The Back Channel
Over the course of more than three decades as an American diplomat, William J. Burns played a central role in the most consequential diplomatic episodes of his time—from the bloodless end of the Cold War to the collapse of post-Cold War relations with Putin’s Russia, from post-9/11 tumult in the Middle East to the secret nuclear talks with Iran. Burns is widely regarded as one of the most distinguished and admired American statesmen of the last half century. Upon his retirement in 2014, Secretary John Kerry said Burns belonged on “a very short list of American diplomatic legends,” alongside George Kennan.
In The Back Channel, Burns recounts, with novelistic detail and incisive analysis, some of the seminal moments of his career. Drawing on a trove of newly declassified cables and memos, he gives readers a rare inside look at American diplomacy in action. His dispatches from war-torn Chechnya and Qaddafi’s bizarre camp in the Libyan desert and his warnings of the “Perfect Storm” that would be unleashed by the Iraq War will reshape our understanding of history—and inform the policy debates of the future. Burns sketches the contours of effective American leadership in a world that resembles neither the zero-sum Cold War contest of his early years as a diplomat nor the “unipolar moment” of American primacy that followed. Author: Amb. William J. Burns (PRH/Random House, March 12, 2019, HC, 512 pp)