Burns tells many good stories of cabbages and kings. But his principal concerns run much deeper. At this crucial moment of shifting power and global unease, American diplomacy is adrift. No longer enjoying singular dominance in world affairs, the United States remains the ‘pivotal power’, without which nothing substantial can be achieved on the international stage and much can be lost.
William Burns ranks among the foremost American diplomats of his generation, serving five presidents and 10 secretaries of state. His memoir is a plain-spoken defence of an unfashionable craft. It is also a testament to the perils of wishful thinking in US foreign policy...Burns is refreshingly candid about the use and abuse of US power in the second half of his 30-year career...He deplores the attacks on career diplomats which are reminiscent of the McCarthy era. Yet he acknowledges the need for reform, not just of the state department bureaucracy but also via a new domestic compact after the “militarisation” of diplomacy in recent years. This is the precondition for America’s adjustment from hegemon to “pivotal power” status with China.