Review: Irrational Security – The Politics of Defense from Reagan to Obama

4 Star, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Crime (Corporate), Crime (Government), Economics, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Force Structure (Military), History, Impeachment & Treason, Military & Pentagon Power, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Daniel Wirls

4.0 out of 5 stars Second to Goodman’s More Recent Book, Useful Nuggets but Overlooks Key Critics, March 1, 2013

I bought this book after reading — and rating at 5 stars — Mel Goodman’s new book, National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (Open Media). That is the better and more relevant book, but both books have significant shortfalls.

I confess to being annoyed with both books, but more so with this one, for their lack of reference to the two premier substantive critics of US defense fraud, waste, and abuse, Chuck Spinney and Winslow Wheeler, or alternative media (i.e. non-PhD authors that really do their homework). Checking this book’s index I quickly determine that corruption, intelligence, Israel, and treason are not key terms.

The greatest value of this work — and I am quite surprised to not find a single review — is that it documents the reality that defense spending is in no way about defense. It is the largest piece of the legislative pork pie, in the author’s terms, “national politics of choice” of, by, and for the elite, having nothing at all to do with the public interest or public security.

I am quite taken with his three arguments, historical, analytical, and normative.

01 Historic. 9/11 changed nothing fundamental, it simply provided a pretext for doing a faster bigger global military program.

02 Analytic. Defense is not about ideas or even about the threat. The author writes about the “threat blank” in the period following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

03 Normative. The author ably documents the complete lack of intelligence and integrity in how the USA funds the military — politics and domestic pork desires drive the military, not strategy, threat, or even a coherent appreciation of what force structure is needed to defeat any given threat or execute any given strategy.

QUOTE (7): “..the politics of national security are systematically dysfunctional.”

The author does not do an adequate job of portraying the central role that Dick Cheney played from 1992 onwards in creating the world’s largest and most dysfunctional military; the author accepts 9/11 at face value; and the author also accepts the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait at face value — only now are some excellent revisionist histories coming out suggesting that the Kuwait invasion may have been severely exaggerated (completely apart from the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter being misrepresented to Congress and her lying about babies being thrown from incubators). Further on I am taken aback to see the author describe GHW Bush as “loyal” to Reagan — not only is Papa Bush almost certainly the CIA non-official cover lead on the ground in Dallas for the JFK assassination (see Dark Legacy but there is also sufficient evidence for any honest government to have indicted Papa Bush for the assassination attempt on Reagan. [I know, this will freak out pretentious, but I go where my reading leads me.]

The author charts three periods:

1989-1994. The superficial draw-down

1995-2000. The “hollow force” domestic argument seeking to “rebuild” the never really reduced military

2001-date. The unchecked explosion of spending on the military, foreign wars, and global special operations including renditions, torture, and drones.

Throughout the book I am constantly learning details — or perspectives — that are new to me, and this is one of the book’s features. The author has done very well at both ingesting a great deal of information, and in weaving that information into a story that I found absorbing.

I learn that it was under Clinton, who never had credibility on foreign and national security matters, that the military-industrial complex was able to put over the “two front war” as a foundation for the military budget.

I learn that the base closings achieved only 10% of the projected real estate valuations, in large part because the Pentagon was always exempt from (or chose to ignore) environmental laws, with the result that base closing costs for turnover to civilians often exceeded any returns.

I learn that it was Clinton who opened the floodgates of US arms experts — our merchants of death — and also began the terrible privatization of much of the US military.

I learn that the constant desire of modern presidents to assert presidential power in national security combines perfectly with the constant desire of legislators to increase the military budget without regard to threat, returns or investment, or any other criteria except “dollars in” to their voting area. Remember now, these are the same legislators that used to brag they did not need a passport because nothing that happened overseas mattered to their constituents.

The coverage in this book of the post 9/11 build-up is in my view very good, and for that alone the book is an essential reference. I read about how the services tried to retain and complete Cold War systems long in the making (the 197 ton artillery systems comes to mind), and how the acquisitions system simply could not rise to the challenge of new needs such as improved body and ground vehicle armor.

QUOTE (171): From the 2006 National Security Review and Quadrennial Defense Review: US migrating from an era of “conducting war against nations to conducting war in countries we are not at war with.”

Holy cow. I was not paying attention in 2006, or this would have set off all my alarms.

The author is authoritative and interesting on what he calls the Four Percent Fraud.

QUOTE (179): The Four Percent for Freedom campaign was an attempt to elude arguments about missions, burdens, and needs, and simply emplace a rather lofty floor.

The author follows this with an interesting insert on energy, and a discussion including a chart on the military implications of US gas mileage not having improved since 1982.

He ends on a note of bi-partisan negligence, but on the basis of all that leads up to the conclusion, I should think bipartisan treason would be more apt.

The following eight books are not cited by the author, and are highly relevant to this discussion:

Defense Facts of Life: The Plans/Reality Mismatch
Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security
The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It
Grand Theft Pentagon :Tales of Corruption and Profiteering in the War on Terror
House of War
War Is A Racket
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025

See also my many book reviews, all pointing back to Amazon, at the easily found lists below:

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Dereliction of Duty (Defense)
Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Empire as Cancer Including Betrayal & Deceit
Worth a Look: Book Reviews on War Complex–War as a Racket

Semper Fidelis,
Robert David Steele
INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability

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