related to employment of the military?

In the case of war-making powers, Maddow insists that presidential power is limited by design, and Congress solely has the ability to authorize the use of military power. It would be difficult to argue against her stance on principle, but history suggests that the authority to use military force has always been contested.

Maddow acknowledges the intent of the founding fathers, but the narrative jumps to the Vietnam War and ignores more than a century and a half of conflicts that preceded the modern era yet yielded historical insights as to why there has always been a constitutional disagreement between the branches of government over war-making powers.

Prior to the approval of Congress and a declaration of war, President Polk authorized sending forces into Mexican territory that led to battles between US and Mexican forces. Although she highlights important points related to presidential overreach, she diverges from the essential narrative with long passages about the personality and foibles of Reagan and delights in character attacks by third parties.

She spends far too much energy going after former defense secretary Dick Cheney, when her efforts should have more properly addressed Pres. George W. Bush and his role in Iraq and Afghanistan. In between she provides details of Pentagon mismanagement and nuclear negligence. The strength of this book is that it is an easy read that can be digested in a day. There are many amusing stories that enliven the narrative, and Maddow has a flair for weaving the actual words used by key players from speeches or recordings into the overall picture.

Despite her credentials, I was surprised, nonetheless, at her mixed metaphors of drift, unmooring, brakes, and wobbly steering. It was largely unsatisfying in that you were left asking exactly what had become unmoored—the US military or her thesis?

Serious students of national security or constitutional issues related to war-making powers will not learn anything substantial from this book. The average reader with little to no background in these issues may find her narrative compelling. LTC Kurt P.


Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power



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