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A surprisingly gripping account of the foreign policy crises and triumphs of the Bush years. The surprise lies not in the inherent drama of the events—the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Operation Desert Storm—but in the tension that the usually low-key Bush conveys. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, his national security advisor, contribute their own perspectives at different stages of the crises, with a more general narrative to complement their individual views. It’s an unusual format that works well in conveying the pressures and the variety of opinions Bush had to take into account. The authors avoid too heavy a reliance on hindsight, and thus capture the tension and uncertainty of the moment. There is too much discretion in the analyses of most of those with whom the administration worked but great precision in dealing with their political needs: King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, for example, fearful of giving the US military bases because of fears that the US might leave as it did from Lebanon after the attack on the Marine base. One is left with great admiration for both Bush and Scowcroft. The president understood the importance of consultation and personal contact with allies and adversaries, and carried out that mission with a diligence and delicacy that may be unique in presidential annals. His stroking of difficult allies like Mitterand, including an invitation to stay at Kennebunkport, paid huge dividends. On the advice of Egyptian president Mubarak, he made contact with the rulers of even obscure Middle Eastern principalities, which was to pay off handsomely during Desert Storm. He conveys memorably just how difficult it was to assemble and keep together that coalition, while Mikhail Gorbachev looked desperately for some diplomatic stroke to restore his prestige, Saddam Hussein tried to use Israel to split the Arabs, and opponents argued that sanctions should be given more time. A nuanced and subtle evocation of the presidency in the middle of some of the greatest foreign policy crises of our time. (First printing of 100,000)

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-43248-5
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998


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