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The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military Hardcover – Bargain Price, February, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Since the end of the Cold War, writes Dana Priest in The Mission, "U.S. leaders have been turning more and more to the military to solve problems that are often, at their root, political and economic." Priest contends that "long before September 11, the U.S. government had grown increasingly dependent on its military to carry out its foreign affairs. The shift was incremental, little noticed, de facto.... The military simply filled a vacuum left by an indecisive White House, an atrophied State Department, and a distracted Congress." In this important book, Priest describes how and why the military has recently been called upon to combat drug trafficking, deal with terrorism, oversee humanitarian disaster relief, and even carry out disarmament programs--a major increase in responsibility that has not always been welcomed by military leaders. Indeed, in what seems like role reversal, civilian political appointees, particularly in the Bush administration, have repeatedly called upon the military to deal with nation building, while most military leaders have pushed for overwhelming use of political and economic force instead. As Priest points out, this shift in responsibility comes at a time when both the American public and decision-makers "understand less and less about their military." Part of this ignorance stems from the fact that U.S. special forces (from all branches of the military) often carry out critical policy missions in secret and without clear objectives from Congress or the president.

Priest spent considerable time in the field with top military brass and foot soldiers alike in such hot spots as Colombia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and the Balkans, where she got the inside scoop on how operations are carried out and what those in the military think of their expanded roles. Priest's description of the culture of the various special forces units and their leaders is particularly fascinating. The Mission is a revealing look at the consequences of substituting warriors for diplomats on the frontline of U.S. foreign policy. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

Military affairs correspondent for the Washington Post, Priest won the 2001 Gerald R. Ford Award for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. She argues, in what is essentially a series of expanded columns, that the military, steadily and by default, has been assuming a spectrum of authority and responsibility in international affairs that it is ill-prepared to exercise wisely. Central to the process has been the growing power of regional commanders-in-chief, who since Desert Storm have been acting as virtual proconsuls for successive administrations unwilling to develop and assert coherent foreign policies. Priest's defining figure is Gen. Anthony Zinni, the maverick Marine who thoroughly enjoyed the perquisites of his appointment as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Middle East, central Asia and east Africa, and in the process seemed to regard himself as a bridge between the states of the Middle East and a Washington that persistently failed to understand the region. Arguably even more useful is Priest's treatment of the deployment of a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division as peacekeepers in Bosnia-the event that led Condoleeza Rice to say that the U.S. did not maintain elite combat forces to escort children to school. There is a good human interest essay focusing on a civilian woman who served as a contract interpreter in Kosovo. The work concludes with a survey of the shortcomings of the U.S. effort in post-Taliban Afghanistan. The individual pieces, however, never quite add up to an integrated work. From general criticism of the concept of overseas military satrapies, Priest turns to a critique of the system that gives soldiers on the ground poorly defined missions and little specific instruction on how to proceed. This is a legitimate criticism, but Priest does not advocate any particular solution. As reportage, The Mission has merit, but as defense analysis, it falls short.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 429 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (February 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393010244
  • ASIN: B000F9RK36
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,597,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Phillip Carter on February 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Priest's book is the latest of the political/journalistic genre to hit the racks on America's military. By my count, we've had David Halberstam's War in a Time of Peace, Eliot Cohen's Supreme Command, Max Boot's Savage Wars of Peace, Wes Clark's Waging Modern War, and several others in the past 1-2 years. As one of the Washington Post's star reporters, Ms. Priest certainly holds her own as a writer against these and other authors who have tried to explain the Pentagon and American foreign policy.
The Mission tells a story from several levels which are often neglected. The author deployed to many of the places where American soldiers are involved in making foreign policy. She talked with these soldiers, their commanders, and the civilians they interact with in those places. From that vantage-point, Ms. Priest offers some salient arguments about the wisdom of using American soldiers as the vanguard of American diplomacy.
I'm not sure I agree with Ms. Priest's penultimate argument -- that America's military is best kept for warfighting and not peacemaking. Since the Bosnia mission, I have echoed Gen. George Patton's sentiment that an ounce of sweat in peacetime was worth a gallon of blood in wartime. Better to experience some problems in these missions than to have to fight an all-out war in the Balkans or elsewhere. Nonetheless, Ms. Priest tells a compelling story. Her book stands as a piece of outstanding reporting, and I highly recommend it.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Phillip Carter on March 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I finished Dana Priest's new book The Mission late last night, fueled by a pot of Peet's coffee. Great read -- I highly recommend the book. However, I'm not sure I agree with the author's major arguments. Ms. Priest argues, among other things:
1. The U.S. military has gradually squeezed out diplomatic efforts abroad. This has occurred because military funding has remained constant while funding for diplomatic agencies (State Dept, USAID, Commerce, etc) has declined. I agree with the author's argument here, and think this is a dangerous trend. We ought to be engaging foreign governments, economies, and societies -- not just their militaries.
2. In this vacuum, military commanders (the "CinCs") have initiated a number of "military diplomacy" programs. These include the use of Special Forces to train foreign soldiers, sharing of intelligence, promotion of foreign military sales, etc. In the absence of diplomatic workers from traditional agencies like State and USAID, these soldiers have become the biggest group of American government personnel operating abroad. I agree with the author here too; the soldiers have filled a diplomatic vacuum created by tremendous funding disparities. Ironically, this occurred even in the Clinton Administration, where human rights and international engagement had a kindred spirit in the White House.
3. Soldiers are ill-trained and ill-equipped to do this job on behalf of America. Using soldiers abroad has led to a number of breakdowns in American foreign policy, such as the failure to establish a lasting and self-sustaining peace in the Balkans. Moreover, soldiers have contributed to conflict and human-rights problems in various ways, especially through the training of foreign troops. Here, I strongly disagree with Ms. Priest. U.S.
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45 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book disappoints. After several people told me how great it was, I forked over the cash for the hardcover. The book was a quick read, but I was left with little of substance. Ms. Priest makes her whole argument in the first chapter, and the rest is just disconnected anecdotes, with little analysis of the various stories. For example, the book starts off talking about the proconsular role of the US Combatant Commanders (formerly known as CINCs until Rummie outlawed the term for everyone except George W.) but then inexplicably switches to various lengthy accounts of soldiers on the ground all around the world, culminating in an extensive -- but superficial -- depiction of the peacekeeping mission in the Balkans (and a long discussion of Frank Ronghi's rape of a young Albanian girl). Ms. Priest seems to alternately praise and blame the military for the current emphasis on the use of military force over diplomacy in US foreign policy, but neglects the issue of how this situation came about (why doesn't the State Department get the funding that DOD gets? why do civilians trust the military to solve all of their problems, and not their fellow civilian leaders & foreign service personnel?). Ms. Priest also spends an inordinate amount of time commenting on what various highranking military officers are wearing and the trappings of their office (Wesley Clark wears Burberry blazers, but Anthony Zinni likes Hawaiian shirts) as if this provides some deep insight into their psyches, and then glosses over substantive issues such as the apparent willingness of military officials to circumvent the law as they try to accomplish their missions. The book ends abruptly without a real conclusion. Ms. Priest also needed a better editor -- the book is full of typographical errors. I suspect this book was rushed into print. If you must read it, borrow it from the library.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I did not buy this book at first, having read and thoroughly enjoyed the many long articles the author contributed through The Washington Post, all of which comprise the middle two thirds of the book. However, at the recommendation of a retired Army Special Forces Colonel, I finally did buy it, and I am glad I did.
Unlike the articles, which focused on the questionable use of Special Forces to train forces within repressive regimes around the world, from Colombia to Indonesia to Central Asia, the book more properly focuses on the complete lack of a US inter-agency planning process, the complete lack of a US means of coordinating actions and spending by all US agencies, and consequently, the complete lack of a US national security and global engagement strategy that is so vital to protecting America from attack and protecting American interests in a coherent and sensible fashion.
While many critics read the book as if it were a glorification of the theater Commanders-in-Chief (CINC), and complain about the militarization of US foreign policy, a proper reading of this book clearly documents that the militarization occurs by default, as a consequence of the abject failure of the White House and the Department of State, neither of which, under either Clinton or Bush, are serious about global engagement.
The military *works* (when it's not being frittered away by elective wars and occupations).
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