Drift by Rachel Maddow
First book by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow takes on the "Superfunded, Superempowered, National Security State"
In DRIFT, Maddow argues that America barely notices when we’re at war anymore. It’s a disconnect between civilian and military life that’s at odds with the founders’ intentions—
and we’re weaker for it.
• • • •
“In her hard-hitting debut, popular MSNBC host Maddow examines how the country
has lost control of its national-security policy… [Written with] humor and verve.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Scathing… The author presents sharp, well-supported analyses…
spicing them with a caustic wit… Incisive.”
“An insightful look at the cost of military vigilance to ideals of democracy”
When the Iraq War ended in December 2011, it barely registered in American civilian life. How did we become a country that would have less than 1% of our population fight the longest war in our history, and then not really notice when it ended?
In DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power (on sale March 27), Rachel Maddow makes the case that our national-security apparatus has gone through an amicable but still catastrophic divorce not just from American civilian life, but from American democracy. Civilian political power doesn’t fully direct or constrain our national security policy anymore. It’s unmoored; it makes its own way.
“Our Constitution deliberately built a peaceable bias into the structure of our country,” Maddow writes. “But in the past generation or two, we’ve drifted off that historical course. Our political decision-making process has become separate from the means by which we decide to use the military.” As a result, she says, we’ve lost sight of a big part of who we are as a country.
Writing in the whip-smart, scathingly funny voice we know from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow traces how our nation’s approach to waging war has changed over time. In 1801, President Jefferson warned, “Were armies to be raised whenever a speck of war is visible in our horizon, we never should have been without them. Our resources would have been exhausted on dangers which never happened, instead of being reserved for what is really to take place.” Such prudence held sway in this country for a century and a half, but decisions over the past few decades have shifted us off that course and into uncharted waters.
From President Johnson refusing to call up reserve forces to fight in Vietnam, to Ronald Reagan extricating himself from the Iran-Contra scandal with a radical new theory of presidential power, to the corporate outsourcing championed by Dick Cheney and embraced just as enthusiastically by Al Gore, the drift from the Founders’ instructions has been bipartisan and at times almost mindless. “It’s not a conspiracy,” writes Maddow. “Rational political actors, acting rationally to achieve rational political goals, have attacked and undermined our constitutional inheritance. For the most part they’ve not done it to fundamentally alter the country’s course but just to get around understandably frustrating impediments to their political goals.”
DRIFT explores how recent Presidents of both parties (with varying levels of self-awareness) have led the country to ignore one of the central insights of the American experiment. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars…. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.”
After the political changes we bumbled through in the late 20th century, though, by the time of the 9/11 attacks, war-making authority in the United States had essentially become one man’s decision to make. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. And it can be put back to right.
In an interview, Maddow can discuss:
- The truly radical nature of Reagan’s presidency—and how the paranoid contention that America was a nation under existential threat became the propulsive force of his presidency
- Why and how we started using “privateers” from companies like DynCorp to perform what used to be military functions, with shocking examples of private contractors’ immunity from the law
- The “plaything metric,” or what the changing design of G.I. Joe between 1964 and the early 1970s revealed about our nation’s attitude toward the military
- A case study in the rise of secrecy and executive power—the farcical story of how America conquered its weakest foe ever: Grenada
- Why, ironically, the “peace dividend” of the collapse of the Soviet Union made it that much easier to make war
- What a peculiar bird called the Houbara bustard has to do with America’s drone war in Pakistan
- Wing fungus, rusting storage containers, the lost formula for Fogbank, and eleven misplaced nuclear bombs: the unattractive and dangerous aging process of our nuclear weapons
- The transformation of the CIA into a new, out-of-uniform, 100% deniable branch of the military
- The unsettling—and dangerous—distance that lies between the lived experience of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and the rest of the country
- How the national security leviathan steals from the rest of America—turning a debate that was once about guns vs. butter into a debate about butter vs. margarine (guns get a pass!)
- Eight specific steps we can take to get our country out of its war-is-normal rut
“America’s institutional brake on the war-making machine is not a bug in the system; it is the system,” Maddow writes. “We don’t need a radical new vision of post–Cold War American power to put us back on course; we just need to revive that old idea of America as a deliberately peaceable nation. That’s not simply our inheritance, it’s our responsibility.”