The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal by William J Burns - review by Raymond Seitz

Raymond Seitz

Blessed is the Peacemaker

The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal


Hurst 501pp £25 order from our bookshop

Make a little room on your library shelf for this essential book on American diplomacy. Both memoir and history, it belongs right up there with other works by Acheson and Kennan, Kissinger and Shultz.

Bill Burns, who is now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was for thirty-three years a Foreign Service officer, becoming the premier American diplomat of his generation. Fluent in French, Arabic and Russian, he was twice posted to Moscow, the second time as US ambassador (from 2005 to 2008). He also served as ambassador to Jordan. In the State Department, he worked as assistant secretary for the Near East, under-secretary for political affairs, and for three years before his retirement in 2014, deputy secretary of state, a position almost always held by a political appointee. Rumour had it that if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election, she would have named Burns as secretary of state (life is a composite of missed opportunities).

A truism in the State Department is that some diplomats are more effective when posted to overseas embassies while others perform better at the bureaucratic karate of Washington policymaking. Some excel at developing tactics and others are better at devising strategy. Some are more persuasive in oral debate;

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter