Tuesday, September 27, 2011

State vs. Defense by Stephen Glain

Synopsis From Goodreads: 

For most of the twentieth century, the sword has led before the olive branch in American foreign policy. In eye-opening fashion, State vs. Defense shows how America truly operates as a superpower and explores the constant tension between the diplomats at State and the warriors at Defense.

State vs. Defense characterizes all the great figures who crafted American foreign policy, from George Marshall to Robert McNamara to Henry Kissinger to Don Rumsfeld with this underlying theme: America has become increasingly imperial and militaristic.

Take, for example, the Pentagon, which as of 2010, acknowledged the concentration of 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees inside 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories. The price of America’s military-base network overseas, along with the expense of its national security state at home, is enormous. The bill comes in at well over $1 trillion. That is equal to nearly 8 percent of GDP and more than 20 percent of the federal budget. (By comparison, China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea, the five countries Pentagon planners routinely trot out as conventional threats to the national well-being, have a cumulative security budget of just over $200 billion.) Quietly, gradually—and inevitably, given the weight of its colossal budget and imperial writ—the Pentagon has all but eclipsed the State Department at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

In the tradition of classics such as The Wise Men, The Best and the Brightest, and Legacy of Ashes, State vs. Defense explores how and why American leaders succumbed to the sirens of militarism, how the republic has been lost to an empire, and how “the military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower so famously forewarned has set us on a stark path of financial peril.

I don't have the knowledge or the expertise to review this book on the merits or on the facts, so I'm not even going to try.  For the most part, due to my world & political views, I tend to agree with every point this author is making about the disparity between the State and Defense Departments.  I agree that for too long this country has let it's military define our global footprint and I think it's time for the State Department to start doing it's job again.  Despite my inclination to to agree with the state purpose of the book, I'm afraid that I walked away from it with a sour taste in my mouth.  

What I did not like was the tone the author chose to take in discussing the subject.  I didn't like the obvious contempt the author has for many of the people he talks about in the book, it's contempt that I may share, but I don't think it's necessarily helpful.  Anyone who is coming at this book from the opposite point of view is not going to take it seriously.  They are, wrongly in my opinion, going to look at this is a work of the "liberal media" and dismiss it.  They won't take it seriously, something which I think this subject needs.  I think the tone did a disservice to the book, one that was avoidable.  I would have much preferred a book that laid out the facts, with no judgements made, in order for the reader to make up their own mind.  

I do think this is an important look at the players involved and the decisions that have been made in order for us to get to this point in our history.  The State Department has been sidelined too many times for the political or financial gain of those involved in the decision making.  I do think it's time that we allow the diplomatic community to take the reigns once again.  I just hope that this book, despite it's flaws, gets the idea across to enough people.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the author's attitude would turn me off, whether I agreed with him or not. That's a shame.

Anachronist said...

Yes, I can only repeat carol's words: a great topic but the message would be more forceful it was delivered with less slant.

Anonymous said...

I think that many of the problems we have in the USA is that we see things in black and white/bad and good/with us or against us type of attitude.

In reality, most issues are shades of gray. At first I thought it would be a book I'd be interested in, but I like my books balanced.

Great post Ryan.


Blodeuedd said...

A trillion! o_O

bookmagic said...

I have such a hard time with political books. Remember the fights on the Current events board on BN? It is so hard not to have a tone when discussing politics. Mine usually is sarcastic :)

bermudaonion said...

I tend to stay away from politics, so this probably isn't for me.