Hand-Off details the Bush administration’s national security and foreign policy as described at the time in then-classified Transition Memoranda prepared by the National Security Council experts who advised President Bush. Thirty of these Transition Memoranda, newly declassified and here made public for the first time, provide a detailed, comprehensive, and first-hand look at the foreign policy the Bush administration turned over to President Obama. In a postscript to each memorandum, these same experts now in hindsight take a remarkably self- critical look at that Bush foreign policy legacy after more than a dozen years of watching subsequent administrations attempt to deal with the same vexing agenda of threats and opportunities-- China, Russia, Iran, the Middle East, terrorism, proliferation, cyber, pandemics, and climate change—an agenda that still dominates America’s national security and foreign policy.
Hand-Off will be an invaluable resource for scholars, students, policy analysts, and general readers seeking to understand afresh the Bush administration’s foreign policy, particularly in view of the records of the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations.
Stephen J. Hadley served for four years as the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs from 2005 to 2009. From 2001 to 2005, Mr. Hadley was the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, serving under then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. He resides in Washington, D.C.
Peter D. Feaver served as Special Advisor for Strategic Planning and Institutional Reform on the National Security Council Staff at the White House from 2005 to 2007. He is currently a Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University. He resides in Durham, North Carolina.
William Inboden served as Senior Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Council Staff and also on the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. He is currently the Executive Director of the Clements Center for National Security and associate professor at the LBJ Policy School, both at the University of Texas, Austin.
Meghan L. O’Sullivan was special assistant to President George W. Bush and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007. She is currently the Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs and the Director of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. She resides in Boston, Massachusetts.
[A] tour d’horizon of the international challenges that awaited Mr. Obama and his team in January 2009…. As enlightening as the memos are, however, they also underscore that major challenges on the international stage are rarely solved for good, but instead are bequeathed from one administration to another, even in evolved form. So too are the successes and failures.
The book is a valuable window into what senior officials were thinking at the time and makes a notable contribution to governmental transparency.
An impressive contribution to Applied History that shows the Bush administration learning from history to help subsequent administrations build on their success and learn from their failures.
Stephen Hadley always has been and remains a thoughtful and candid public servant, one who puts his country’s national interest on the very highest shelf. Above all, he understands well what philosopher George Santayana meant when he said: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” This Hadley-edited book, Hand-Off, is a frank examination of the eight years of foreign policy of President George W. Bush, whom Steve served for four years as National Security Advisor and four years as Deputy National Security Advisor. An honest critique of both the strengths and weaknesses of that administration during a critical time in U.S. history, Hand-Off is a must read for anyone who wants a good understanding of how foreign policy was formulated and implemented under President Bush.
These national security transition memoranda, attachments, and, perhaps most importantly, the postscripts, constitute an invaluable resource for policy makers and historians. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a veteran of two White Houses, I particularly appreciate how helpful these materials will be in ensuring future transitions serve the country well from a national security point of view.
Presidential transitions are fraught with risk, particularly when thousands of Americans are in harm’s way as one administration passes the baton to the next. This volume provides invaluable insights as to how the Bush administration prepared to hand off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention persistent terrorist threats and other brewing crises) to the Obama administration. Whether one is a fan or critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, there is much to be learned from these newly declassified materials and many lessons to be applied to reduce national security risks in future presidential transitions.
Reading this book is a rare privilege to understand the navigator’s choices when charts are unclear and pathways forward are critical.
This is a brilliant, powerful work of transparency. Serious people writing about declassified Top Secret and Secret transition memos that many of them had a hand in writing. I have covered nine presidential transitions going back to Nixon-Ford in 1974. Transitions are among the most dangerous times for our nation. Witness Trump-Biden and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. These memos tell us a lot about the foreign policy Bush passed to Obama, what came after, and what stabilizing and timeless lessons can be learned.
Headlines and spin come and go, but history and substance endure—a great truth amply illuminated by this landmark book. Historians and citizens alike will benefit enormously from this unusual offering of real-time memoranda and retrospective analysis. The result is an essential contribution to the literature not only of the American presidency, but of democracy itself.
1/25/23, The Fox News Rundown podcast: Dana Perino and Michael Allen talked about the book in this segment.
Apple link: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/why-trey-gowdy-doubts-doc-drama-will-lead-to-any-charges/id1303660358?i=1000596477350
2/16/23, MSNBC Morning Joe: Stephen J. Hadley joined the show to discuss the book with Mika Brzezinski.
2/16/23, Lawfare’s Chatter podcast: Stephen J. Hadley reflected on presidential transitions in this interview with David Priess.
2/14/23, New York Times: The book was prominently featured in this piece.
2/17/23, The Times: Stephen J. Hadley’s book was highlighted in this piece.
2/21/23, The FOX News Rundown: Stephen J. Hadley joined the episode to discuss the strategy in Biden’s trip to Ukraine.
2/22/23, NBC’s Meet the Press NOW: Stephen J. Hadley was interviewed and talked about how foreign policy transitions from one administration to the next.
2/22/23, CSIS Building the Future podcast: Stephen J. Hadley discussed lessons from his book in this episode.
2/23/23, WirtschaftsWoche: Stephen J. Hadley is interviewed and shared his concerns about Ukraine.
2/24/23, Horns of a Dilemma (War on the Rocks): Stephen J. Hadley’s talked about the book in this episode.
3/1/23, FOX News America’s Newsroom: Stephen J. Hadley commented on tackling the China threat in this segment.
3/1/23, Radio Free Europe: Stephen J. Hadley provided insights on what led to the war in Ukraine.
3/1/23, The Lars Larson Show: Stephen J. Hadley discussed the likelihood of a war with China.
3/3/23, NewsNation: Stephen J. Hadley talked about how Putin changed U.S.-Russia relations.
3/4/23, CNN’s Smerconish: Peter Feaver commented on the war in Ukraine.
3/7/23, FINCast podcast: Will Inboden joined Juan Zarate and Michele Malvesti to talk about the book.
3/17/22, POLITICO: Stephen J Hadley was interviewed about the war in the Middle East, his perception of China’s growing challenge to the U.S., and his advice to future national security advisers.
3/16/23, The New Yorker: Stephen J. Hadley and the book were mentioned in this article about the Bush administration.
3/16/23, CNN’s Amanpour: Christiane Amanpour interviewed Stephen J. Hadley about the book.
3/9/23, The Washington Post: This book was featured in David Ignatius’ foreign affairs column.
3/17/23, POLITICO Playbook Deep Dive podcast: Stephen J. Hadley was interviewed about what Bush got right and wrong on China.
3/7/23, The Dispatch: Stephen J. Hadley commented on China relations in this piece.
3/23/2023, One Decision (Global Situation Room) podcast: Stephen J. Hadley talked to Julia Macfarlane and Sir Richard Dearlove about the book.
Tweet link: https://twitter.com/onedecisionpod/status/1640670356410187779?s=20
4/14/23, Liberty Law Talk:Co-editor Will Inboden joins host Rebecca Burgess in this episode.
3/30/23, This Morning with Gordon Deal: Stephen J. Hadley talked about the relationship between Xi Jinping and Putin.
3/29/23, Fox News Radio: Stephen J. Hadley commented on Russia’s war strategy in this segment.
3/27/23, MSNBC – Andrea Mitchell Reports: Stephen J. Hadley commented on the Israel political crisis.
3/17/23, POLITICO: Stephen J. Hadley talked to Phelim Kine about the book.
4/29/23, Foreign Policy: feature article highlights the book and says, “Perhaps the most valuable peek inside what previous U.S. administrations really thought is the newly declassified set of transition memoranda prepared by the outgoing George W. Bush administration for the incoming Obama administration in late 2008 and early 2009. Recently declassified by former President Bush and edited by former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, the collected analysis of the world as seen by the Bush National Security Council is available to the public from the Brookings Institution Press in Hand-Off: The Foreign Policy George W. Bush Passed to Barack Obama.”
4/20/23, Carnegie Endowment for Peace: The contributors discuss the book in this virtual event, The China Policy George W. Bush Passed to Barack Obama.
Link: https://carnegieendowment.org/2023/04/20/china-policy-george-w.-bush-passed-to-barack-obama-event-8075YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4-JaayOFgY
5/24/23, Center for Strategic & International Studies: CSIS streamed the event with Stephen J. Hadley.
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYwMqQUanQA
7/31/23, Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson / Hoover Institution: Stephen J. Hadley and Condoleezza Rice were interviewed by the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson in a wide-ranging conversation about the book.