Drift, by Rachel Maddow, explores the ways in which our country has drifted from what was once a peace-loving nation to a country constantly at war. Where once we fought wars using citizen-soldiers, wars authorized by Congress and paid for with tax money, now we allow Presidents to take us into battle in all corners of the world, without congressional approval, off-loading the cost onto future generations.
Drift should be required reading for all elected officials. Washington has forgotten James Madison’s warning against vesting war-making powers in one man: “… what the history of all governments demonstrates (is) that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it.” If a president is allowed free hand in regard to making war, then “it is evident that the people are cheated out of the best ingredients in their Government, the safeguards of peace which is the greatest of their blessings. ”
Congress needs to be reminded of what Abraham Lincoln said some fifty years later, that “Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. 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.”
While Congress slept, the Executive branch co-opted war-making to the extent that Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney warned (in the run up to first war in Iraq) that “asking for any kind of congressional approval for war in the Persian Gulf would set a ‘dangerous precedent’ and ‘diminish the powers of the Presidency.'” In the militaristic world in which we live, the quaint idea of a “peace dividend,” a time when public money could be diverted from military to peace time uses is just that: quaint.
“Congress has never effectively asserted itself to stop a president with a bead on a war,” Maddow says. “It was true of George Herbert Walker Bush. It was true of Bill Clinton. And by September 11, 2001, even if there had been real resistance to Cheney and Bush starting the next war (or two), there were no institutional barriers strong enough to have realistically stopped them.”
The book also explores the drift toward privatization within the military. When we go to war in these modern times, over 50% of our forces are private contractors. Where soldiers once built their housing, peeled potatoes, repaired their vehicles, private contractors now do the work. Maddow documents the drift of the CIA from a spy agency to a killing one; it is a newly-empowered CIA that is lobbing drones into Pakistan. They are accountable to no one but the President.
Ultimately the power grab by the Executive Branch, a grab that has been largely ignored by Congress, threatens to bankrupt our nation. Maddow believes the situation can be reversed. Her book may go a long way toward waking our country to what’s happening, the drift toward a permanent state of war, a bloated military ravenous for all the borrowed money it can get, a Congress too timid to stand up to a power-addicted Executive branch.
Read this book, then email your congressmen and tell them to read it too.