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The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal

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From America's "secret diplomatic weapon" (The Atlantic), comes a memoir of service for five Presidents and ten Secretaries of State, an impassioned argument for renewing diplomacy as the tool of first resort in American statecraft. Ambassador William J. Burns is the most distinguished and admired American diplomat of his generation. Over the course of four decades, he play From America's "secret diplomatic weapon" (The Atlantic), comes a memoir of service for five Presidents and ten Secretaries of State, an impassioned argument for renewing diplomacy as the tool of first resort in American statecraft. Ambassador William J. Burns is the most distinguished and admired American diplomat of his generation. Over the course of four decades, he played a central role in the most consequential diplomatic episodes of his time--from the bloodless end of the Cold War to post-Cold War relations with Putin's Russia, from post-9/11 tumult in the Middle East to the secret nuclear talks with Iran. Upon his retirement, Secretary John Kerry said Burns belonged on "the short list of American diplomatic legends, alongside George Kennan." In The Back Channel, Burns recounts with vivid detail and incisive analysis some of the seminal moments of his career. He draws on a trove of newly declassified cables and memos to give readers a rare, inside look at American diplomacy in action. His dispatches from war-torn Chechnya and Qadhafi's camp in the deserts of Libya and his searing memos warning of the "Perfect Storm" unleashed by the Iraq War will reshape our understanding of history and the policy debates of the future. Burns sketches the contours of effective American leadership in a world that resembles neither the zero-sum Cold War contest of his early years as a diplomat, nor the "unipolar moment" of American primacy that followed. Ultimately, The Back Channel is an eloquent, deeply informed, and timely story of a life spent in service of American interests abroad, as well as a powerful reminder, in a time of great turmoil, of the importance of diplomacy.


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From America's "secret diplomatic weapon" (The Atlantic), comes a memoir of service for five Presidents and ten Secretaries of State, an impassioned argument for renewing diplomacy as the tool of first resort in American statecraft. Ambassador William J. Burns is the most distinguished and admired American diplomat of his generation. Over the course of four decades, he play From America's "secret diplomatic weapon" (The Atlantic), comes a memoir of service for five Presidents and ten Secretaries of State, an impassioned argument for renewing diplomacy as the tool of first resort in American statecraft. Ambassador William J. Burns is the most distinguished and admired American diplomat of his generation. Over the course of four decades, he played a central role in the most consequential diplomatic episodes of his time--from the bloodless end of the Cold War to post-Cold War relations with Putin's Russia, from post-9/11 tumult in the Middle East to the secret nuclear talks with Iran. Upon his retirement, Secretary John Kerry said Burns belonged on "the short list of American diplomatic legends, alongside George Kennan." In The Back Channel, Burns recounts with vivid detail and incisive analysis some of the seminal moments of his career. He draws on a trove of newly declassified cables and memos to give readers a rare, inside look at American diplomacy in action. His dispatches from war-torn Chechnya and Qadhafi's camp in the deserts of Libya and his searing memos warning of the "Perfect Storm" unleashed by the Iraq War will reshape our understanding of history and the policy debates of the future. Burns sketches the contours of effective American leadership in a world that resembles neither the zero-sum Cold War contest of his early years as a diplomat, nor the "unipolar moment" of American primacy that followed. Ultimately, The Back Channel is an eloquent, deeply informed, and timely story of a life spent in service of American interests abroad, as well as a powerful reminder, in a time of great turmoil, of the importance of diplomacy.

30 review for The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    Burns has had a long career as a diplomat. The book covers the period from Regan to the current time. Burns tells about his long career in the State Department. He has held all types of positions from Deputy Secretary of State to Ambassador. He explains about the role of diplomacy and what is happening as we forgo the importance of diplomacy. The book is well written. I found the last chapter the most interesting where he discussed the rebuilding of foreign policy and the State Department. He gav Burns has had a long career as a diplomat. The book covers the period from Regan to the current time. Burns tells about his long career in the State Department. He has held all types of positions from Deputy Secretary of State to Ambassador. He explains about the role of diplomacy and what is happening as we forgo the importance of diplomacy. The book is well written. I found the last chapter the most interesting where he discussed the rebuilding of foreign policy and the State Department. He gave suggestions on how the State Department should be reorganized. I enjoyed his evaluation of the various Secretaries of States he served under. I found the book to be enlightening and upbeat. It is easy to read and understand. I highly recommend the book. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is seventeen hours and five minutes. Mark Bramhall does a good job narrating the book. Bramhall is an actor and audiobook narrator. He has won the prestigious Audie Award as well as thirty Audiofile Earphone Awards. He is also the Publisher’s Weekly’s “Best Voice of the Year”.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alissa

    The definitive, clear-eyed, first person accounting of the highs and lows of American foreign policy and diplomacy in recent decades. Written by one of the great negotiators of our time, a rebuke that statesmanship can be reduced to any art of one deal. Reading this book revived great pride within me for my complicated chosen profession. From the last chapter: "The good news is that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the potential of American diplomacy. As I hope the pages of thi The definitive, clear-eyed, first person accounting of the highs and lows of American foreign policy and diplomacy in recent decades. Written by one of the great negotiators of our time, a rebuke that statesmanship can be reduced to any art of one deal. Reading this book revived great pride within me for my complicated chosen profession. From the last chapter: "The good news is that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the potential of American diplomacy. As I hope the pages of this book have helped to illustrate, it is an honorable profession, filled with good people and strong purpose. Another of Teddy Roosevelt’s well-known sayings was that “life’s greatest good fortune is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” By that standard, my long experience as an American diplomat was incredibly fortunate. While it may sometimes not seem so apparent in the age of Trump, the experience of the next generation of diplomats holds just as much promise. The image and value of public service is scarred and dented right now, but the diplomatic profession has never mattered more, or been more consequential for our interests at home and abroad." Read this book to understand how we as a nation stand in this world now, and who we can be again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric Lin

    On the one hand, the number of people who could have written this book is vanishingly small. On the other hand, there isn't much here that wasn't available to the public if you read between the lines in the news. Putin's dismissal of America's worldview, the Middle East's skepticism about America's ability to successfully handle the Iraq situation during GW Bush's administration, and the realities of the Iran nuclear deal are all given a bit more color, but his descriptions of his personal invol On the one hand, the number of people who could have written this book is vanishingly small. On the other hand, there isn't much here that wasn't available to the public if you read between the lines in the news. Putin's dismissal of America's worldview, the Middle East's skepticism about America's ability to successfully handle the Iraq situation during GW Bush's administration, and the realities of the Iran nuclear deal are all given a bit more color, but his descriptions of his personal involvement usually amounted to lots of descriptions of meetings that took place, with a few fairly safe anecdotes sprinkled in. Biggest surprise from reading this book: finding out how secret talks with Iran led to the Iran nuclear deal. Grown men snuck around New York City to meet in secret, using the UN General Assembly as cover? Wild. Biggest disappointment: his case for why American leadership in diplomacy has a lot of assumptions baked in that I would have loved to hear him justify (why it's ok for the US to essentially meddle in the politics of other countries, why we naively believe that we can keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of all but a handful of countries, despite the vast amount of leverage possessing one of these weapons provides, and why we need to be the 'world police', despite the immense cost of doing so). Near the end of the book, the author provides a list of policy positions that the Trump administration has walked back, such as pulling out of the Paris accords, various trade deals, reneging on the Iran nuclear deal, and changing course on the TPP. His point about why these are hard to sell to the American public is a convincing one - that these are always the product of compromise, which often produce agreements that are somewhat unpalatable to all parties involved. I don't think it's tough for him to sell the narrative that Trump has tanked the stock on American reliability, but the political climate that got Trump elected barely gets discussed. The last two chapters or so are what I wanted out of this book. In these chapters, Burns uses his several decades of diplomatic experience to describe how we got to where we are today. One story - that overreach during Bush 43's terms, paired with an overuse of military force eroded the American public's faith in the diplomatic process is fairly compelling, but I wanted him to spend more time laying this out. As he says, the politics at home, and geopolitics are often intertwined, but throughout his account of dinners with the King of Jordan, or that time Putin's delegation tried to drink the American delegation under the table, we don't hear much about the how things are at home. If you want to read an insider's account of the past 40 years of American diplomacy, this is likely the most detailed, candid, and non-partisan account you will be able to find. But it could have been so much better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    A wonderful memoir about William J. Bush's time in the State Department, through the Reagan presidency to Obama's. The title doesn't indicate how well written and charming this book is. Burns is an enlightening and engrossing writer, talking about Soviet Union, Russia, Egypt, and Iran among other countries. A great book I highly recommend. A wonderful memoir about William J. Bush's time in the State Department, through the Reagan presidency to Obama's. The title doesn't indicate how well written and charming this book is. Burns is an enlightening and engrossing writer, talking about Soviet Union, Russia, Egypt, and Iran among other countries. A great book I highly recommend.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sherri Holliday-Sklar

    This very readable book gives the reader a good overview of the critical foreign policy events over the past three decades. If you're considering a career in the U.S. foreign service, you can get a sense of the kind of work we do. I enjoyed this book. This very readable book gives the reader a good overview of the critical foreign policy events over the past three decades. If you're considering a career in the U.S. foreign service, you can get a sense of the kind of work we do. I enjoyed this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ramakrishna

    Fascinating insight in the relatively modern methods of American diplomacy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ted Haussman

    Have always had an interest in American foreign policy and diplomacy since the days of a wonderful course I took in college. This wonderful book explains takes you from the Reagan days in the Middle East and bombings of Beirut through the Iran nuclear deal in 2014 which sadly a misguided Trump has withdrawn from. Burns does a yeoman's job comparing and contrasting approaches across administrations, gives you a good feel for major world leaders, and overall takes you under the hood to see the inn Have always had an interest in American foreign policy and diplomacy since the days of a wonderful course I took in college. This wonderful book explains takes you from the Reagan days in the Middle East and bombings of Beirut through the Iran nuclear deal in 2014 which sadly a misguided Trump has withdrawn from. Burns does a yeoman's job comparing and contrasting approaches across administrations, gives you a good feel for major world leaders, and overall takes you under the hood to see the inner workings of key diplomatic milestones at work. He tells his story -- his memoir of diplomacy for 25 or so years -- with candor, explaining where the US got it right and how it also made horrible mistakes. While not quite a benediction, he offers hope for renewed diplomacy in a post-Trump age where it will be sorely needed. Fantastic book!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kaitlin Oujo

    Anyone with an interest in foreign affairs and U.S. foreign policy should read this account by a senior ranking diplomat who served in many critical government roles.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    As a memoir, it is very dry and without much personality. As a history of U.S. foreign policy that the author was involved in over the last several decades, it is quite thorough.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alex Hyland

    Burns started his 33 year career at the bottom of the State Department in Jordan and through calculated decision making, agility, and a balance of short and long term vision, became a key player in many of the world’s most impactful diplomatic moments. He will undoubtedly make a profound impact as the Director of the CIA.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ctgt

    These are exactly the type of career professionals we need in government. Deep state my a$$. 9/10

  12. 4 out of 5

    Burk

    Very disappointing. Repeated apologies for a system that he was a part of for decades. It did not suddenly become dysfunctional only when Trump took over. And he terribly conflates our national interests with American corporate interests.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert D

    Will do review after a little more thought. One of the most important that I have read in at least recent history! After ore thought, I must say that this is such a solid example of why we need very wise people that are engaged in our diplomacy. There is little that scares me, but the current administrations almost complete lack of understanding of what it is all about almost guarantees that we will makes errors that lead to war!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Theodore

    I really enjoyed "The Back Channel" . The most positive aspect of the book was the authors authentic voice and passionate belief in the nobility of his chosen profession. While I agree with his editorial comments about the future of diplomacy in the main, the writing in these parts of the book was less engaging when compared with the experiences discussed in the narrative sections. All in all, an excellent read. I really enjoyed "The Back Channel" . The most positive aspect of the book was the authors authentic voice and passionate belief in the nobility of his chosen profession. While I agree with his editorial comments about the future of diplomacy in the main, the writing in these parts of the book was less engaging when compared with the experiences discussed in the narrative sections. All in all, an excellent read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leo

    Burns shares his experience of more than three decades as an American diplomat that touches on a large portion of the biggest foreign policy issues of the day. A great memoir that doesn't get bogged down in the details and reads like serial. Burns shares his experience of more than three decades as an American diplomat that touches on a large portion of the biggest foreign policy issues of the day. A great memoir that doesn't get bogged down in the details and reads like serial.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Powers

    Inspiring and illuminating at times, but I worry that any insight and analysis loses its edge to nostalgia and civility. The even-handed treatment of different officials as individual people is admirable, but it seems like it overshadows any critique of the policy decisions being made. There’s no real or meaningful challenge to the post-9/11 militarization of foreign policy, or at least no real attempt to wrestle with it. The “renewal” in question seems to be more about the accelerated erosion o Inspiring and illuminating at times, but I worry that any insight and analysis loses its edge to nostalgia and civility. The even-handed treatment of different officials as individual people is admirable, but it seems like it overshadows any critique of the policy decisions being made. There’s no real or meaningful challenge to the post-9/11 militarization of foreign policy, or at least no real attempt to wrestle with it. The “renewal” in question seems to be more about the accelerated erosion of diplomacy under Trump than the greater shift away from diplomacy and towards militarization that has taken place throughout the 21st century and has been perpetuated by Liberal leaders across the Western political spectrum. Critiques aside, the book is well-written and as someone interested in foreign policy it’s always inspiring to hear the stories of influential people in that world.

  17. 4 out of 5

    MJ Heli

    I read this book for the insight into the career path of a successful foreign service officer, because someone close to me has FSO career aspirations. As a sketch of a successful if extraordinary career trajectory this book is a resounding success. Although the author presents an apolitical perspective expected of a career diplomat, his hypothesis for salving an ailing diplomatic corps was short on specifics, disappointingly so. And while his clear distain for the Trump approach was evident, he I read this book for the insight into the career path of a successful foreign service officer, because someone close to me has FSO career aspirations. As a sketch of a successful if extraordinary career trajectory this book is a resounding success. Although the author presents an apolitical perspective expected of a career diplomat, his hypothesis for salving an ailing diplomatic corps was short on specifics, disappointingly so. And while his clear distain for the Trump approach was evident, he failed to acknowledge where decades of diplomatic failures and endless loops of negotiations that no longer approximate the values driving US policy had left no alternatives.

  18. 5 out of 5

    M.J.

    Ambassador Burns had a very interesting career over quite a span in our nation's recent history. I enjoyed reading about his time overseas...especially a funeral he had attended in Jordan that drew in quite a cast of characters then in the same room that would be totally unimaginable today. I also appreciated his insight on the Washington internal policymaking process. I liked his humble attitude and approach. Overall I gave this 3.5 stars because I would have liked to read more about how he bal Ambassador Burns had a very interesting career over quite a span in our nation's recent history. I enjoyed reading about his time overseas...especially a funeral he had attended in Jordan that drew in quite a cast of characters then in the same room that would be totally unimaginable today. I also appreciated his insight on the Washington internal policymaking process. I liked his humble attitude and approach. Overall I gave this 3.5 stars because I would have liked to read more about how he balanced family and his career as well as his wife's own career as a diplomat.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    Burns's name caught my attention in connection to his nomination by Biden as the next CIA director. The article I read on the subject happened to mention this memoir of his and piqued my interest. His long career as a diplomat makes for fascinating reading, and he deals out some evenhanded and well-deserved (albeit at times a little lukewarm) criticism of American foreign policy blunders over the past decades. Burns's name caught my attention in connection to his nomination by Biden as the next CIA director. The article I read on the subject happened to mention this memoir of his and piqued my interest. His long career as a diplomat makes for fascinating reading, and he deals out some evenhanded and well-deserved (albeit at times a little lukewarm) criticism of American foreign policy blunders over the past decades.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Matt Connolly

    This is by far my favorite diplomatic memoir. Burns, now director of the CIA, recounts his career at the State Department from the early 90s thru to President Obama, with a special prologue to talk about Pres. Trump. Burns draws heavily on his own cables to provide an on-the-ground view of life in Jordan, or Russia, or any number of places where he served with his family. Overall, an excellent read, and anyone interested in current events should pick it up.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christian S.

    William Burns gives a decidedly unbiased account of American diplomacy. His ability to put the reader “in the room” during some of the most consequential moments of his career (which span the nearly last four decades of American foreign politics) is refreshing and intriguing. He also does not hold back on criticism, be it of administration policy failures or his own short comings. A great read for anyone interested in how the world of diplomacy works or who just wants an overview of an amazingly William Burns gives a decidedly unbiased account of American diplomacy. His ability to put the reader “in the room” during some of the most consequential moments of his career (which span the nearly last four decades of American foreign politics) is refreshing and intriguing. He also does not hold back on criticism, be it of administration policy failures or his own short comings. A great read for anyone interested in how the world of diplomacy works or who just wants an overview of an amazingly interesting career.

  22. 4 out of 5

    KT

    Kinda dry but a good view into the last 40 years of international diplomacy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mario

    A bit wordy, but fascinating. This book provides a behind-the-scenes look at America's diplomatic corps from the perspective of someone who worked his way up through to the top of the organization. A bit wordy, but fascinating. This book provides a behind-the-scenes look at America's diplomatic corps from the perspective of someone who worked his way up through to the top of the organization.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey Whyte

    Very interesting first hand account of state department activities from 80's through the Obama administration - a time of much change in US relations with other countries. Very interesting first hand account of state department activities from 80's through the Obama administration - a time of much change in US relations with other countries.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Friedewald

    Insightful and humble memoir by an exceptional diplomat. I was curious to read his book when I learned he’d been nominated to head the CIA. And I definitely get why having a career diplomat in charge of the CIA now is an important shift (counter balance to militarized approach to international relations and diplomacy of last 20 years). I wouldn’t call it a page turner, and I didn’t get engrossed until the Bush 43 chapters and later, but what a great ending with his role in the Iran nuclear deal, Insightful and humble memoir by an exceptional diplomat. I was curious to read his book when I learned he’d been nominated to head the CIA. And I definitely get why having a career diplomat in charge of the CIA now is an important shift (counter balance to militarized approach to international relations and diplomacy of last 20 years). I wouldn’t call it a page turner, and I didn’t get engrossed until the Bush 43 chapters and later, but what a great ending with his role in the Iran nuclear deal, and thoughts on Trump impact and way ahead for American diplomacy.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bianca

    The Back Channel is a first person account by William J.Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and career Foreign Service officer, detailing the highs and lows of American foreign policy and diplomacy in recent decades. In short, it provides a strong defense of American diplomacy and the need for negotiation. The stories are fascinating, delving into issues relating to numerous foreign powers, and particularly Russia. Part memoir, part recent history, and perhaps most importantly, a lesson in The Back Channel is a first person account by William J.Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and career Foreign Service officer, detailing the highs and lows of American foreign policy and diplomacy in recent decades. In short, it provides a strong defense of American diplomacy and the need for negotiation. The stories are fascinating, delving into issues relating to numerous foreign powers, and particularly Russia. Part memoir, part recent history, and perhaps most importantly, a lesson in the nature of diplomacy. A very timely important & informative read. I received this as a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review but it took me a few months due to a delay in my actually receiving this book. I'm happy to giveaway to any of my local (Sonoma County CA) Goodreads friends so they too can read & review it!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jennie

    I very much wanted to read this book but found that it was just not for me. I can usually only read memoirs and bios for people I am very familiar with but I was intrigued enough to give this one a try. This ended up being the case of someone I would definitely go see speak because I very much want to hear what he has to say, I just could not be drawn in by the book itself. I was able to get through the first quarter of the book and there are no issues with the content or the writing it just did I very much wanted to read this book but found that it was just not for me. I can usually only read memoirs and bios for people I am very familiar with but I was intrigued enough to give this one a try. This ended up being the case of someone I would definitely go see speak because I very much want to hear what he has to say, I just could not be drawn in by the book itself. I was able to get through the first quarter of the book and there are no issues with the content or the writing it just did not hold my attention enough to enjoy and get through. If you are a government buff or you love biographies and memoirs please do pick this up.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    The Back Channel is a masterful portrait of how U.S. diplomacy has worked and not worked over the past three decades. The author was a career diplomat from 1982 until his retirement in 2014. He held top positions at the State Department, serving loyally under Democratic and Republican presidents. He had a ringside seat to our changing relationship with Russia as well as our involvement in Middle Eastern wars and coups. The book is more than a memoir of tumultuous events. It is an argument for dip The Back Channel is a masterful portrait of how U.S. diplomacy has worked and not worked over the past three decades. The author was a career diplomat from 1982 until his retirement in 2014. He held top positions at the State Department, serving loyally under Democratic and Republican presidents. He had a ringside seat to our changing relationship with Russia as well as our involvement in Middle Eastern wars and coups. The book is more than a memoir of tumultuous events. It is an argument for diplomacy to be returned to the place it served so well until the militarization of our foreign policy. One of the hardest passages in the book is Burns’ lament that he felt he didn’t do enough to stop the second Iraq war, following the terrorist attacks of 9/ll and the invasion of Afghanistan. He writes: “The Iraq invasion was the original sin. It was born of hubris, as well as failures of imagination and process. For neoconservative proponents, it was the key tool in the disruption of the Middle East—the heady, irresponsible, and historically unmoored notion that shaking things up violently would produce better outcomes.” Instead, unintended consequences, fragilities and dysfunctions resulted. As ambassador to Russia, Burns was an early observer of Vladmir Putin’s growing paranoia that the U.S. was out to undermine his country. Putin threatened retaliation. Burns wrote: “The rich irony of Putin’s threat is not lost on me more than a decade later, after Russia’s brazen interference in the 2016 American election.” Burns believes our over reliance on hard power not only gave our adversaries a new desire to thwart our goals but also led to the disillusionment of the American people with foreign engagement. Ultimately, Burns reminds us, it isn’t our preaching but our example that inspires.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Naveen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Audiobook Summary: William Burns has proven to be one of the great stateman in American history. His book is well written and provides plenty of color into his career. He had positions at the NSC, headed the Moscow embassy and was held several positions in leadership from the Operations center to strategy to assistant secretary. He worked through Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama and is now CIA Director in the Biden administration. Burns is an expert in Russia as well as the Middle East spend Audiobook Summary: William Burns has proven to be one of the great stateman in American history. His book is well written and provides plenty of color into his career. He had positions at the NSC, headed the Moscow embassy and was held several positions in leadership from the Operations center to strategy to assistant secretary. He worked through Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama and is now CIA Director in the Biden administration. Burns is an expert in Russia as well as the Middle East spending a significant amount of time in Russia and Jordan. He was involved in Libya, the Iran Nuclear Deal, the fall of the Soviet Union and much more. Enjoyed this book. Notes: Prologue - bush 1 Arab Israeli - height of American influence - Donald Trump gridlock - value of American leadership no longer a given. War fatigue. He shows value of statecraft - Kissinger a patient accumulation of partial successes - diplomacy is the only answer to get what America wants in a world where stocks and unilateral lower done Ch 1 - apprenticeship - education. Jordan 1983 during Iraq Iran war - army brat. Father was 2 star general. Went to Lasalle. Three brothers best friends. Egypt trip 1973. Met Sadat. Won Marshall Oxford scholarship at Lasalle. Anarchical - Bull. Manage problems not solve. 1982 foreign service begin. 9/10 white, 1:4 woman. 5500 people across 200 countries. Met Lisa. He assigned to Jordan. She to Singapore. Learns Arabic. Embassy warehouse bombed and car bombs. Good experience for size of embassy relationship of Hussein and ambassador - modern va tradition . 1984 to Washington for new assignment - NEa policy and Murphy managing Israel and Lebanon 1985 but peace - Arafat hard to pin down, Israel immobile and Hussein in Jordan frustrated. Iran Iraq war - whitehead assistant dealing with sanctions regime that eventually persuaded kadafi. Then nsc directorate. Office was a converted women’s bathrooms. Boss Is Dennis Ross more Middle East. 1986. Nsc staff sell arms to Iran for release. McFarlane. Then north uses fund for Iran contra. Pointedexter snd north gone. Tasked commission on nsc staff. Carlucci and Colin Powell take over with senate recommendations and staff firings movement occurred but burns stays in Mid East group - may 1987 - reflag Kuwait tankers with us . Colin Powell promotes 32 year old burns for Dennis Ross as head of group , pan am flight brought down by Libya. Final effort on Arab Israeli peace in Reagan admin - goes back to state Ch 2 - baker years shaping order. Russia. Have you seen so many things changing so fast - intersection of events in baker years biggest. End of Cold War, reverse of Iraqi aggression and collapse of Soviet Union. Bush prepared. Powell scrowcraft baker Cheney - steady sound group. Baker problem solver, cautious, unchained by ideology and good negotiator knows when to close the deal. Tom Friedman says team wet behind the ears policy team. 1989 - Africa Asia ok, Iran Iraq over, Latin America ok , Arab israeli some promise - the drama was the Soviet Union with gorb trying to reform. Baker and Shebernaza - then Gorb snd Bush in Malta after Soviet fall late 1989. Reunification of Germany 1990. Germany part of NATO but agreement to not expand is later not kept . August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. Sadaam wants to get rid of ear debt. Occupied Kuwait as 19th province after lying to us diplomats. Desert Sheild - baker gets international support snd money through lots of visits. Turkey Saudi Egypt support only Yemen China abstain. Baker hates diddlers Arab Israeli - annoyed with Arafat and Netanyahu. Baker - lowballed public expectations, crawl before we walk, near term goal for Arab Israeli. Palestinians back sadaam. But negotiation tough - couldn’t agree on names. Madrid leads to Oslo later. Soviet Union - putch genady gorb Crimea house arrest yeltsin faces it down. Internal breakdown - nukes, Yugoslavia break. Clinton wins eagleberger writes transition letter Ch 3 yeltsin Russia limits of agency - yeltsin can’t rebuild state , Putin successor from Chechnya - wounded pride in yeltsin. Burns wants to work in Russia , train in Bavaria on language and then embassy in Moscow - Tom Pickering head of embassy - good mentors matters most of all - lack of knowledge management . Summer 1994 yeltsin not doing well. 70 percent of state owned privatized but managed by oligarchs. Part of Clinton admin / Chechnya mismanaged by yeltsin with poor military showing. Republicans come in power - harder stance. American CUny killer by chechans but setup by Russians. 1994/1995 - Russia wants bigger role in Bosnia. Holbrooke manages Bosnia. Dayton agreement. NATo expansion to old Soviet - bad decision snd then Ukraine and Georgia were mistakes. Ch 4 - Jordan transition power of partnership - Hussein dying and noor. Soon Abdullah and rayna. Ambassordor burns - previously executive secretariat - action. 1996 for Warren Christopher. Albright followed him. He was soft spoken. She first woman. Internal transfers are still difficult - Albright puts own stamp. Congress shrinks foreign affairs budget by half. Asda- his father led - consolidate into state. Usia- expose cultures to American policy - merger took time and lost personnel in roiling post 911 and Putin disinformation. 16 years after first stint in Jordan becomes Ambassador. Hussein wasn’t sure about brother Hassan as successor. Jordan ised to single leader. Al queda begins. Our role was commitment to king snd country and keep lines open. Albright , Daly, Cohen, tenet come and Clinton supportive. Hussein changes succession and goes to Abdullah and Hassan was admonished by brother. Hassan manages well . Hussein funeral - four us presidents, 75 other leaders - netanyahu, Assad, Iraq, Qaddafi son, Tony Blair and prince Charles, yeltsin, chiraq from France. Clinton worked the room. Abdullah only 37. Exports from 9m to 1bn and aid goes way up from American support - clientitus to inflate host behind supporting country - Israeli Palestinian - Clinton parameters gets nowhere snd Abdullah worried about region - the nea under Powell Ch 5 age of terror - combined gdp of all Arab countries less than Spain for 300mm. Most under 20. Looks forward to working with Powell armitage. Oman, Doha, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Algiers, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Syria , iraq, Iran, uae, - sept 11, new al qaeda. Putin offers solidarity snd Iranian condemn attack. Us take advantage? Afghanistan yes but Iran can help and against taliban . Exploit the moment - burns - international support for containment for Iraq - Powell attentive to diplomatic opportunities - alternate view - push American power no coalition view - state view wasn’t less hard nosed but sustainable and understanding of risks. Cheney and Rumsfeld - Afghan message not enough - wolfowitz also trink Iraq can be a message no peace dividend - Mubarak don’t do it Iraqis are complex don’t do it. Not worried about sadaam worried about Palestinians - ahkmed chalabi advoxRing but leading figure of Iraq exiles working halls of Congress - Iraq liberation act - they knew Iraq didn’t play a role in 9-11 - Rumsfeld starts planning - defense and state intelligence say no wmd. American and Israeli tanks on tv - anger will boil. Mbz don’t do it because of the risk of breaking. You or we will suffer - Mubarak Abdullah you’ll make a mess and leave us to deal . The perfect storm memo - fault lines, security collapse looting, civilian infrastructure. Regional players meddle Iran, responsibility for post conflict - looking back we underestimated risks - but didn’t take a hard stand - was worst mistake. Powell uses memo in dinner with president - lost argument to avoid so worked on plan - US plan to international authority vs DOD plan for military government - the only legitimacy we need is on the back of an m1a1 tank. Authorized use of force in Congress - after un allows in inspectors in Iraq - but too late - feb 5 Powell speech to un - Powell called his speech painful and a permanent blot / less that 1/3 of previous force. Iraqi soldiers work for little - green zone reminiscent of the bar scene in Star Wars - ideologues to remake systems , Bernie kerig- eager to get to scene that order being restored . Sadr, zarkawi. Bremmer leaves. Negroponte - and then support for Baghdad. War in Iraq sucked oxygen out and left lasting scars on American influence. Israeli Palestinian lacks focus. Arafat useless - air conditioner - stuck in room and Arafat clutches remote - fayed grabbed remote. You can really devolve power if you assert yourself - finance minister from Palestine. Abbas 2003 pm but then resigns. Roadmap is half time show. Bush first term. Libya - during Clinton - steps to remove sanctions. They want to high unemployment and inflation. Rid wmd and advanced missle. Paid out comp 2.7bn to Lockerbie families. Diplomacy is about outcomes that are better than war. Step down from NEA Jan 2005 condo rice becomes sec of state. Abbas new leader in 2005. PM Hariri Lebanon death by Syrians. Ch 6 Putin’s disruptions navigating train wrecks - condi rice meet at Putin compound with Russia security council - talked trade boring then rice brings up Georgia and Putin animated. Rice looms taller than him in heals - us ambassador in Moscow burns - offered Israel but was burned out and rice agreed to back Powell recommendation - Spaso house huge for diplomat - spaso bugged - hosted 3000 Russians for July 4. Jazz concerts fashion show astronauts and cosmonauts and nba or hockey teams. Lizzy senior prom. Putin - scarred from world war 2, kgb , judo, didn’t lack self confiddencr and exploit , inherited tough job with economy and state - gov defaults...fix state, exploit resources, external and neighbor strength . No politics no business. Putin gave more credit than we deserved for plotting but we were plodding. Unlikely prospects for Putin Russia and we will have differences with Russia comp and cooperation. Ivanov defense minister Putin friend better kgb - medvedev- younger softer around edges - St. Petersburg and stable family. Loyal to Putin and had a spine and a drive. Lavrov foreign minister and creative mind. He met with opposition like kasparov chess player and other who was murdered. Human rights activists. Gorb. Soldinetzin. Trade. Boeing 1400 research titanium Russia buys 4bn Dreamliner - nuclear proliferation. Georgia and Ukraine - no nato. Missile defense no. Map offers for them. Bucharest - Ukraine and Georgia in nato rice and merkel . Bush goes to Sochi to meet Putin - Putin loves Sochi. After Moscow - under sec for political affairs third highest ranking and highest for career officer . Georgia shoots, Russia comes in - un peace fire. August 2008. Ch 7 Obama’s long game - Obama and light visit him in Russia as ambassador - Obama sees important getting of war footing and getting diplomacy on - bush 41 model to emulate but world he inherited wasn’t the same he didn’t have experience and rollodex- Clinton resolute worried about risk of diplomacy with hawk. Kerry classical approach and ending big conflicts snd take big risks and big falls - constant motion. Hung out . Incisive and well informed conviction to miss them. He was the real deal. Burns asked to stay on. Clinton and Obama increase international affairs budget and development. Clinton and gates good relationship. Over centralization and large nsc staff (300 in Obama and 60 in Powell bush) drone strikes issues. Bin Ladin . Biden snd gates against - Clinton for and everyone else follows. Deputy secretary from Jim. Focus on India China ans Russia - inherited emerging partnership with India from bush - bush allowed India nukes. India agrees for inspection on military nuke sites. Under Obama continue to improve - 200 - 2bn military purchase and participate in most exercises. Singh to Modi. No visaofo because of bip secteraimsik - Obama modi good repoire. China - activist cheng. Russia -medviedev, open to Reset but Putin. Reset dead in 3 years. Spies swap. Putin takes back reign - authoritarian falling in Middle East and sees Russia needs strong hand. September will run again med will replace as prime minister and people don’t like for ruling party. Clinton blames Clinton for comments on election snd personal animus. Mcfall the ambassador to Russia. Russians asylum to Snowden Obama cancels meeting. Clinton leaves. Crimea. Sullivan and burns talk to tamp down Ukraine invasion in 2014. Ch 8 Arab spring when the short game intercedes - Mubarak says he won’t run but no democracy. Obama - that won’t cut it to manage the demonstrations. Step down to manage transition. Mubarak thinks Obama naive. Obama frustration rising. Region drains their capital. Obama wants new posture - but hard to execute - shifting military role which regimes depended on - autocratic. Egypt - morsi elected sisi cout but no cout. Libya - unrest, quadafi stomp Benghazi - Clinton, powers, rice protect Biden gates no. Libya ends in chaos after first un supported intervention snd true coalition and only 1bn cost to us compare to 1bn every two weeks Afghanistan. Syria civil war. 500k dead, 13m displaced (2/3 population). Lack of US, cold blooded rigor to resist assad confrontation - Libya and Iraq.president for Syria was Afghanistan in 80s. Sarin gas - no response Obama . Jake and Burns goes to Oman for nuclear deal talks. Choices on Syria were mired in another conflict. Diplomatic removal of chemical weapons. Abdullah - Russia wrong to support Assad but at least they standby their friends. 2014 rose of isis fall of Mosul crumbling of Iraq. Ch 9 - Iran and the bomb the secret talks Iraq and Afghanistan helped Iran. Natanz and Arak surveilled by CIA. We helped start civilian nuclear program for shah. Gets Persian teaching program in case diplomacy opens up similar to Russian language training. Bush allows burns and rice to Geneva to open up some talk. P5 like us there and engaged. Interest section pitched with Russians but Georgia happens and that stops. Laid groundwork to Obama approach. A new strategy toward Iran to Clinton beginning of her tenure. Burns baradi russians fordo. Burns talks to jalili highest level talks. Puneet stalwart from nsc. Netanyahu badgered Obama. 1929 un strong sanctions. Stuxnet and 15 ton bin for fordo. Oman backchannsl. Salam gets 3 hikers out. Sullivan and puneet met in muskat with Iran. Israel’s saudis and Emirates don’t like back direct channel. Would never have gotten as far. Nuclear issue only. Obama directly involved with guidance. We would be prepared for enrichment program if monitoring. Rouhani elected June - lead nuclear negotiator. Good that started in akmadinojad. Javed Zhareef u of Denver under Albright father - solid diplomat. The best thing we can do is stick to plan but Trump erases that. New York shah poster . Sullivan looking at rouhani and Obama but Iranians worried about imagery. Move to p5+1. Wendy Sherman debriefs on back channel. Cant wait. Netanyahu saw back channel as betrayal and brits knew and understood. Joint Plan of Action - Iran freezes and rolls back nuclear program for 6 months, monitoring snd sanctions relief. Netanyahu says it’s deal of century for Iran. Congressional critics say they’ll cheat. None true. Solid agreement. Time and space for Kerry and president to negotiate final agreement. Ch 10 - burns retires - militirization of deplomacy - trump focused on right question to us strategy - consolidate not expand nato. Trans pacific huge mistake Paris and Iran too. Trump rejection of multilateralism and immigration - no leadership. Diplomats - gardeners. Conductor or organizers. Baker tend to allian

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Nelson

    A must-read for anyone interested in American foreign policy, Burns narrates his thirty years in the state department, mostly focused on the Middle East and Russia at some of the most critical times for those relationships. He outlines the successes and failures of every administration since Reagan with a critical but fair eye, noting the limits of what can be achieved from the state department, and makes some suggestions for what course should be taken next. Very readable for what it is, anyone A must-read for anyone interested in American foreign policy, Burns narrates his thirty years in the state department, mostly focused on the Middle East and Russia at some of the most critical times for those relationships. He outlines the successes and failures of every administration since Reagan with a critical but fair eye, noting the limits of what can be achieved from the state department, and makes some suggestions for what course should be taken next. Very readable for what it is, anyone interested in the inside story of how some of the most critical decision in America's foreign relations were made should pick this up.

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