The Back Channel: Brutally frank assessment of Trump’s wrecking job on US diplomacy

Review: William J Burns’s meticulous record is rich in pen portraits, anecdote and description

“Donald Trump’s America First sloganeering stirred a nasty brew of belligerent unilateralism, mercantilism, and unreconstructed nationalism.”

“Donald Trump’s America First sloganeering stirred a nasty brew of belligerent unilateralism, mercantilism, and unreconstructed nationalism.”

Full disclosure. Bill Burns and I were classmates in the international relations programme at Oxford University. In the early 1980s we embarked on sometimes parallel careers, he as a US diplomat, I as a journalist. Though our relations were cordial, I have seen Burns only three times, and briefly, since leaving university.

Burns was a soft-spoken but articulate, unflappable, intelligent and prematurely wise student. The word at Oxford was that he would be the first to “make ambassador”.

He mastered Arabic and Russian, served as US envoy to Amman and Moscow, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, undersecretary for political affairs and finally as deputy secretary of state. Only one other career diplomat has risen so far.

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