Happy Book Birthday to Prudence Bushnell’s memoir

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Birthday to Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience by Prudence Bushnell.


About the Book:

On August 7, 1998, three years before President George W. Bush declared the War on Terror, the radical Islamist group al-Qaeda bombed the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where Prudence Bushnell was serving as U.S. ambassador. Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is her account of what happened, how it happened, and its impact twenty years later.

When the bombs went off in Kenya and neighboring Tanzania that day, Congress was in recess and the White House, along with the entire country, was focused on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Congress held no hearings about the bombings, the national security community held no after-action reviews, and the mandatory Accountability Review Board focused on narrow security issues. Then on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. homeland and the East Africa bombings became little more than an historical footnote.

Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is Bushnell’s account of her quest to understand how these bombings could have happened given the scrutiny bin Laden and his cell in Nairobi had been getting since 1996 from special groups in the National Security Council, the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. Bushnell tracks national security strategies and assumptions about terrorism and the Muslim world that failed to keep us safe in 1998 and continue unchallenged today. In this hard-hitting, no-holds-barred account she reveals what led to poor decisions in Washington and demonstrates how diplomacy and leadership going forward will be our country’s most potent defense.


“The book is an autobiography, an investigation into the origins of the attack, and a lament about bureaucratic failings at the U.S. State Department, along with a discussion of how these might be addressed with better leadership. It is an angry book. Bushnell was told that she was overloading the circuits by pressing for better security, and the sloppy departmental response to the blasts still stings. Yet she also makes a compelling case that good diplomats can make a difference.”—Foreign Affairs

“Clearly, Ambassador Bushnell wants to put her personal stamp on the history of the August 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Her sensitive account is full of fascinating personal detail that will be of particular interest to the reader seeking to understand what it is really like to serve as a U.S. diplomat in these transitional times.”—The Cipher Brief

“Bushnell provides a poignant memoir of community healing and personal growth, accompanied by a raw and honest assessment of intelligence and security failures in the lead up to the attack. Her story captures the heartache and loss felt by the families of the victims and of the Foreign Service community, artfully demonstrating how weaknesses in national security bureaucracy and strategy can reverberate and result not only in diminished U.S. global standing but also in a devastating loss of life.”—American Diplomacy

“It is an ode to her pioneering work as a female ambassador and, just as important, it is a call for a shift in leadership philosophy within the government from a managerial mindset to one of active leadership… Her memoir serves as a powerful work laying bare what it is like to experience a terrorist attack.”—The Strategy Bridge

“I was only 10 when the Nairobi terror attack happened. I didn’t fully grasp what really happened until I read your book. I cried and smiled as I turned the pages, amazed at the sheer strength of the human spirit in times of danger… I am inspired and awed by her strength and resilience and want to share that with readers who were in one way or other affected by that catastrophic event.”—Judith Mwobobia, editor of Sunday Magazine

On the blog:

An Interview with former Ambassador Prudence Bushnell

Twenty years after the bombing, former Ambassador Bushnell shares what happened

New From Potomac Books

On Goodreads:

On Twitter:

A Word from the Author:

I came to two important conclusions as I talked about my book to audiences across the country. First, the story of August 7, 1998 resonates with Americans today. Academics, students, world affairs councils, Rotary and Kiwanis club members voiced interest and concerns that the post 9/11 wars continue to shatter the lives of millions of people, affect the well-being of veterans, increase the national debt, and show no good end in sight. They also relate to the tension between “doing things right” and “doing the right thing” in the workplace.

Second, the traditional choices of employing “hard” or “soft” power to influence world events are inadequate to successfully confront the human security and transnational threats we have been facing. As I spent 2019 marketing my book about al Qaeda terrorist attacks, I was also participating in interviews and discussions commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. So-called “soft” power, along with international indifference, did not stop the slaughter of 800,000 people in central Africa and two decades of “hard” power wars have not deterred terrorist tactics.

I devised the acronym, S.M.A.R.T., meaning Strategic. Moral. Achievable. Reliable. Transformative. to encourage innovative thinking about old and new problems. I am incorporating examples of S.M.A.R.T.—the Berlin Airlift, the Marshall Plan, the President’s initiative against HIV/AIDS—in my public talks to support a shift in how we evaluate historical events and analyze contemporary challenges. In contrast, I also mention the results of S.T.U.P.I.D. actions, i.e. Short-Term Unsuccessful Policies Ignoring Data. I am finding interest among students especially in a framework that introduces meaningful criteria to problem-solving. That is as exciting to me as the applause I get for the book.

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