A revealing memoir of life behind the diplomatic curtains.
As New York Times contributing opinion writer Rice opens her account, the Trump team is taking over the White House from Obama, for whom she served as ambassador to the U.N. A work crew is removing a carpet into which is woven a quotation from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s a telling moment, speaking pointedly to an atmosphere in which her young daughter suffered from stress over how her mother was treated during the Benghazi affair. “Washington’s politics of personal destruction don’t come free of cost,” she notes. Her story recounts aspiration and affirmation, as her parents battled against the racism that dogged her father even as he served in World War II, “profoundly objecting to the insult and irony of being made to fight for freedom for all but his own people.” Her father would become an economics professor, and her parents taught Rice “the merits of fierce, often cocky contention” that combined assuredness with a command of the facts. Her education in diplomacy, following school at Stanford and Oxford, was augmented by the likes of Richard Clarke (“gruff, sarcastic, whip-smart, someone who pulls no punches”) and Obama, who forgave Rice for an ill-advised comment comparing how he and John McCain would react to the proverbial 3:00 a.m. phone call on some matter of war or peace. “I was tacitly benched for a few weeks and given only safer opportunities by the campaign to appear public, until the furor died down,” she writes. Her book is frequently engaging though perhaps a quarter too long, and it is peppered with such critical moments as well as defenses of her stances in support of Israel and against an intransigent Russia. She closes, as one might expect, with a sharp critique of the successor administration and the “zero-sum partisan outcomes” of national politics today.
Recommended reading for aspiring diplomats and foreign policy wonks.