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The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs Hardcover – Feb 16 2012

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Hardcover, Feb 16 2012
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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (Feb. 16 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594203245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203244
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.5 x 3.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 612 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,011,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description



“Ambitious and valuable”


"Unger should be commended for contributing to the debate... persuasive."

“Unger’s broad indictment of defense policy—bipartisan if not nonpartisan—is sure to spark considerable and worthy debate.”

"An important perspective about opportunities missed and roads not taken"

Thoughtful work for your smart political readers.

“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

Format: Hardcover
In this no-holds barred study on the nature of American foreign policy in the twentieth century, journalist and academic David Unger raises the curtains on what he sees as a gradual but certain move towards an 'imperialist presidency' through the creation of the emergency state paradigm. This is a situation where the White House, in successive administrations, have been able to co-opt Congress, willingly or otherwise, into exercising extra-constitutional powers in pursuit of asserting a greater American influence abroad. What we have today is not the checks-and-balances concept of government that originated with the founding fathers but a bastardization where the president and his NSC have dangerously greater freedom to declare war, prop up corrupt dictatorships, use subversion to curtail enemy activities, negotiate and sign treaties, and deploy troops where deemed necessary without congressional approval. Unger includes in his book a detailed history of how the country got to this somewhat lamentable imbalance of governance that allows presidents to operate as a law unto themselves. It is often during the lead up to war that presidents can and do push the geopolitical agenda of aggression and dominance over the domestic one of peace and neutrality.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa017e828) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d3fd5f4) out of 5 stars Very, very good. April 12 2012
By J. Aronson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read the book and both reviews. In my opinion, this is an important book and easily worth five stars. Unger's approach is political and very, very valuable.

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.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d3f58a0) out of 5 stars Excellent, and Overdue - Feb. 21 2012
By Loyd Eskildson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Unger believes we have assembled an increasingly complicated, costly, and ineffectual security system over the last seven decades. Direct costs run well in excess of several trillion dollars. Indirect costs include also seriously undermining our economic strength via innumerable trade pacts aimed at increasing our military sphere, sacrificing the jobs of American workers as payment. These 'Free Trade' (offered to obtain more military pacts) have allowed China and others to accumulate trillions of U.S. reserves, hollowed out much of our manufacturing base, and now threaten our high-technology capabilities as well.

'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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d36d6a8) out of 5 stars For those who are tired of war and nation-building... July 9 2012
By Efrem Sepulveda - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Since the days of Woodrow Wilson, America has tried to form the world in its own image with disatrous results to our liberties and our Constitution. In his 311-page discussion, Mr. Unger tells the story of the Emergency State from Woodrow Wilson's crusade to make the world safe for democracy through to Obama's constant mishandling of the Constitution through indefinite dentention and the extention of the Patriot Act. Various subjects realting to the Emergency State are covered including the Palmer Raids, the interment of Japanese-Americans, the fabircations surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the lack of vigilance before the 9/11 attacks. All lead to the conclusion reached by the author that despite the massive amount of money and weapons used to keep us secure, we are less safe than ever before. Moreover, our liberties now hang in the balance and that no matter which party is in power, our rights have deteriorated. Unger spells out some solutions toward the end of the book that would rein in the abuses and power of the state and restore the limited government envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

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.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d27b0c0) out of 5 stars Great on the Title Subject and an Interesting Read April 2 2012
By Jeff Bennett - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The notion of an Emergency State is where this book shines. Reading from that perspective it is hard to argue with and very illuminating. I very much liked the American history in the majority of the book.

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.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d3ff5d0) out of 5 stars A timely tour-de-force April 28 2012
By Avid Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This lively and authoritative account of America's national security obsession and its
steep cost for the nation's treasury and Constitution is at once illuminating and frightening.
Mr. Unger gives readers much to ponder approaching yet another national election where
the critical issues he raises will barely be discussed, if that.