The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs Hardcover – Feb 16 2012
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Editor’s Choice, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“Ambitious and valuable”
"Unger should be commended for contributing to the debate... persuasive."
— SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“Unger’s broad indictment of defense policy—bipartisan if not nonpartisan—is sure to spark considerable and worthy debate.”
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"An important perspective about opportunities missed and roads not taken"
— KIRKUS REVIEWS
“Thoughtful work for your smart political readers.”
— LIBRARY JOURNAL
“David Unger's informative, historical and incisive narrative clearly illustrates that that the challenge of upholding democratic principles is a constantly evolving challenge for even the most mature of democracies and makes clear that there is no trade-off between security and the respect for human rights and civil liberties.”
— Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006)
"Like a skilled surgeon, David Unger lays bare the pathologies that have disfigured U. S. national security policy over the course of many decades. The result is a thoughtful, judicious, immensely readable, and vitally important book."
— Andrew J. Bacevich, author of WASHINGTON RULES and THE LIMITS OF POWER
About the Author
DAVID C. UNGER has been an editorial writer at The New York Times for more than thirty years—where he writes about foreign policy, international economics, and military issues--and a member of the paper’s Editorial Board for twenty-two years. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and teaches courses in American Foreign Policy at the Bologna Center of The Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
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Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I have evolved into a libertarian and David Unger is an editorial writer from the NYT. I expected to find a "Democrats were good but Republicans were bad" line of thought but I found nothing of the sort. I can find no fault with his treatment of the imperial presidency that evolved after 1933. Surprisingly, Unger confirmed my own assessments of both FDR and Ronald Reagan.
My only observation is that in the body of the work he ignores the long line of Supreme Court decisions that allowed all this to happen and he still seems to think that the fundamental divisions are conservative and liberal rather than statist and republican; with the qualification that both the modern Republican and Democratic Parties are the liberal and conservative wings of the fundamentally statist nationalist party that has been in power since 1933.
In my opinion and at every step along the way that Mr. Unger describes, the Supreme Court was the grey eminence that always seemed to affirm the executive, the police and secrecy at the expense of Congress, individual rights and liberties and the basically republican structure of the Constitution. At many points a discussion of the Supreme Court's "political questions" maxim and it willingness to use the "commerce clause" and "national security" to evade examining what the executive was doing with respect to the Constitution would have been enlightening. But those are other books for other authors. Mr. Unger has given us the main line and it is a very valuable contribution to our collective knowledge.
Depressingly, Unger presents a persuasive case that the people want it that way and so we are going to be riding this down to the dénouement; just like Major Kong in Dr. Strangelove.
'Constitutionalists' and avid fans of the 'Federalist Papers' have more reasons to take umbrage - limited government (eg. declaring war, rights to privacy), and the doctrine of limited foreign entanglements have also been sacrificed by 13 straight Presidents (7 Democrat, 6 Republican) since Pear Harbor.
How does more military lead to less military security? When we base troops in about 100 nations, in some instances locales not populated with admirers of the U.S. - eg. Saudi Arabia (Bin Laden), its like poking others in the eye. Flying spy planes, our 7th Fleet sailing up and down China's coast doesn't do much for minimizing world aggravation either. Rogue nukes and potentially off-balanced weapons keepers are another source of danger. The most obvious, however, is that spending as much/more on the military as the rest of the world, combined, is not a foundation for economic growth, and forgoes opportunities to instead rebuild our infrastructure, lower our debt.
As for the State Department's similar contribution - how about our 'to-the-death' devotion to Israel and its abuse of Palestinians? That has brought us 9/11, two Arab oil embargoes, the War on Terror, and now the likelihood of a confrontation with Iran. Meanwhile, new technology makes it continually easier for nations like Iran and China to counter our massive Blue-Water Navy for pennies (torpedoes, missiles, small submarines, torpedo boats) on the dollar (multiple trillion-dollar carrier-focused flotillas). As for our defending Taiwan - wonderful; that simply means that some day we'll be forced to choose between defending Taiwan or Los Angeles. (Taiwan is about 100 miles from China, many thousands of miles from Los Angeles. Guess who's got the 'home-field' advantage!)
Perhaps strangest of all, our success in 'reordering the world's economy to American specifications' has further weakened our strength - militarily, financially, and influence-wise.
Bottom-Line: Unger's book addresses a somewhat complicated set of relationships between the economy, State Department maneuverings, and the military. Sometimes he temporarily loses the ability to link them as clearly as he'd want. Nonetheless, his overall analysis is spot-on, and merits careful reading.
As with Andrew Bacevich, another fine author dealing with foriegn affairs, Unger falls into the pit of providing too many opinions on domestic policy regarding the welfare state that have little to do with the subject of abhorrent international policy. It is plain to see that government in Washington is not to be trusted and that goes for domestic as well as foriegn policy. An outstanding read nonetheless that is nonpartisan in its accusations against both parties.
When the book gets to 2008 it drifts a bit. The book seemed fairly balanced about politics until them. Clearly Executive Power is a concern. The author seems to suggest that the answer mostly depends on the dialing for dollars Congress to solve most of the problems. Short of getting money out of politics, there is no answer in Congress.
I wish the book had settled on Wilson through Bush. I learned a lot until it seemed to shift at the end.
No, it doesn't go into how the U.S. Supreme Court didn't put the brakes on the Executive gaining so much power, but as the gentleman stated in the other review, that's another book.
However, what public schools taught us in the '60s and early '70s of basically a pre-Wilson innocence of an idealistic and constitutionally reigned-in presidency is brought up to date of what did happen: a continuous war-footing, emergency state which by a new default, grants the office of the presidency and its multitude of agencies day to day powers which would have horrified the framers of our Constitution who were striving to look into the future to prevent these very distortions of megapowers to any single branch of the government their legal document created.
A very enlightening book which connects the modern dots of governmental changes in federal power from Truman to 2015.
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