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No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in…
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No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington

by Condoleezza Rice

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No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington
I read this memoir with a bias-- I think Condoleeza Rice is awesome and fantastic. I've written about this before. I listened to this book as Sec. Rice read in her own voice-- the only way to read a memoir. You can hear she's still frustrated with Putin, still angry with Ehud Olmert, and relieved to have done her duty.

There is little biographical background in this book, nor is there a lot of reflection on the fact that Rice is the highest ranking African-American woman in American political and diplomatic history. In many ways, her accomplishments are more remarkable than having an African-American male President. She only mentions its significance when having to defend President Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina and her participation in some of the strategic discussions around it.

Condi openly discusses dysfunction in the White House while she was the NSC Chair, where Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and herself all respected one another as people and were quite cordial, but didn't work effectively as a group. She is sharply critical of the hawkish V.P.'s office running its own fiefdom, of Rumsfeld's questioning her authority to do things NSC had always done, and Colin Powell's unwillingness to assert himself with the President and correct misunderstandings. She gives examples of how she had even had to tell the President not to undermine her. Strong woman.

There is the re-hashing of what we knew and didn't know about Al Qaeda prior to 9/11. The rehashing that it was a systemic failure stemming from both legal issues and bureaucracy. Resentment that Richard Clarke obtained celebrity status by arguing that the Bush Administration had taken its eye off the ball, when the record doesn't show what he says it shows.

She examines the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's WMD, and shows that international opinion and intelligence-- even from China and Russia-- were that Iraq would soon have a nuclear weapon. But she's critical of the Vice President's office for running with unfiltered reports from Europe, which we now know to be false, that Iraqi agents were meeting with agents of other states and acquiring WMD technology and material. VP's office comes across in this book as hawkish and as bullying as the stereotype. One disturbing story is that after the topple of Saddam, Cheney invited Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and the President to a private party "celebrating the liberation of Iraq." Rice and Colin Powell were not invited-- it was both a snub to them and to the State Department, who were often insulted by Defense.

But the frustrating thing about reading these books by the Bush Administration is just the constant criticisms they are meant to address. Bush was much more forthright in his memoir about calling out specific Senators or columnists, their ignorance of the facts or their unfair criticisms. Dr. Rice, like Bush, relitigates the case for taking action against Saddam -- the 12 previous U.N. resolutions that hadn't been complied with, the corruption of the international community in the oil-for-food scandal, the number of countries who believed Saddam was re-arming, the obstruction of weapons inspectors, Saddam's attempt to assassinate former President H.W. Bush, etc.

She contends that thousands of pages of research were dedicated to post-war Iraq-- how to deal with Baathists, the army, up to 2 million refugees, etc. She rejects criticism that there was no post-war strategy, only that turning over the post-war planning to the Defense Department was a big mistake. I think Condi is conspicuously silent about the transition of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, that may be the biggest lack of introspection in the book.

Like President Bush's memoir, the attempts at a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is detailed; Condi contends Bush doesn't get near enough credit. I agree, not much is remembered of how close they came to a real agreement as Arafat was replaced by Abbas as Palestine's legitimate leader.

I found Condi's time as Secretary of State most interesting, how and why she reorganized the State Department as she did. One strength is that she enjoys budget proceedings and getting into the nitty-gritty of operations if she needs to. She also knows how to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of priorities and message. During the Iraq surge, Condi grew frustrated with the lack of resources being devoted to the State Dept. at the same time the Defense Department was complaining that State wasn't doing enough. She considered requiring foreign service officers to serve in Iraq, and later held all appointments until the Iraq appointments were completely filled in order to get the best into Iraq.

Some raw emotion comes out in the book when in 2006-2007 she was trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon. She is angry at Israeli actions which undermine her negotiations at the U.N. Security Council and perhaps angrier at Dick Cheney's office for apparently communicating behind her back to Israel that they should continue their war. She also discovers that Josh Bolton, U.N. Ambassador, has been passing along intelligence and communications to the Israelis without her knowledge. She swiftly and wisely pushes President Bush into an anti-hawk position to negotiate a peace.

In 2006, she almost resigned due to stress and a near panic attack on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Only a brief vacation saved her from that decision and gave her enough resolve to carry forward. At other points toward the end of her term as Secretary of State, such as to Greek opposition to allowing Macedonia to be admitted to the U.N. under the name "Macedonia," Condi loses her temper and snaps at someone.

Relevant to current events: Russia's losing Ukraine in 1991 "was like the U.S. losing Texas, or one of the original 13 colonies." The Orange Revolution was a further blow. The Ukranians don't reciprocate in their love of Russia. Condi recalls conversations with Putin about democracy-- his view is, of course, quite different than most Americans. Revolutions and dramatic changes are dangerous and must be controlled. Putin's world views and helpfulness seem to have devolved from earlier meetings, as he becomes increasingly frustrating to deal with. (But she later became "furious" with Saakashvili after he overreached in an angry tirade in a joint press conference.)

In one of Putin's last appearances with the Secretary before ending his term as President (and becoming Prime Minister), he threatened Ukraine, reminding them that the eastern half was ethnically Russian. Rice reminds readers that Russia never recognized independent Kosovo, opposed its creation, and would have vetoed any U.N. resolution. The U.S. had to stand firm against Russia to get as many allies as possible to recognize Kosovo and normalize relations. During the Georgian conflict over South Ossetia, when Sergei Lavrov told Condi "just between us" that Saakashvili had to go as a condition of Russian withdrawal, she got on the phone and told everyone-- angering Lavrov. She told him that there is no such a "just between us" when a country demands the ouster of a democratically-elected leader.

Thoughts on Turkey: Abdullah Gül was Foreign Minister and Condi liked him, found him easier to talk to than PM Erdoğan. My own take: It seems the U.S. would likely favor Gül becoming Prime Minister as Gül speaks fluent English and seems more moderate and less political than Erdoğan.
Condi sees Turkey and the AKP as the great experiment of moderate Islamic Democracy.

Iran: Russia became more helpful with Iran after 2007. An attack on Iran was never on President Bush's table, no matter who advocated it. It was a non-starter. Rice's focus was on trying to unite our allies again.

There are plenty of other stories about Africa (for which Bush also doesn't get enough credit), North Korea (Bush was ready to officially end the Korean war and normalize relations in return for North Korea giving up its nuclear program), Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Latin America. Latin American free trade was pretty much dead politically, as was immigration reform which Rice advocates strongly. Latin America gets short shrift in U.S. diplomacy since so much is focused on Asia and the Middle East.

By the time the financial crisis hits, the Administration is essentially lame duck. While there was much to attract her attention, she was mainly on the sidelines for those last few months.

I greatly enjoyed this book. There are doubtless criticisms of what Rice doesn't say in her book. But she comes across as a very knowledgeable academic, a good manager, and an effective communicator. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5. ( )
  justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
As incredibly interesting as it is long! I certainly have a new appreciation of the work of the State Department after reading this. ( )
  GTTexas | Sep 27, 2013 |
Forget the politics and just read this for the sneak peeks into the complicated world of diplomacy. The state of the world is not just black and white and Ms. Rice proves that through the many stories of diplomacy that made the world safer and diplomacy that might have had the opposite effect.

I must admit that sometimes there were just too many details (obviously, I'll never be Sec. of State). It is just those millions of details that any National Security Adviser or Secretary of State must deal with. The pace that she maintained throughout her tenure in Washington is beyond grueling. It's hard to imagine someone being awakened in the middle of the night and be expected to have the presence of mind to deal with world altering events. Those insights into the life of someone in her position makes the book well worth reading. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 22, 2013 |
Picking up immediately where Ms. Rice's first book, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, left off, No Higher Honor details her tenure as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during some of the most pivotal moments in the history of the United States. Listening to the audiobook, read by Ms. Rice, I was eager to hear her views on the events of 9/11, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the dealings of US foreign policy during the Bush years.

There are many controversial memoirs covering this historic period of time. While I will get to them in the future, I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Rice's rendition. Since first hearing of her, I have always respected and admired her. Her first book left me in awe of her parents. No Higher Honor left me appreciative of her experience, poise and ability to make things happen in the rough world of international politics. The juxtaposition of the two accounts helped me understand better her attitudes and actions, coming so far from the segregated Alabama South to the first female African-American Secretary of State. Now matter the political affiliation, this is an impressive journey.

What I appreciate most from the reading of this book were her explanations behind the events. I found myself marveling several times at the situations I thought I knew and realizing there was so much more at stake I had not heard. In a very approachable and understandable way, she helped me understand the complex and high stakes the world of international diplomacy. Her management style shone through. As a manager, I appreciated the different ways she worked with the different leaders, each with their own style and abilities. I could tell just how much George Bush depended on her and was able to leverage her talents in the best ways possible. She fielded some of the most complex and difficult situations in recent history.

Much has been made in the press of the conflicting relationships and interactions of the Bush cabinet and advisors. Ms. Rice politely goes into her views and interactions with the various players. She refuses to get down in the mud and wrestle, though, a trait I truly appreciate. I remember commenting to a colleague when I heard this book was forthcoming that I hoped she would not use it as a "tell-all, throw people under the bus" forum. She did not disappoint me. Where she disagreed with the strong forces of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and others, she was very cordial, explaining as best she could where she thought they were coming from and why she acted as she did. She remains, in my opinion, one of the classiest acts in Washington.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was her letting us peek into her personal life. I was enjoyed the stories of playing with Yo Yo Ma, her continued love of football and juggling the demands of her career with family relationships. How patient they were her constant phone calls and interruptions to holiday festivities and such. The demands of office interfered, but I could tell she worked hard to maintain as much of herself through it all. Eight years is a long time to work at that level of energy and stress. I commend and thank her for her ability to shoulder it all.

Naturally much more politically charged than her previous novel, it is no less enjoyable. Whether or not one agrees with the politics of the Bush presidency, the opportunity to understand more of Condoleezza Rice's influence on historical events is a treat. I thank her for her service in two of the toughest jobs in Washington. ( )
  DanStratton | Mar 18, 2012 |
This was an amazing read and I know that a lot of people will be scared off by the number of pages but it reads very well.
There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in every administration and Dr. Rice takes you on a tour serving as both the National Security Advisor and Secretary of State.
Highly recommend this book for those interested in politics and international relations. ( )
  gopfolk | Dec 29, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030758786X, Hardcover)

From one of the world’s most admired women, this is former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s compelling story of eight years serving at the highest levels of government.  In her position as America’s chief diplomat, Rice traveled almost continuously around the globe, seeking common ground among sometimes bitter enemies, forging agreement on divisive issues, and compiling a remarkable record of achievement.
 
A native of Birmingham, Alabama who overcame the racism of the Civil Rights era to become a brilliant academic and expert on foreign affairs, Rice distinguished herself as an advisor to George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign.  Once Bush was elected, she served as his chief adviser on national-security issues – a job whose duties included harmonizing the relationship between the Secretaries of State and Defense.  It was a role that deepened her bond with the President and ultimately made her one of his closest confidantes.
 
With the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Rice found herself at the center of the Administration’s intense efforts to keep America safe.  Here, Rice describes the events of that harrowing day – and the tumultuous days after.  No day was ever the same.  Additionally, Rice also reveals new details of the debates that led to the war in Afghanistan and then Iraq.
 
The eyes of the nation were once again focused on Rice in 2004 when she appeared before the 9-11 Commission to answer tough questions regarding the country’s preparedness for – and immediate response to – the 9-11 attacks.  Her responses, it was generally conceded, would shape the nation’s perception of the Administration’s competence during the crisis.  Rice conveys just how pressure-filled that appearance was and her surprised gratitude when, in succeeding days, she was broadly saluted for her grace and forthrightness.

From that point forward, Rice was aggressively sought after by the media and regarded by some as the Administration’s most effective champion.
 
In 2005 Rice was entrusted with even more responsibility when she was charged with helping to shape and carry forward the President’s foreign policy as Secretary of State.  As such, she proved herself a deft crafter of tactics and negotiation aimed to contain or reduce the threat posed by America’s enemies.  Here, she reveals the behind-the-scenes maneuvers that kept the world’s relationships with Iran, North Korea and Libya from collapsing into chaos.  She also talks about her role as a crisis manager, showing that at any hour -- and at a moment’s notice -- she was willing to bring all parties to the bargaining table anywhere in the world.
 
No Higher Honor takes the reader into secret negotiating rooms where the fates of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon often hung in the balance, and it draws back the curtain on how frighteningly close all-out war loomed in clashes involving Pakistan-India and Russia-Georgia, and in East Africa. 
 
Surprisingly candid in her appraisals of various Administration colleagues and the hundreds of foreign leaders with whom she dealt, Rice also offers here keen insight into how history actually proceeds.  In No Higher Honor, she delivers a master class in statecraft  -- but always in a way that reveals her essential warmth and humility, and her deep reverence for the ideals on which America was founded.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:33 -0400)

A former national security advisor and Secretary of State offers the compelling story of her eight years serving at the highest levels of government, including the difficult job she faced in the wake of 9/11.

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