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Hillary Clinton's bloodless memoir

  • 04 July 2014

Hard Choices, by Hilary Rodham Clinton. Simon and Schuster, 10 June 2014.


In an era of risk assessment and parsed avowal, memorable political memoirs tend to strut, rather than tiptoe. Hard Choices does neither, sashaying past crises with measured grace (or is it calculated resignation?) and pirouetting around presidents past and present.

That's a deliberate choice, I'd say, as the prospect of another Democratic nomination/presidential campaign for one Hillary Rodham Clinton means her dance card's far from full.

This was akin to reading a carefully vetted resume. An intelligent and formidable first lady, senator and Secretary of State, and no shrinking violet (as the Clinton family's dramas have shown), the author presents a largely passionless, desiccated record.

There's the odd poignant reflection. Absurd depictions of Mel Brooksian secure rooms (and the reading of documents with a blanket over her head in non-secure rooms). But, overall, Clinton draws pictures without drawing blood. Readers gain atoms of insight as she and Bill take long nature walks and chat. They watch a movie with Chelsea. Hillary sidles alongside Bono to tickle the ivories at a private function held after Nelson Mandela's funeral. Adoring university students ask the Secretary of State adorable questions.

Policies emanated respectively from, in the author's offhand phraseology, 'Obamaworld and Hillaryland'. These fiefdoms were run respectively by the president and by his 'chief diplomat ... principal advisor on foreign policy, and the CEO of a sprawling Department'. You could be forgiven for wondering who made the big calls.

It's an occasionally illuminating but disappointing canvass; a sometimes mawkish result for a person of intellect and vision who's inspired and divided millions, if not billions. Perhaps I was naive to expect anything more forthright.

A formula ensues in the selective retelling: hubris, 'ethics vs national interest' discourse, and manifest destiny. Atrocities, dictators, American power and prestige. Allies, creeps and gaffes; wins, evasions and losses. Sticky diplomatic situations are resolved or dismissed, as the author works her 'Smart Power' magic (military might plus financial/diplomatic/legal/cultural muscle).

Sometimes, she notes, acting ethically is prompted by the desire to not lose face. Enter famed Chinese 'barefoot lawyer' Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights advocate who 'was injured, on the run, and asking for our help'. It's one of several engaging retellings of dramatic events.

Paradoxically, Clinton contends that 'even more than our military and economic power, America's values are the greatest source of strength and security' while noting that 'our credibility was on the