Neighbors in Arms by Larry Pressler

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“The formulation of foreign policy is a complex and byzantine process in the United States.”  That’s how former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) explains foreign poicy in general, and U.S./India/Pakistan relations in particular, in his new book, Neighbours in Arms An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent (Penguin Viking 288 pp. $29, hardcover; $25, Kindle).

In this book Pressler unravels the story of how the U.S. wound up weaponizing a new and unstable government in Pakistan while forcing the world’s second largest democracy, India, to seek weapons from the communist block. Pressler, a Vietnam War veteran and Rhodes Scholar from rural South Dakota, reminds the reader of the contrast between the technology of atomic warfare and agricultural simplicity.

He examines what once was known as the Military/Industrial Complex in this country and its spreading influence in foreign policy and the India/Pakistan nuclear situation with reasoned logic. He succinctly shows how the enterprise has grown since the Eisenhower years into what he calls the Octopus.

Pressler explains how its ever-growing tentacles reach into virtually every aspect of foreign policy, as well as the American economy. He sheds light on the growth of think tanks and intellectual-sounding non-profits staffed by former military and political figures financed by veiled contributions from special interests and advanced by highly paid lobbyists as they seek to change congressional and presidential checks on foreign policy that impede profits flowing to the Octopus.

Pressler, along with Sen. John Glenn, sought to add restrictions on the nuclear arms race. The Pressler Amendment, as it became known, was designed to prohibit sales to governments that seem to have other interests or are unstable. It was an attempt to curtail arms sales to governments that might support terrorism or were exploring becoming members of the nuclear club.

As terrorist groups using religion as justification began spreading in South Asia, some senators became concerned that an unchecked U.S. increase of arms sales would encourage governments to seek their own nuclear capabilities. The Pressler Amendment was Congress’s attempt to stifle such endeavors by requiring presidential certification that sales to foreign governments not be used to develop nuclear arms.

Pressler divulges the machinations of the Octopus as it worked to thwart efforts to curtail arms sales to Pakistan. He foresaw Pakistan becoming a nuclear nation that supported terrorism. Believing correctly that the Pakistan government was unreliable, Pressler feared that nation’s ability to protect its nuclear weapons would be suspect.

He points out that Osama Bin Laden was secreted in Pakistan for years, along with other terrorists. Pressler’s big fear is that Pakistani nuclear arms would get into the hands of well-financed terrorists, causing unimaginable consequences.

Pressler makes a lucid, carefully documented argument. He shows that the current Military/Industrial Complex is a powerful shadow overhanging our democracy. After serving in the Vietnam War, Pressler has dedicated his life to honorable service to our nation, only to be thwarted by the dark side of politics. That is, after serving twenty years in the Senate, he was defeated because of his opposition to the Octopus.

111111111111111111111111In the book, Pressler describes what he saw as a last opportunity to change the balance of the U.S. Senate by running as an independent. He believes that the current dysfunction in both parties has given an opening for a small number of independents to exercise control.

He admits he was angry and disappointed that there seems to be no room for a moderate, so he ran once for the Senate after being out of office for over a decade. Pressler ran the race he wanted: clean, no name calling, no hi-jinks, only to be overwhelmed by the Octopus at the last minute. Citibank, one of the state’s largest employers, insinuated that jobs in South Dakota would be lost if Pressler won.

This is an important book, a true story that sheds light on the bare knuckles and ugly sides of politics in America. It is a trumpet in the night.

My fear is that its story might be ignored or discounted.

—Bud Alley

State of War by Paul A.C. Koistinen

State of War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1945-2011 (University Press of Kansas, 328 pp., $39.95) is the fifth and final volume of historian Paul Koistinen’s study of the political economy of warfare. What is “political economy”? Koistinen answers that question in the first line of the book’s Introduction. It’s “the means the nation has employed to mobilize its economic resources for defense and hostilities.”

This volume focuses on the Cold War and its aftermath. Koistinen—who is an Emeritus Professor of History at California State University, Northridge—concentrates on what President Eisenhower famously termed the “military-industrial complex,” and how it has influenced war and peace in the United States since the end of World War II.

That includes the Vietnam War, of course. Koistinen gives brief sketches of the Vietnam War policies of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. Koistinen points out that the Defense budget under LBJ increased 57 percent from 1964-69—from $50.7 billion to $79.1 billion. “Based on the desire to protect Great Society [domestic social] programs and minimize opposition to the war,” Johnson’s decision not to raise taxes to cover war expenses, Koistinen says, “had extremely negative consequences for the economy in both the short run and the long run.”

As for Nixon, Koistinen notes that during his administration, defense budgets fell almost 30 percent and the number of active-duty troops dropped by around 1.3 million from 1969-75. “The declining budgets and force size,” he says, “stemmed largely (but not totally) from the United States’ disengagement from Vietnam. But civil-military relations during the Nixon years took on nightmarish qualities because of the secrecy, deception, and duplicity that were characteristic of the administration.”

—Marc Leepson