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Meet the Real War-Makers

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by Kit van Cleave

Every emerging minority seeks role models and leaders. The gay community has its talented comedian Ellen DeGeneres and its talented actresses Cherry Jones and Jane Lynch. But no gay woman has the gravitas of MSNBC-TV newscaster Rachel Maddow, who is fast becoming the “go-to girl” when politics is the big news story.

After graduating from Stanford, where she earned a degree in public policy, Maddow was awarded the John Gardner Fellowship and named a Rhodes Scholar. In 1995 she began graduate study at Oxford and earned a PhD in political science. Her dissertation was entitled “HIV/ADS and Health Care Reform in British and American Prisons.” In short, she learned how to do her research.

Maddow’s new book, Drift, debuted at #1 on The New York Times Best Seller list for nonfiction, clearly due to both her growing influence and reputation and to its reviews by such diverse policy mavens as Frank Rich and Roger Ailes. Her theory is that the constitutional right to declare war, carefully thought out by America’s founders, has been assimilated into a huge war machine and gives the president unintended war powers. Maddow suggests this has become a dangerous situation for the nation, and she provides historical background that explains how carefully the Founding Fathers planned to avoid this.

Since the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, Maddow asserts, presidents have assimilated the power to declare war, an over-reach Thomas Jefferson and others specifically did not want the executive branch to possess. It all started, she notes, with the failure of the Vietnam War, which Johnson had escalated time and again until it became a daily dose of horror on U.S. network TV news reports.

Three events broke the confidence the American public had in its government—the assassination of John Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal. Americans were lied to by their leaders about all three, and cover-ups were attempted and succeeded.

Creighton Abrams, U.S. commander in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972, was determined that in the future the U.S. military would not bear the brunt of the fighting, alone and shut away from the public. Abrams reorganized the U.S. military with a Total Force Policy (popularly called “The Abrams Doctrine”) in which the National Guard and Reserves would become “integral parts of the nation’s fighting capacity.” In this way, the idea of a civilian soldier, imagined by the founders as living peacefully and productively when the country was not at war, would no longer be possible. Abrams and others in the military felt that “calling up an unprepared Army out of an unprepared nation meant shedding too much American blood when it came time to fight.”

Many hawks in Congress and the Pentagon also felt declaring war was not a task that a group of disorganized politicians should be able to control, with their committee meetings and their budget arguments. The hawks were able to build a “24/7” military, just in case someone had to declare war.

Maddow then takes up the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and two events that nearly sent the California ex-actor home in disgrace—the military invasion of Grenada and the Iran/Contra scandal. As to the Keystone-Kops Grenada debacle—where the military was flown into the wrong location, no one had up-to-date maps, Margaret Thatcher had not been informed (she might tell someone), and no one had a flashlight—I leave it to the reader to have the same slack-jawed reaction I had. For conservative readers who think “big gummit” is incompetent, here’s an example of one big-time conservative who couldn’t stage a simple rescue operation on a tiny island without completely mucking it up.

As to Iran/Contra, Maddow uses newly discovered documents to show that Reagan knew Congress had a law against his involvement providing arms and funds to the Contras. He didn’t care. He did what he wanted (“I’m the president”) even after Congress passed a bill specifically preventing him from doing what he and Oliver North were already doing. He still didn’t care, and he was almost impeached for it.

Secrecy, lying, and obfuscation continued under Bush 41 and Bush 43 (particularly the latter) with the touted push to invade Iraq after 9/11. Iraq had nothing to do with the destruction of the Twin Towers (the hijackers were Saudis, but that’s another long story). Perhaps W also needed more up-to-date maps to find the correct Middle-Eastern country. His administration simply lied to the public about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction.

Maddow, who proudly admits she is a liberal (and a lesbian), is not thrilled with President Obama’s continuation of various Bush 43 policies. Neither a Democrat nor a Republican, she doesn’t endorse candidates but tries to figure out who would act in the best interests of the American people rather than promote an ideological agenda.

True to Maddow’s well-known breezy conversational style, Drift is highly readable, and in places quite funny. In some others, as in Chapter 9, which I call “The Whoopsie Chapter,” when Maddow discusses how many times U.S. atomic and hydrogen bombs have been lost, dropped, and exploded, scattering radioactivity everywhere, it’s not so humorous.

At the end of the book, Maddow suggests ways to enable citizens to take the power to declare war back from the executive branch. This book should be read by everyone before voting in the November election.

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Kit Van Cleave

Kit Van Cleave is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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