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

In This Review

The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal
By William J. Burns
Random House, 2019
512 pp.

Few American diplomats have had as distinguished and varied a career as has Burns. His lucid and panoramic memoir draws a sharp contrast between what he sees as the peak of U.S. diplomatic success during the George H. W. Bush administration and the more confused and discouraging scenes of recent years. Back then, the triumphal conclusion of the Cold War, the extraordinary success of U.S. military force and diplomacy in the Persian Gulf War, and the hope of a future of peaceful democratic progress gave the United States a prestige and influence that no nation can command today. The book describes the serial failures by Democratic and Republican presidents that, in Burns’ judgment, contributed to the United States’ current distress. A final, forward-looking chapter offers Burns’ thoughts about rebuilding U.S. diplomacy. His suggestions, including pruning back what he sees as an overgrown National Security Council and building public support for diplomacy, deserve careful attention.

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