Political Book Summaries, Reviews and Opinions

Political Book Summaries, Reviews and Opinions

Letter to a new President: Summary (Chapters 7-10)

Letter to a new President

Commonsense Lessons for our Next Leader

By: Robert C Byrd with Steve Kettmann

Chapter 1

Chapters 2 – 3

Chapters 4 – 6

Chapters 7 – 10



Chapter Seven
We can do better than Photo-op Diplomacy

“My belief in the good of the average American has never changed, but these are dangerous currents and must be identified as such.” Letter to a new President, Page 127
“Historians are unlikely to be kind to Powell’s successor, Condoleezza Rice.” Letter to a new President, Page 130
“It’s time we learn again just how to use [our] influence so that we may not have to use [our]power.” Letter to a new President, Page 134 


People are moved inherently to obey authority. It’s human nature. This obedience is part of how Americans (69%) came to believe that Saddam Hussein was in some way responsible for 9/11. This absolute failure in our system to communicate foreign policy and issues to people needs to be seen for what it is, a disaster.


Madeline Albright was the model of a successful Secretary of State. At first, I was worried that her frequent press briefings would lead to a decreased focus on the hard work that needed to be done. I was relieved though to see that she balanced the hard work well with the desire to help foster a national debate on foreign policies. Condoleezza Rice focused almost entirely on the image of foreign policy, rather than the handwork required to accomplish our goals. Despite being a supposed expert on Russia, she and Bush were outplayed by Putin year after year. We need to more back to a Foreign policy and level of Diplomacy that centers on a willingness to listen to their concerns, not atmospheric photo ops

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Robert Byrd

B-Note | Posts | Wiki

George Bush

B-Note | Posts | Wiki

The Greatest Story Ever Sold
Summary | Review

I did not like this chapter very much. It was really unorganized and the thoughts seemed to ramble and lose cohesion. It starts with Nazi’s and obedience, ties that into 9/11, complains about the press, segues to negative campaign commersials being less about substance than emotion, does the same about campaigns, and then disses Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and elevating Madeline Albright.


There isn’t really any discussion at all of photo ops. I re-read the chapter and don’t see any clear definition of what “photo-op diplomacy” means. So, the chapters not a waste, but it doesn’t carry any sort of driving point and then ends in whimper.


Chapter Eight
A new approach to the rest of the world: Influence

  “Powell was absolutely correct: Promicing elements had been left on th table.” Letter to a new President, Page 137 “The sad saga of recent U.S. relations with North Korea offers a case study in the need for eac and every administration to worry first and foremost about getting the kob done.” Letter to a new President, Page 139

There my have been flaws in Clinton’s foreign policy, but in regards to achievments in North Korea, it was a resounding success. Due to a 1994 agreement, North Korea made exactly zero progress towards nuclear weapons while on Clinton’s watch. Towards the end of Clinton’s terms they were moving towards a more longterm agreement, one Colin Powell was excited about moving forward on. But the Bush team followed the ABC strategy, Anything But Clinton. They quickly froze all diplomacy with North Korea, threw empty threats at North Korea labeling them an axis of evil, and then personally mcking their leader. The result was North Korea abandoned the 1994 agreement and now has nuclear bombs. In those final years of the Clinton Administration, Pew Polls conducted around the world showed positive Opinions of America amongst most of the world. Bush put an end to that too.


Turkey, a key muslim nation and member of NATO, with the largest standing army in Europe and close US ally, was insulted by the Bush Administration. In this important country, prior to Bush, 52% of Turks held a positive view of America. In 2007, the last polls showed that number had fallen to 9%.


Use your diplomats new President. Strengthen America’s influence and use it wisely. Don’t excercise knee-jerk diplomacy that insults our enemies and decreases our influence. For many years many presidents have appointed friends and donors and cronies to diplomatic missions, but diplomacy is too important to be passed off to mere donors.

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Positive Opinions world wide, before/after Bush Poland: 86/61
Brittain: 83/51
Argentina: 50/16
Canada: 71/55
Germany: 78/30
Turkey: 52/9 Page 140

This was a much better chapter. The best one so far. I had no idea how close Clinton was to treaty with North Korea, nor how badly Bush F’d that up. It was also creepy seeing the numbers of positive opinions of America drop the world over. You have to wonder if that has really made us safer. How has it helped us for Bush to have insulted North Korea and their leader? How did it help America to drive away Turkey? Isn’t that the exact right country to get closer relations with?


Chapter Nine
Less Partisan Warfare, more debate

“I prefer, however, to urge that we take it as a given that both sides have become far too committed to partisan warfare…” Letter to a new President, Page 155,

“That’s where power really is. It’s about time we go back to that again.” Letter to a new President, Page 121
Long ago as former-Majority leader and then current-Minority Leader, I was met on the Senate floor by the new Majority Leader. He offered me a deal of bipartisanship, I took it and I’m gad I did, for I felt at the time as I do now, that the country benefits more from bipartisanship than endless partisan wrangling. I could recall and list the numerous partisan barbs that I have noted in the past few years, instead, I’ll assure you it wasn’t always this bad, and it needs to get better.In 1985 I went to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev to hand deliver a note from President Reagan. It might be strange in today’s political landscape to imagine a Republican President sending a ranking Democrat on such an important diplomatic mission, but whatever our political differences, I was there to work hand in hand with our President for the same goals. Attorney General Ashcroft too, in the end, demonstrated a zeal for bipartisanship.

I would ask that you move beyond this partisanship. Go to the good book, heed the words, and find forgiveness. Now is the time to look forward, not back, to move beyond partisan war rather than seek political revenge.

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B-Note| Posts | Wiki


B-Note| Posts | Wiki

A decent chapter. There’s a big part in the middle about Attorney General Ashcroft. I’ve never been particularly impressed with the whole story. I mean, Ashcroft approved the thing lots of time. He wasn’t standing up on principle, he agreed with the thing, he was standing up for work-place ettiquette. Essentially, it’s my offday. Talk to my assistant. So maybe if someone reads this they can explain for me why it’s such a big deal that the encounter has been in several books and discussed so much on cable tv. (hmm, sorry for the rant)Otherwise it’s a decent chapter. But everyone always talks about how bad Partisanship is. Just before and after they engage in it. Only a few chapters before this he was  comparing the Republicans to Nazis. Ah well. Politics my friends, politics.


Chapter Ten
Don’t forget the basics: Have the time to reflect

“You must lead us towards a new concensus on not settling for fake discussion and fake debate.” Letter to a new President, Page 172,

“My humble and profound hope is that [this letter] may leave you with, if nothing else, something to think about. – Senator Robert C. Byrd” Letter to a new President, Page 173

When I was a boy I accidentially broke a neighbors window, afraid of getting a wupping, I pleaded for the neighbor to not tell my dad and let me pay for it instead. It took a long time for me to earn up the money to replace the window. Night after night I slept on my problem, and how I’d make up the money to fix it. I have come to appreciate a good nights sleep in helping to come to a fresh perspective on various problems I face. New President, in the ever increasing speed of this world it’s easy to forget to stop, pause, and think on a matter. So take the time to reflect on the problems facing our country.

Patience is a virtue that, in many ways, our society is losing. You see it in our entertainment and our behaviors. And you saw it in the previous administration. The example was the rush to war. When the international community was asking for patience to come up with a US resolution and for the inspecters to find real evidence, Bush declared his patience was out. We know how well that decision worked for America.

You must move us beyond this. You must move beyond the dog-and-pony shows we’ve been given, you must be able to think deeper than that.

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The book ends on a bit of a personal reflective tone. He talks about his past, and (swear I’m not teasing) complains about the kids of this generation moving too fast. He gives several examples of how everything has spead up and how he prefers the movies of the thirties, which were slow enough you “could sit down and enjoy”. It was very amusing in the sense that he’s an old man complaining about the “those darned kids now-a-days”
. But the larger point was interesting, and that was essentially, sit down, think the matter over, and don’t be impatient.

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