“The time for democracy is now.” In her memoir No Higher Honor, Condoleezza Rice writes that she added that sentence to her Senate confirmation speech for Secretary of State in 2005 to emphasize a softer foreign policy built around forging relationships rather than the contentious and divisive policies that defined the first four years of the Bush presidency.
Although her memoir makes no mention as to why Rice believed a new, less hawkish foreign policy was needed, it is clear that Rice’s confirmation hearing was not just a signal that a policy shift was in order, but a distinct repudiation by Rice of Vice President Dick Cheney’s “ultra-hawkish” convictions.
In both No Higher Honor and Cheney’s early memoir In My Time, tension and ideological differences between Rice and Cheney are constant subplots that define their times in office. While Rice maintains that her differences with the former vice president were “not personal, but simply business,” Cheney shows a real disdain for Rice in his book. He portrays Rice as naïve and in-over-her head. At one point, after President George W. Bush sided with Rice on policy matters related to North Korea, Cheney chides the president as “out of keeping with the clearheaded way I’d seen him make decisions in the past.”
The differences in the narrative of two of the Bush administration’s most controversial figures is telling of their intentions behind writing their books and go a long way in setting the overall tone of their message.
Rice’s 734-page memoir focuses mainly on key moments in her roles as national security advisor and then secretary of state. Rice’s ability to reflect from a dispassionate, mostly academic viewpoint leaves the reader with a much more positive opinion of Rice compared to her counterpart. While one might disagree with Rice’s views and actions during her time in the administration, the book elicits empathy and an ability to relate to the difficulties of reaching such monumental decisions that came with her position as one of Bush’s most trusted confidantes.
Her professionalism in taking the high road when referring to her counterparts and her willingness to admit mistakes and critically examine the administration’s policy decisions, such as her shopping trip in New York City during Katrina, provides a refreshing respite from the usual cattiness of ex-Washington insiders. Her resolute conviction that invading Iraq was still necessary comes across not as a stubborn unwillingness to admit wrongdoing, but a reasoned rationale of conservative principles.
By contrast, In My Time is as arrogant and condescending as one might expect from such a title. Cheney comes across as a bitter also-ran concerned more about his legacy and convincing his few remaining supporters of his virtue, rather than doing good for this country. Rather than openly reflecting on controversial decisions or policy stances, Cheney uses hackneyed lines to skirt the contentious issues.
Instead he spends most of the book pummeling his critics and adversaries. Cheney’s personal and vitriolic attacks against Rice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, and others – along with his refusal to apologize for anything – comes across as more distasteful than usual for a man known for his brusque and aggressive manner. Cheney’s insistence in his book that the State Department was to blame for the lack of post-war planning in Iraq (the Department of Defense was charged with that) along with his refusal to backtrack from his beliefs that the Iraqi insurgency “was in its last throes” in 2005 (against mountains of evidence to the contrary) point to a deep-seeded stubbornness against facing reality and accepting any blame.
Such bitter contempt leaves the reader with a disdain for Cheney, and even Bush for giving Cheney so much credence. Meanwhile, Rice offers a more realistic and approachable account of her past eight years in office, providing her readers with a high-minded and insightful narrative and defense of her service.
While neither book offers salacious details or shocking scandals, if you are looking for a description of the complex, sophisticated inner-workings of policy at its highest levels in the international arena, Rice’s No Higher Honor is the way to go.
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