The former secretary of defense delivers a lucid explanation of how the Department of Defense operates.
A theoretical physicist who became interested in international affairs, Carter (Director/Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Keeping the Edge: Managing Defense for the Future, 2001, etc.) entered government service in 1993 as President Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary of defense for international security policy and eventually became President Barack Obama’s secretary of defense in 2015. Specializing in international security, nuclear policy, and weapons procurement, the author considers himself a technocrat rather than a political operative. Though he was first appointed by a Democrat and was never appointed by a Republican, he accomplishes the impressive feat of soothing conservatives by emphasizing that private enterprise is the most efficient source of our military’s goods and services. “Business is business,” he writes, “and if they are to succeed…they need to mind their bottom lines. The taxpayer shares an interest in their viability.” Carter also soothes liberals by agreeing that, absent strict government oversight, companies pad their profits, drag their feet, and have no objection to bribery if it is deemed useful. Even out of office, he provided expertise to all administrations and remained on good terms with even highly conservative leaders. His evaluation of all presidents since Ronald Reagan is never less than mildly favorable, with one exception that will surprise few readers. His major criticism of Donald Trump is that he despises experts who disagree with him. Readers will squirm to learn the difficulties of keeping our nation secure, which, even in the good old days, was hobbled as much as helped by members of Congress who gave their own interests priority over the nation’s and journalists who preferred scandal to substance. Today, with Congress nearly paralyzed and journalism dumbed down by the internet, it’s even more difficult.
An illuminating if unsettling account of what it takes to run “the largest and most complex organization in the entire world.”