I left my Political Science PhD program on 9/12/2001. I’ll always be able to remember the day for an obvious reason, and for a host of reasons I was ready to start on a new path in life. I have to admit after so many years of living and breathing political science I was ready to bury my head in the sand for a bit (well, relatively speaking). So, Rice’s book is about the first truly political book I’ve read in a long while. She covers her beginnings in the administration as the National Security Advisor and moves through her time as Secretary of State. It is a long path in a very tragic and troubling decade, but despite a few slow moments it is quite well-written and engaging.
It would have been difficult to be alive during the Bush administration and NOT be aware of most of her narrative. Her book goes in-depth on the obvious issues–War on Terrorism, war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan–even if we learn nothing much new. I was surprised she included a discussion of the antagonism between the Defense Department/Vice-President’s camp on one side and pretty much all the people I could possibly respect in the administration on the other side (Colin Powell mainly and sometimes Rice). Of course this is Condi’s story and she gets to spin it however she pleases. I’m half inclined to read the Rumsfeld book just to see what his excuse was, especially for not having a post-invasion reconstruction plan, but I’m not sure I want to give it my time.
Beyond the most obvious events, Rice details some aspects of the administration’s foreign policy that were lost in the noise of the wars on everything. The Bush policy in Africa and Latin America while definitely having an ideological slant was for the most part positive. I can’t imagine a single one of the current crop of Republican hopefuls having the same level of engagement on HIV and other issues in the developing world (even if the Bush level of engagement was hardly adequate).
Another aspect of the book that makes it worth the read is that Condi is a political scientist and has the ability to rise above the ideology of the time to talk intelligently about the events. For example, if you agree with the Freedom Agenda or not, it is interesting to read about her understanding of it as a redefinition of realism that could incorporate elements of the democratic peace. I’ve even thought about maybe using parts of the book in my international relations class. Students could see the theories as more than just Political Science, but as a tradition that has emerged out of foreign policy and history and that is still interwoven in the actions of our leaders. Her use of theory is simplified but it is also engaging. And honestly, that is more than you can say for most textbooks.
Overall I would recommend to anyone looking for a narrative of the complex political events of the past decade.