• Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, New York: Crown Publishers, 2011, 766 pages, $35.00.
When it was announced that Condoleezza Rice was writing her memoirs and that she would take two books to do it, I thought that it might be overkill. I was wrong. Two books are needed to chronicle the life of this extraordinary woman.
At the end of her first book, Extraordinary, Ordinary People; A Memoir of Family, Rice is entering the Bush White House to assume her position as national security advisor and is lamenting the fact that her parents did not live to see her working at the White House.
Ironically, she opens her second book, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, on her last day as Secretary of State. As she walks down a hall to meet with the Israeli foreign minister one last time, she is thinking, “My, you’ve lived a lot of history.”
At that point, the book returns to 9/11, which becomes the cornerstone of her tenure as national security adviser. She takes herself to task, noting, “Protest as you might to yourself, to the nation, and to the world, you never get over the feeling that you could have done better. And you resolve never to let it happen again.” Throughout her time as NSA, she considered this a constant goal. During the Bush administration, 9/11 would impact every policy decision both nationally and internationally.
However, Rice’s book is not just about 9/11. She also provides readers with insight into the eight years of the Bush administration. Rice does more than talk about being national security adviser and secretary of state; in addition, she provides a job description. When discussing the National Security Council, she tells how it was established, identifies the members of the commission, and how the NSC functions. Throughout the book, she discusses the Cabinet members and their duties, often providing fascinating information about their roles and functions. For example, the State Department has 57,000 employees worldwide, and the secretary of state oversees all of them. The secretary of defense is in charge of 700,000 civilians at the Pentagon; military personnel comprise hundreds of thousands more.
Rice offers a wealth of background information about every diplomat and country she writes about, along with the significance of the relationship between the United States and that nation. For example, when a conflict arose between India and Pakistan in December 2001, Rice gives a quick snippet of historical information about the often-volatile relationship between the two countries. She also provides information about each nation’s leader, and the fact that both countries have nuclear arsenals.
Because of the prominence of 9/11 and the Iraq war, readers will be surprised at how many other major conflicts and crises Rice dealt with and helped solve during her time as NSA and secretary of state.
Early in the book Rice takes the media to task. “The tendency of journalists to take a kernel of truth and turn it into a full-blown scoop is one that I came to know well — and suffer from –throughout my eight years in Washington,” she said.
This attitude is still evident today as media reviewers assess books written by members of the Bush administration. When this volume of Rice’s memoirs became available, the media made a headlong rush to try to unearth conflict between the members of the administration and Rice. She tells of disagreements about policy, but these disagreements always lead to a better resolution of the problem and show very strong presidential leadership.
Most of the people that Rice is working with — Bush, Vice Present Dick Cheney, SColin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld have strong personalities, which is why they are successful. But there is a maturity about Rice that accepts each person’s distinct personality. Rice is honest about Rumsfeld and Powell’s disagreements and says, “It was my task to work around the personal distrust between the two men.”
Rice is a strong woman and a problem solver as evidenced by her ability to work effectively among assertive, powerful men and women. She also has an exceptional work ethic. After 9/11 she accepted the fact that she must work 17- and 18-hour days. After she became secretary of state, she realized that she had to be careful not to work 24 hours a day, which at times was a temptation as she was single and has no family obligations.
At times the book is gut-wrenching, especially as Rice describes her feelings immediately after 9/11. This section shows the very human side of this strong woman. Throughout the book, she often looks at certain situations and wonders if she might have done better; for example, she was troubled by charges that the administration lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; Powell felt that his forceful argument for that position tarnished his reputation and image.
Not only have I gained additional respect for Rice, but also a new respect for President Bush. The reader sees a president who is engaged fully in protecting the country. Although many foreign policy decisions had to be made quickly, she said there were no rushes to judgment. Unfortunately, the media’s constant desire to present a negative picture of the Bush administration overlooked the many foreign policy achievements during Rice’s tenure in the administration, both as NSA and secretary of state.
Condoleezza Rice has penned two entirely different books and the second is as good as the first.