The host of her own nightly news show on MSNBC, Maddow is one of the highest-profile liberal political commentators (and gay women) in the U.S. That doesn’t mean her low-key but devastating critique of her country’s runaway military machine won’t find traction on the right. For one thing, she opens her argument disarmingly, by playing a card dear to Tea Party hearts, an appeal to the founding fathers. Maddow quotes James Madison on why the framers of the U.S. constitution insisted on vesting the power to declare war in Congress rather than in the presidency: “The constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it.”
Since then, Maddow writes, America has moved from being a state that could not wage serious or long-term war without congressional debate and broad public support—in the form of willing citizen-soldiers and willing taxpayers—to one in which the White House is effectively free to run deficit-financed, open-ended conflicts in foreign lands waged by a professional military and, increasingly, private contractors.
The key factor, she argues, is the almost complete non-involvement of Americans as a whole—less than one per cent of the adult population has been required to wage two of the country’s longest wars. No matter how many deployments troops go through, America as a whole is untouched by war. Without the ability—or the desire—to draft soldiers, the high command simply extends combat tours from 12 to 15 months, despite its awareness of the toll on physical and mental health: since 9/11, the U.S. Army has lost more soldiers to suicide than to enemy fire in Afghanistan. (Drift went to press before Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, on his fourth combat tour, allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians.) Deep patriotism, shock and fear after 9/11 and what Maddow calls “congressional chickenshittery” have all played a role in expanding presidential war-making power, but none of that would have prevailed if America hadn’t drifted so far from the republican ideal of citizen-soldiers.