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Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Personal Diplomacy, 13 Mar. 2014
This review is from: A World Transformed (Paperback)
Authors George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft were both actors and observers in the grand sweep of world change during the Reagan and Bush Administrations. Bush was the U.S. Vice President, and then President during this time. Scowcroft was his close advisor and often the sole notetaker during "one-on-one" meetings with foreign leaders. This book is their account of world events as "Eastern Europe threw off Soviet domination, Germany united, and the Soviet Union dissolved, all without significant bloodshed."

One recurring theme is importance of personal relationships between the President and leaders of other nations. "There are actually commonsense reasons for an American president to build relationships with his opposites. If a foreign leader knows the character and the heartbeat of the president (and vice versa), there is apt to be far less miscalculation on either side. Personal relationships may not overcome tough issues dividing two sides, but they can provide enough goodwill to avoid some misunderstandings. This knowledge helps a president formulate and adjust policies that can bring other leaders along to his own point of view. It can make the difference between suspicion and giving each other the benefit of the doubt--and room to maneuver on a difficult political issue." These relationships help leaders sense when one of them is speaking candidly and when something is being said out of political necessity.

Bush was coached in managing these relationships by other leaders. "[Egypt's Hosni] Mubarak had offered me some advice: touch base with these small countries whenever you can, just to acknowledge their importance to the United States, and it will make a difference with them. I had, and my wise friend Hosni had been absolutely right." Bush consulted with many of these leaders while building international support for the war in Iraq, and responding to changing political conditions in China, Germany, and the Soviet Union. Bush was aware of other leaders' perceptions of American arrogance and the history of our interference in the internal affairs of many of these countries. He "...went out of [his] way to be careful in questioning foreign leaders or diplomats about their countries' internal affairs." Bush often needed to explain why and how his actions could be limited by Congress, making some impossible that he would like to take.

Both authors describe the challenges faced in dealing with the press and Congress. Some excerpts provide a sense of these difficulties.

- "You have the networks, led principally by Dan Rather, pitching everything with the highest emotional content and driving to ... almost break relations with China, and that I don't want."

- "It seemed to me that anything I wanted to do would be blocked by the Democratic leadership in Congress. I often thought how great it would be to work with a Congress in which both houses were not controlled by the opposition party."

- "I often felt that the magnitude of what was happening to Kuwait was not properly covered by the press, and therefore was not understood by the American public or members of Congress. This made communicating our interests all the more difficult. Over and over, Iraqi atrocities and stubborn criminal acts would pass by with little comment in the media."

- "The press is saying it was an intelligence failure. It was a typical charge. They expect every plot, scheme, or move, successful or unsuccessful, to be anticipated by "intelligence." At the same time, some reporters attack the very existence of intelligence services as somehow immoral or no longer needed."

George Bush closes with a summary perspective on the actions of public servants he worked with during these years: "I am proud about what we accomplished and grateful for the wisdom, experience, and insight of the finest team I could want around me in the Administration. If there was ever a time when teamwork and camaraderie made a critical difference in policy-making, this was it. I remain convinced we had the right people in the right places at the right time. I was also fortunate to have so many wise friends among leaders elsewhere in the world--from Ottawa to Paris, Bonn, and London, and from Tokyo to Cairo, Ankara, and Riyadh--whose counsel I wanted and needed."

The book is written in three voices, with sections of each chapter identified as Bush's words, Scowcroft's, or language they worked on together and both agree with. This format allows them to both provide a consensus account and occasionally disagree or describe events from the different viewpoints they had at the time. This narrative strategy works well. Both authors recommend Philip Zelicow and Condoleezza Rice's Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft for additional perspective on these years, noting that this book appeared before theirs and was available to them as they wrote.
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Location: near DC, MD USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 510