Priest, Dana

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Married; children: two. Education: University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz, B.A.


Home—Washington, DC. Agent—c/o Author Mail, W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110-0017.


Journalist. Washington Post, Washington, DC, military affairs and intelligence correspondent, 1980s—; National Broadcasting Company (NBC), television reporter; U.S. Institute of Peace, guest scholar in residence.


MacArthur Foundation grant, 2001; Gerald R. Ford Prize for distinguished reporting on national defense and U.S. State Department Excellence in Journalism Award, both 2001, both for the series The Proconsuls: A Four-Star Foreign Policy?; Pulitzer Prize finalist for general nonfiction, 2004, for The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military.


The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2003.


Journalist Dana Priest was a 2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her first book, The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military. A correspondent with the Washington Post since the late 1980s, Priest first covered the U.S. military for eight years, and then the intelligence community. She has written about the invasion of Panama in 1989, 1990 Iraq, the 1999 Kosovo war, and about the U.S. Army's peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Priest's book expands on her award-winning series, The Proconsuls: A Four-Star Foreign Policy? and is an investigation of how the Defense Department's commanders-in-chief or CinCs (pronounced "sinks") now play a lead role in United States foreign policy. The role of CinCs was created in 1958 to counter against rivalries within the branches of the military, which had been a contributing factor to the country being surprised at Pearl Harbor. Each is a four-star general or admiral, and each CinC controls a theater, or region, of the globe and directs all of the branches of the military within it.

After the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the State Department budget was slashed, but the size of the CinCs' headquarters doubled, their roles changing as American servicemen and women were dispatched around the world in the roles of peacekeepers, nation builders, and providers of humanitarian aid. While the United States suffered no casualties in the seventy-eight-day war in Yugoslavia in 1999, after the events of September 11, 2001, military power intensified as troops were deployed in the Middle East, and casualties began to increase.

Priest covers the period from the Clinton administration to the early part of the presidency of George W. Bush. The CinCs of that period have since retired, including General Tommy Franks, the replacement to Anthony Zinni, whose region included the Middle East and Central Asia. Zinni was a powerful CinC who spent lavishly while traveling. Priest notes that for a conference in Bahrain, where American ambassadors had regular accommodations, Zinni booked a suite, and his staff occupied an entire hotel wing, at a cost of nearly half a million dollars. An Economist reviewer wrote that "the general's high profile on that occasion is a small, but trenchant, example of a shift in the making of American foreign policy—from suits to uniforms—that has been as fundamental as it has been largely unnoticed. Ms. Priest, who traveled to nineteen countries to observe the American military in operation, cites many more." Franks, who replaced Zinni, rode camels and went falcon hunting with the royalty of Saudi Arabia in order to better understand the Arab culture.

Priest demonstrates the power of CinCs by relating that in 2000, head of the Pacific Command Robert Blair, whose reach covered sixty percent of the world's population, planned a trip to Indonesia, the purpose of which was to increase military aid that had been cut during the Clinton administration because of human rights atrocities in East Timor. Ambassador Robert Gelbard, who legally had the right to determine whether that visit would take place, but who received no backing from the weakened State Department, was overwhelmed by Blair's huge network, including his connections in the Pentagon, and Blair made the trip.

Other CinCs of the period were General Charles Wilhelm, leader of the Southern Command, which encompassed thirty-two nations of South America, and General Wesley Clark, who by reason of his position as head of the European Command also served as supreme allied commander of NATO. The Northern Command was created in 2002, and covers the American "homeland," Canada, and Mexico. The Defense Department redraws the commands every two years, and the term used for their commanders was changed to combatant commander in 2002, so as not to be confused with the president, who, under the Constitution, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Bruce Berkowitz noted in Policy Review that George W. Bush campaigned against President Clinton's nation-building because U.S. forces "had been overextended and were being wasted in irrelevant operations that made them less prepared for more important conflicts.… After 9-11, Bush became the most aggressive nation-builder of all—even as the task became more challenging."

National Review's Andrew J. Bacevich noted that Priest "details the exploits of Special Forces teams collaborating with CIA operatives and unsavory Afghan allies to overthrow the Taliban, but also earnestly instructing Nigerian and Colombian recruits in tactics, marksmanship, and respect for human rights. Most affectingly, she recounts the efforts of eager young paratroopers, innocent of history, who upon their arrival in Kosovo take it upon themselves to bring evildoers to justice and restore ethnic harmony." Priest writes about soldiers struggling with missions for which they have little or no training and preparation. "As a result," noted Bacevich, "they learn on the fly and make mistakes, half the time not even knowing what they don't know. And they do all this with precious little help and perhaps even less understanding from their masters in the White House, the Pentagon, and Congress."

New York Times critic Dmitri V. Trenin called The Mission "a powerful testimony of the unparalleled breadth and depth of the mission facing American soldiers. It is extremely well-researched, vividly written, and should be read by all those interested in the central issues of the world today."

James Fallows wrote in Washington Monthly that Priest "does a marvelous job of conveying both the daily operating realities and the large-scale strategic tensions that go with America's new role. The book is well-written and is full of sharp details and vignettes.… To say that the theme of the book is 'imperial overstretch' would be too simple; Priest says that many of America's new missions are necessary and effective. But she establishes beyond question that the effects of military engagements are vastly more complicated than they seem when going in."

A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that Priest "does a fine job of exploring some of the contradictions involved in maintaining a citizen army and keeping peace in a world bent on killing itself."



American Prospect, October, 2003, Stephen Kotkin, review of The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military, p. 37.

Booklist, January 1, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Mission, p. 817.

Economist, March 22, 2003, review of The Mission.

Journal of Military History, October, 2003, Erik B. Riker-Coleman, review of The Mission, pp. 1355-1356.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of The Mission, p. 1756.

Library Journal, December, 2002, Mark Ellis, review of The Mission, p. 156.

National Review, April 21, 2003, Andrew J. Bacevich, review of The Mission.

New York Review of Books, March 27, 2003, Thomas Power, review of The Mission, p. 19.

New York Times, April 30, 2003, Dmitri V. Trenin, review of The Mission, p. E8.

Policy Review, October-November, 2003, Bruce Berkowitz, review of The Mission, p. 90.

Publishers Weekly, November 18, 2002, review of The Mission, p. 48.

Washington Monthly, March, 2003, James Fallows, review of The Mission, p. 47.*

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