Drift (Crown, $25) describes how the American way of war has changed, shifting from traditional reluctance to all-too-easy engagement. Rachel Maddow traces the overexpansion in recent decades of presidential power to send U.S. forces into combat, the weakening of congressional constraints, and the lessening of public attention. In making her case, she draws on an impressive amount of research but keeps her book an entertaining read, displaying a lively, puckish writing style laced with witty asides and numerous believe-it-ornot anecdotes.
For those who read the initial installments of Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (Little, Brown, $27.99) in The Washington Post, this book offers an even more extensive, astonishing, alarming, and ultimately dismaying look at the growth of America’s classified world. Authors Dana Priest and William M. Arkin go beyond startling statistics about the rising numbers of security clearances, intelligence reports, and mysterious office complexes to provide case after case documenting the bloat and chaos of the security state. Among the issues they examine are the proliferation of government anti-terrorism programs, the wasteful redundancy of Northern Command, the adoption by local law-enforcement of programs and equipment originally developed to fight terrorists, and the admission by several top intelligence and military officials that even they don’t fully grasp all the programs under their responsibility. In fact, one of the most revealing aspects of the book is how many of those involved in this secret world are themselves upset about all the duplicative or necessary programs.
You will find some newsy revelations in Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda (Times Books, $27). But what really makes this book significant is the overarching story Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker have pieced together about the evolution of thinking within the Bush and Obama administrations. They explain in considerable detail how the strategy for combating violent extremism has progressed from President Bush’s initial instinct to dispatch U.S. forces to kill or capture terrorists, to what is now a much more nuanced and complex approach aimed at trying to deter terrorism through all sorts of means. This can range from going after the financing of terrorist networks to information operations designed to discredit al Qaeda among the larger Muslim public. Just like deterrence policy during the Cold War, this new deterrence strategy against terrorists and their supporters can, the authors suggest, eventually succeed in altering enemy behavior.
(This book cannot be returned.)