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Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security--From World War II to the War on Terrorism Paperback – March 6, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Despite its title, this insightful examination of the impact domestic politics has had on American foreign policy actually begins with the Spanish-American war. Zelizer (Taxing America) traces changing attitudes toward foreign engagement through WWI, including Wilson's failed advocacy for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, and arrives at the cold war era, his principle focus. His key themes are the competition between the Republican and Democratic parties for electoral advantage on issues related to international affairs and the expansion of executive authority that began with the Korean War in the Truman administration and continued intermittently through the George W. Bush era. The author emphasizes foreign policy throughout, devoting mere paragraphs to major domestic events like the Kennedy assassination and the contested presidential election of 2000. Zelizer's excellent analysis concludes with charting the rise and fall of conservative internationalism from Reagan to the election of Barack Obama, advancing a consistently thoughtful, complex and balanced argument about the decisive effect domestic politics has had on the evolution of the national security state. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Written by a university professor, this history tracks the post–World War II electoral competition on foreign policy between the Democratic and Republican parties. Zelizer focuses on every national political campaign since 1946, outlining the two parties’ struggle (and that between factions within the parties) for advantage as an outgrowth of the constitutional tension between the Congress and the president for control of foreign affairs, pure partisanship, and each party’s intuition about voters’ attitudes toward the national-security apparatus. Favoring the Democrats in the 1940s, the electorate’s switch to Republicans in 1952, reversion to the Democrats in 1960, and general preference from 1968 to 2008 for Republican leadership on national security guide the author’s discussion. Foreign policy, as such, lies beyond the book’s scope; instead, it is the domestic ramifications of events overseas—such as the draft and war casualties—that characterize this detailed and evenhanded account. Covering election campaigns, election winners’ interpretation of the results, and votes on Capitol Hill, Zelizer makes the case to general-interest readers that American politics have never stopped at the water’s edge. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
For example, I found about four years ago, that The New York Times had published 1500 articles about Abu Ghraib and only 7 on the hundreds of thousands of Kurds that Saddam had murdered and whose bodies we are still digging up to this day. And The Times ran a single two-paragraph blurb in the back pages when the Pentagon released a 600 page report proving that Saddam had been funding and training virtually every terrorist network in the Middle East, including branches of Al Qaeda (in fairness to The Times, that was two paragraphs more than Professor Zelizer gives it).
Arsenal of Democracy is a prime example of Biased Objectivity, but not a very clever one. Half of the time, the author labels conservatives, even moderate ones, with the sinister "right-wing," whereas the only person in the book called a "left winger" is Fidel Castro (even Henry Wallace's Communist backed 1948 Presidential campaign is called "progressive"). And if George W. Bush's abysmal college grades are worth mentioning, then isn't it also important to note that his GPA was actually better than both Al Gore's and John Kerry's (not to mention the lousy grades of FDR and JFK)?
But there are more serious flaws with this book. I was keeping track in the endpages of these flaws, but I ran out of room well before I ran out of book, so I will limit my examples to a brief critique of four chapters.
In a chapter called, "How the Democrats Won World War II," the author has FDR thwarting the GOP "right wing's" isolationism, ignoring not only the wide popularity on the left of isolationism, whose supporters included such later luminaries as JFK and Gore Vidal, but also FDR's own role in encouraging neutrality, finding it, first, as a convenient hammer with which to hit corporations and, later, to prevent having to choose between his right wing Catholic and his left wing Communist supporters. Professor Zelizer also ignores the efforts of the Republican dominated War Department to mobilize the economy for war over the obstructions of the Democratic labor unions, especially during the period, which lasted until six months before Pearl Harbor, when the USSR was allied to Nazi Germany.
To defend the JFK supported coup against, and murder of, Diem in Vietnam in 1963, the author moves the date of the collapse of security in South Vietnam forward by a year and ignores the strong support for Diem inside the US government, particularly in the Pentagon. Nor, contrary to the author's suggestion, could JFK have done anything, but go to war after this. "You break it, you buy it," Secretary Powell said about Iraq and that applies a lot more strongly if you've killed your ally instead of your enemy. There might be a counter argument, but Professor Zelizer just ignores the issue.
And Reagan's proposal to severely limit nuclear missiles did not constitute a break with conservatives. The author cites a few disaffected conservatives, but he seems to be unaware that one of the strenghs of the conservative movement is that there are no litmus tests on political issues, so there is ALWAYS dissent on the right. On the contrary, most conservatives understood that nuclear weaponry is a weapons system which thrives in a centralized, plodding, heavy industry oriented economy, whereas development of a computer based "star wars" program requires an economy which is decentralized, nimble and open to competing and conflicting viewpoints. The Soviet Union could never compete in that realm and fell apart when it tried.
The chapters on the Clinton Administration amount to a superficial brief for the defense. He never seems to grasp that Clinton's focus on terrorism was for domestic consumption, taking advantage of the Oklahoma City bombing as a means to taint his opponents (which Clinton is still doing today). If Clinton had really focused on foreign terrorism, he would never have made it a crime for the CIA (with its foreign intelligence network) share intelligence with the FBI (with its responsibility for domestic investigations) and he would not have sat on his hands when Al Qaeda blew up the American warship USS Cole and killed 11 sailors. And Prof. Zelizer portrays Clinton's intervention in Kosovo as a triumph, when his blundering resulted in the replacement in Russia of the flawed but sincere democrat, Boris Yeltsin, with the sinister Vladimir Putin. A leading book on the Kosovo war, which has no ties to the right, is called "Winning Ugly," but if you read Professor Zelizer's account, you would not know why anyone would call their book that.
Oddly enough, the author's coverage of President Nixon, as well as the chapter on ending the draft, are the best and least biased in the book (although, oddly for a book which sees a sinister right wing under every bed, he understates the opposition which Nixon received on the right). The author even points out that it was Nixon who first proposed a quarantine on Cuba in 1962, a recommendation which JFK adopted during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
So the question is, who is the audience for a book like this. It is too biased to be a good textbook for junior high school students and too shallow for anyone else. The only possible readership for a book like this are people who want their biases reinforced without having their ignorance challenged with discordant facts. I don't mean that to be a criticism, since every part of the political spectrum needs books which provide partisan accounts of areas of policy. But even here, the author lets his readership down. That readership does not need biased objectivity, but the exact opposite, let's call it objective bias: taking a partisan point of view, but dealing with opposing viewpoints fairly and providing your readership with the ammunition to respond.
You can't sweep other viewpoints under the rug and expect to do your readers a favor. Professor Zelizer is by no means unique on the left in this approach, which is why, more and more, the left is beginning to resemble what Tallyrand said about the French court: "they forget nothing and they learn nothing." That is not healthy for America, but it is especialy not healthy for liberalism, allowing it to be suckered by the charlatans and con artists who dominate the left today and who have gotten rich off of the rest of us.