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Irrational Security

, 256 pages

17 line drawings

April 2010



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Irrational Security

The Politics of Defense from Reagan to Obama

The end of the Cold War was supposed to bring a "peace dividend" and the opportunity to redirect military policy in the United States. Instead, according to Daniel Wirls, American politics following the Cold War produced dysfunctional defense policies that were exacerbated by the war on terror. Wirls’s critical historical narrative of the politics of defense in the United States during this "decade of neglect" and the military buildup in Afghanistan and Iraq explains how and why the U.S. military has become bloated and aimless and what this means for long-term security.

Examining the recent history of U.S. military spending and policy under presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, Wirls finds that although spending decreased from the close of the first Bush presidency through the early years of Clinton’s, both administrations preferred to tinker at the edges of defense policy rather than redefine it. Years of political infighting escalated the problem, leading to a military policy stalemate as neither party managed to craft a coherent, winning vision of national security. Wirls argues that the United States has undermined its own long-term security through profligate and often counterproductive defense policies while critical national problems have gone unmitigated and unsolved.

This unified history of the politics of U.S. military policy from the end of the Cold War through the beginning of the Obama presidency provides a clear picture of why the United States is militarily powerful but "otherwise insecure."

Daniel Wirls is a professor and chair of the Department of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the coauthor of The Invention of the United States Senate, also published by Johns Hopkins, and the author of Buildup: The Politics of Defense in the Reagan Era.

"In this compact, meaty, and devastating critique, Daniel Wirls exposes both the continuities and the contradictions informing post–Cold War U.S. national security policies. What becomes abundantly and depressingly clear is how little those policies have had to do with keeping Americans safe and how much they derived from efforts to satisfy various domestic interests."

"A timely book that will contribute to scholarly and public debate over the purposes of American power, as well as to lively discussion in the classroom. Wirls offers a critical analysis of national security policy from the end of the Reagan years to the beginning of the Obama era. Students will find it a useful reminder that politics rarely stops at the water’s edge."

"In this important book, Daniel Wirls shows that whether the White House is controlled by Democrats or Republicans, when it comes to national security, America suffers from a bias in favor of hawkish policies and excessive military spending. Those who believe their choices at the polls will affect the nation's policies may be disheartened but should read this book nonetheless."

"A provocative thesis, with impressive statistics, charts, and numbers in support and a narrative accessible to the intelligent, informed lay reader."

"This volume is an important contribution to a growing literature on the dysfunctional nature of national-security politics in the United States."

"This volume will be a valuable resource."

"Meticulously researched, highly detailed, and persuasively argued."

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