The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2020
94 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL A Case Study in Leadership Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience: My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings Prudence Bushnell, Potomac Books, 2018, $29.95/hardcover, $29.95/ Kindle, 288 pages. Reviewed by Susan Brady Maitra Greater public understanding of and appreciation for professional diplomacy are essential to U.S. foreign and national security policymaking. In recent months, as an unintended conse- quence of the impeachment imbroglio, Americans have had the opportunity to get to know several members of the U.S. Foreign Service. They have heard firsthand about what career diplomats do, how they do it, where and why from the diplomats themselves, on national television and in the media. Prudence Bushnell’s memoir offers a similar opportunity to the ordinary American. It is a “day in the life” of a career American diplomat, unusual in its own right; but this wasn’t just any day, and the candor of the narrator is truly unique. In Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resil- ience , the retired Senior FSO presents a riveting account of the Aug. 7, 1998, al-Qaida bombing of American embas- sies in Kenya (where she was chief of mission) and Tanzania; it is not only readily accessible to John Q. Public, but a stirring read to boot. Beyond the compelling story, the strength and conviction of Bushnell’s voice naturally draw the reader into consideration of the event’s significance and the fundamental questions the experience raised—for the author as a female career diplomat and U.S. ambas- sador, for the Foreign Service, for the State Department and for U.S. foreign policy and national security. “This book is important for many reasons,” General Anthony Zinni, former CENTCOM commander, said in his endorsement of Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience . “It vividly presents a pro- file in courage; an understanding rarely appreciated about our Foreign Service men and women working in difficult assignments; a set of valuable lessons learned; and a case study in leadership during crisis.” The first part—“What Happened?”— starts with the day of the bombing, interjects a flashback on how the author got there, and proceeds through the days and months following the attack to Bushnell’s assignment as U.S. ambas- sador to Guatemala in 2002 and, finally, her retirement from the Foreign Service in 2005. Even if one is already familiar with the events, Amb. Bushnell summons so many vivid details of Aug. 7 and the days leading up to and after it, that the horror is fresh and the tragedy palpable. Special, and striking in this first-person account, is her fine attention to the aftermath—how she and others worked to come to terms with what had hap- pened, deal with the personal trauma, and find ways to lead and cultivate lead- ership in others through the wreckage. In part two—“How Did It Hap- pen?”—Bushnell explores how the bombings happened, in light of the scrutiny bin Laden and his cell in Nai- robi had come under since 1996 from the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies. She tracks and questions the national security strate- gies and assumptions about terrorism and the Muslim world that failed to keep the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassies safe in 1998, some of which remain unchallenged today. Bushnell also exposes the lethal combination of cowardice, callousness, shortsightedness and ineptitude among officials and politicians she dealt with on the matter, both before and after the attack, who routinely swept inconvenient truths under the rug, which led to incom- petent decision-making in Washington. Amb. Bushnell’s willingness to speak the truth to the powers that be, both for- eign and domestic, shines throughout this memoir. She was truly a modern- day Cassandra, whose counsel was ignored—by State Department seniors, the NSC, the interagency community and even the White House. Worse, her peers rebuked her for her temerity in continuing to urge the department to act to head off the tragedy that came. In the last section—“So What?”— Bushnell summarizes her own hard- won “lessons learned.” She reflects on these lessons from the perspective of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that occurred just three years after the Africa embassy bombings as well as the Benghazi BOOKS Amb. Bushnell’s willingness to speak the truth to the powers that be, both foreign and domestic, shines throughout this memoir.