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Irrational Security: The Politics of Defense from Reagan to Obama [Paperback]

Daniel Wirls
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 19, 2010 0801894395 978-0801894398

The end of the Cold War was supposed to bring a "peace dividend" and the opportunity to redirect military policy in the United States. Instead, according to Daniel Wirls, American politics following the Cold War produced dysfunctional defense policies that were exacerbated by the war on terror. Wirls’s critical historical narrative of the politics of defense in the United States during this "decade of neglect" and the military buildup in Afghanistan and Iraq explains how and why the U.S. military has become bloated and aimless and what this means for long-term security.

Examining the recent history of U.S. military spending and policy under presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, Wirls finds that although spending decreased from the close of the first Bush presidency through the early years of Clinton’s, both administrations preferred to tinker at the edges of defense policy rather than redefine it. Years of political infighting escalated the problem, leading to a military policy stalemate as neither party managed to craft a coherent, winning vision of national security. Wirls argues that the United States has undermined its own long-term security through profligate and often counterproductive defense policies while critical national problems have gone unmitigated and unsolved.

This unified history of the politics of U.S. military policy from the end of the Cold War through the beginning of the Obama presidency provides a clear picture of why the United States is militarily powerful but "otherwise insecure."


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Editorial Reviews

Review

In this compact, meaty, and devastating critique, Daniel Wirls exposes both the continuities and the contradictions informing post–Cold War U.S. national security policies. What becomes abundantly and depressingly clear is how little those policies have had to do with keeping Americans safe and how much they derived from efforts to satisfy various domestic interests.

(Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism)

A timely book that will contribute to scholarly and public debate over the purposes of American power, as well as to lively discussion in the classroom. Wirls offers a critical analysis of national security policy from the end of the Reagan years to the beginning of the Obama era. Students will find it a useful reminder that politics rarely stops at the water’s edge.

(Peter Trubowitz, University of Texas at Austin)

In this important book, Daniel Wirls shows that whether the White House is controlled by Democrats or Republicans, when it comes to national security, America suffers from a bias in favor of hawkish policies and excessive military spending. Those who believe their choices at the polls will affect the nation's policies may be disheartened but should read this book nonetheless.

(Benjamin Ginsberg, The Johns Hopkins University)

A provocative thesis, with impressive statistics, charts, and numbers in support and a narrative accessible to the intelligent, informed lay reader.

(Choice)

This volume is an important contribution to a growing literature on the dysfunctional nature of national-security politics in the United States.

(Survival)

This volume will be a valuable resource.

(Philip A. Schrodt Political Science Quarterly)

Meticulously researched, highly detailed, and persuasively argued.

(Peter Harris Political Studies Review)

About the Author

Daniel Wirls is a professor and chair of the Department of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the coauthor of The Invention of the United States Senate, also published by Johns Hopkins, and the author of Buildup: The Politics of Defense in the Reagan Era.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (April 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801894395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801894398
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,244,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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