• September 3, 2015

International-Relations Professor to Advise on Bush Oral-History Project

International-Relations Professor to Advise on Bush Oral History Project 1

Kiron Skinner will influence how people remember George W. Bush.

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Kiron Skinner will influence how people remember George W. Bush.

When Kiron K. Skinner isn't explaining history and public policy on television and radio shows, she is likely to be busy running the international-relations program at Carnegie Mellon University. Or she may be serving on think-tank or policy-advisory panels or traveling to California for her work as a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Now she has another project to squeeze in, one that could affect how future generations will understand the troubled opening years of this century in America: She has been chosen to serve on the advisory board for the George W. Bush Oral History Project, to be conducted by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. The center has done similar projects on each president since Jimmy Carter.

Ms. Skinner, 48, has created oral histories herself. She interviewed statesmen who shaped policy at the end of the cold war, among them George P. Shultz, a former secretary of state, and Caspar W. Weinberger, a former secretary of defense.

"Often what's in the archives tells one story, and what's remembered and what's told verbally tells a different story," she says. "It helps a scholar to have both sides."

Ms. Skinner, an associate professor of international relations and political science, played a role in the Bush administration. She worked closely with Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense, as a member of the Defense Policy Board. She also wrote 2007's The Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons From Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin with three other authors, including Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state from 2005 to 2009.

Working with cabinet members gave Ms. Skinner insight into the challenges they faced after September 11, 2001. "The Bush administration was grappling with a huge paradigm shift" as it learned to cope with threats from terrorist groups rather than nation-states, she says.

She also saw officials' personal sides. She remembers that members of the Defense Policy Board were seated around the table by rank, and she once joked with Secretary Rumsfeld that she didn't like having junior people—including all the women—sitting at the back. The next day, the name cards were switched.

"I thought that was just an interesting human-interest story about this secretary of defense, who was seen as a very tough, macho guy," she says.

Ms. Skinner's long history of working with national leaders includes a stint as a research associate for Mr. Shultz—who served under President Ronald Reagan—when he was writing his 1993 memoir. They now work together at Hoover. "She did a very good job," Mr. Shultz says. "She's careful, scholarly, and a hard worker."

Ms. Skinner's parents were civil-rights activists in the 1960s, and she says she was inspired by their belief that "American ideals and values could trump the political realities of the day.

"That had the single most important effect on my interest in politics and my interest in policy, both domestic and foreign," Ms. Skinner adds.

She earned an associate degree from Sacramento City College, a bachelor's degree in political science from Spelman College, and a Ph.D. in political science and international relations from Harvard University. But while her interest in policy has grown, she remains firmly rooted in academe.

"At the end of the day, policy, if it means anything that's lasting, has to come from a solid intellectual foundation," she says.

Could she someday move into a prominent position in government related to national security or foreign affairs? "It wouldn't surprise me," Mr. Shultz says. "She's capable and very knowledgeable."

For now, Ms. Skinner will continue teaching and writing. She is an author or editor of seven books, including two New York Times bestsellers; her book Reagan: A Life in Letters was featured in a Time Magazine cover story.

Ms. Skinner says she particularly enjoys finding material that has not been widely seen—for example, some of President Reagan's writings—and analyzing it. "Combining that with interviews, with oral histories, to me is the most exciting part of my academic career," she says.

"I enjoy the work that I do," she says. "The various parts of my portfolio link to each other. There's enough overlap there that what I'm doing is scalable."


1. honore - May 30, 2010 at 10:12 am

Can we close this embarrassing chapter in American history already?
No, instead we continue to exploit these historical warts for political brownie points in H/E. Skinner's illustrious "intellect" would be better devoted to something equally as important like why Obama's dog is still not house-broken.

2. gloriawalker - June 02, 2010 at 11:42 am

Although I think her pursuit could be in other directions she has the right to make her own choices. Making remarks of as the one made by honore is below dirt. What have you done?

3. generally_academic - June 02, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Oral history--as in a history of his syntactic gaffs, incoherent statements, and outright lies? I'd pay to read that. (But not much.)

4. panacea - June 03, 2010 at 11:01 am

I wouldn't pay anything at all to read that.

I might use it as toilet paper, though.

gloria is right that Skinner has the right to make her own choices. The rest of us have the right to mock her when she makes such clearly bad ones.

5. 11159995 - June 07, 2010 at 06:48 am

Playing a role on an advisory board is one thing; conducting oral histories is another. One wonders how a scholar with such a partisan background can be truly objective--and ask the really tough questions--in conducting interviews of people whose political views she evidently shares? --- Sandy Thatcher

6. supertatie - June 07, 2010 at 07:24 am

Oh, enough already. All of you Bush-haters are like dogs chained in the same yard: pant pant, slaver slaver, bark bark. You can't think for yourselves, or even mouth anything that isn't the Leftist academe party line when it comes to George Bush. I'd wager the vast majority of you could not hold an intelligent conversation about the events that transpired during George Bush's presidency without lapsing into polemic and false statements easily disprovable with facts that YOU don't know about about, because you're so busy nudge-nudge-wink-winking each other about how cool you are cuz you all share the exact same viewpoint.

I'd say I've never seen such ignorance in my life, but as someone who has spent two decades in academe, I've seen plenty. You flatter yourselves that you're so outre, so forward-thinking, so countercultural. But in fact, you're all just a bunch of drones.

And the STUPIDEST statement (so far - dont worry, panacea, you'll get upstaged) is ANY academic suggesting that a historian should not record a part of history, because - WAAAAAAH! - "we don't like the guy!"

That is contemporary academe in a nutshell - "if we don't like it, it didn't happen! Don't talk about it! Don't study it! And above all, never, ever disagree with us! Because we are so fierce and intellectually potent that we will do horrible things like mock you."

You're pathetic.

7. nacrandell - June 07, 2010 at 07:51 am

Objectivity? - This "scholarly" attempt is comparable to Charles Manson's perspective on the Tata/LaBianca murders.

It is amazing how the Bush admnistration pushed for looking forward only - Donald Rumsfeld used this effectively, and now out of office everyone is trying to validate their actions through manipulation of history.

This is the time for Humanities/Liberal Arts to validate their jobs with careful research and reasoning of the information.

8. ichrysso - June 07, 2010 at 08:39 am

Bravo, supertatie!

Because liberals don't like Bush, they don't think we should have the very same study of him that was done to his predecessors? Seems to me to be very closed minded and antithetical to the mission of education.

I've said it before - for a bunch of folks who like to celebrate diversity in all facets of life, you are very closed minded when it comes to those with differing viewpoints.

9. nacrandell - June 07, 2010 at 10:58 am

"When we have mastered the false memory recipes, we will need to worry about who controls them. What brakes should be imposed on police, lawyers, advertisers? More than ever, we'll need to constantly keep in mind that memory, like liberty, is a fragile thing." - Elizabeth Loftus

Interesting article "The Memory Doctor" at http://www.slate.com/id/2256089/pagenum/all/

10. akprof - June 07, 2010 at 11:38 am

I agree that this is a topic that deserves serious study - if only so we can figure out how never to go there again.

11. getwell - June 07, 2010 at 02:47 pm

Regarding prior comments that repeatedly blame GWB for EVERYTHING: The Blame Game...The Blame Game...Enough already with The Blame Game!

I look forward to Dr. Skinner's intellectual input for this worthy oral history project. Hopefully, she will help put to rest, The GWB Blame Game:)

12. nacrandell - June 07, 2010 at 09:26 pm

From Carnegie Mellon's website:

"Skinner will be one of two historians on the board that also includes Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation and former U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, and Karl Rove, a former Bush senior advisor and deputy chief of staff. The board will advise on the project's implementation and development, recommend individuals most familiar with the Bush presidency to interview and work to bring attention to the project."

Since the archive documents will be classified for decades, it would be prudent to spread a pro-Bush oral history now. Especially since Rove has an obsession comparing Bush to Teddy Roosevelt.

13. generally_academic - June 11, 2010 at 03:07 am

Agreed, it's not about fixing blame or whining. It's about finding out how a presidency could go so wrong so badly, so we can remember how to prevent it from happening again.

I've lived through three of the four neo-fascist periods in American history [McCarthy/McCarren/Dies; Nixon; GW Bush/Cheney}, and every time it comes around again, its more sophisticated in its ablilty to buffalo the electorate, protect itself, and prolong its rule. This is obviously disturbing, and will require very thorough scholarship to understand its anatomy and physiology. While Skinner may not be objective, at least she will provide data we can use in this larger study.

FYI: "Fascism," as used here in reference to Bush/Cheney: A philosophy or system of government [here, the executive branch of our Federal government] that advocates or exercises central control [the "imperial presidency"] by the extreme right [proudly hard-line conservatives], typically through the merging of state and business leadership [Bush/Cheney and company were Big Oil people--not puppets, real Big Oil executives--who brought other Big Oil people into the administration, along with Big Bank people], together with an ideology of belligerent nationalism [does this need further confirmation?]. (Source: American Heritage Dictionary) QED

14. nacrandell - June 11, 2010 at 02:39 pm

#13 "While Skinner may not be objective; at least she will provide data we can use in this larger study."

There are two problems with this reasoning. First an incorrect hypothesis/belief should be isolated and not melded with truth or truthful interpretations. This will only allow the error to continue. Second, she is being paid to "objectively" write about her experiences, co-workers, and former employer or in short validate their actions.

As long as academics accept the treatment of history as a malleable tool, they will be treated as second-class citizens by politicians. Have we learned nothing from Chamberlain and his peace?

15. kemal - June 13, 2010 at 04:41 am

Ms. Skinner's parents were civil-rights activists in the 1960s, and she says she was inspired by http://www.travestisohbet.net their belief that "American ideals and values could trump the political realities of the day.

"That had the single most important effect on my interest in politics and my interest in policy, both domestic and foreign," Ms. Skinner adds.

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