Prudence Bushnell was serving as United States Ambassador to Kenya in 1998 when al-Qaeda detonated a car bomb outside the embassy, killing over 200 people. In this memoir, Bushnell examines her actions during and after the attack. She also looks at the history leading up to the attacks, weaving in her own experiences in the State Department, as she attempts to piece together how they happened and how little the U.S. has grown form the experience. The same cannot be said for Bushnell, who candidly includes passages on her own emotional growth following the bombing. This book covers a lot of ground, but Bushnell is a more than capable guide, bouncing easily between the personal and policy sections.
One of the great strengths of this book resides in the fact that Prudence Bushnell is a diplomat, not a politician. Her recollections are sharp, insightful, and, most interestingly, critical. She has no problem examining the failures of the Clinton administration in funding embassy security, nor future administrations’ similar issues. Her frustrations with airing these concerns only to be met with silence is palpable. Similar sections also highlight the problems in Washington surrounding its continued approach to terrorism
In a lesser work, these moments might feel self-serving, but Bushnell carefully backs up her analysis with facts and experience. After all, her security vulnerability predictions proved correct after the bombing attack. Moreover, many of the grievances discussed later in the book about current State Department action, particularly funding, are still evolving, making this a troubling (though necessary) read.
While the bombing always remains at least in the periphery throughout this book, it’s not always the sole focus. Bushnell had a long career with the State Department, and it’s fascinating reading about her experiences maneuvering in such a male-dominated environment, and there’s a lot to be noted here about leadership. It’s insightful and provides a glimpse of how her worldview has developed and how it served her in her career. As well, the sections on serving in Rwanda and her post-retirement private sector careers are standouts.
Bushnell highlights a lot of problems the U.S. has navigating on the world stage. Much of this is disheartening and concerning. However, without spoiler, she ends this book with one of the most inspiring and optimistic passages I’ve ever read and is the real essence of this entire work.
Title: Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience: My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings
Author: Prudence Bushnell
Publisher: Potomac Books
Publication Date: October 01, 2018
Classification: Nonfiction, Politics
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.