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Inside Look as Secretary of State
on June 19, 2014
Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
"Hard Choices" is the insightful memoir of the hard political choices Hillary Clinton had to make during her four years as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. This detailed chronicle captures the difficulties of international diplomacy directly from Clinton's unique perspective. Clinton's incomparable resume includes: attorney, First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and accomplished author. This noteworthy 656-page book is broken out into the following six parts: 1. A Fresh Start, 2. Across the Pacific, 3. War and Peace, 4. Between Hope and History, 5. Upheaval, and 6. The Future We Want.
1. A professional, high-caliber book. Well-written and detailed account.
2. A fascinating look at international diplomacy. "This book is about choices I made as Secretary of State and those made by President Obama and other leaders around the world."
3. Excellent format. The book captures the most noteworthy foreign initiatives during Obama's first term as President. It's broken out by six parts and further by region and/or initiative.
4. No-nonsense approach. This is a serious account of the time leading up to and during her years as Secretary of State.
5. Explains her role as Secretary of State. "I quickly learned that being Secretary of State is really three jobs in one: the country's chief diplomat, the President's principal advisor on foreign policy, and the CEO of a sprawling Department." Throughout the book she explains in clear detail her relationships with key personnel, dignitaries, and world leaders.
6. The philosophy behind smart power, a recurring theme in the book. "For me, smart power meant choosing the right combination of tools---diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural---for each situation."
7. The pivot strategy of Asia. "A major goal of our strategy in Asia was to promote political reform as well as economic growth."
8. Many hard choices and the strategies behind them are illustrated throughout the book. The case of blind human rights dissident Chen as an example. "The Chinese are famously sensitive to protocol and respect of authority. We decided to use this to our advantage."
9. The types of world leaders. "In my travels I met at least three kinds of world leaders: those who share our values and worldview and are natural partners, those who want to do the right thing but lack the political will or capacity to follow through, and those who view their interests and values as fundamentally at odds with ours and will oppose us whenever they can."
10. The tumultuous dealings with Afghanistan and Pakistan. "We needed to get the Pakistanis invested in the future of Afghanistan and convince them they had more to gain from peace than from continued conflict."
11. Her admirable quest to make the world better for women. "In 2001 life expectancy for women in Afghanistan was just forty-four years. By 2012 it had jumped to sixty-two. Mortality rates for mothers, infants, and children younger than five all declined significantly."
12. The quest to get Bin Laden. Fascinating.
13. Interesting insights in dealing with international leaders. "Relations between nations are based on shared interests and values--but also on personalities. The personal element matters most in international affairs than many would expect, for good or ill." Many detailed examples given. The most powerful person in Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
14. Challenges in Europe, dealing with disputes such as Turkey-Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh sometimes referred to as "frozen conflicts".
15. The dealings with Putin are quite revealing. "Putin's true agenda, which was effectively to re-Sovietize Russia's periphery."
16. Dealing with Latin America. Drugs from Mexico, the rise of Brazil and Chile. Showcasing the power of women leaders.
17. The strategy behind Africa. "The Obama Administration's engagement in Africa would be built around four pillars: promoting opportunity and development; spurring economic growth, trade, and investment; advancing peace and security; and strengthening democratic institutions."
18. Dealing with the endless upheaval of the Middle East. Really showcases the art behind diplomacy. "The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people will never be satisfied until there is a two-state solution that ensures dignity, justice, and security for all Palestinians and Israelis."
19. Dealing with the Arab Spring. "The protests in Tunisia proved contagious. Thanks to satellite television and social media, young people across the Middle East and North Africa had a front-row seat to the popular uprising that toppled Ben Ali."
20. Lessons from history. "History had shown that it was one thing to remove a tyrant and quite another to build a new government that delivers for its people."
21. An interesting account on Benghazi. "More than a year later, in December 2013, the New York Times published the most comprehensive account to date of what happened in Benghazi based on `months of investigation' and `extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context.' The investigation concluded that, `Contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.'"
22. Oil diplomacy. "We were just as active in places like Angola, Nigeria, South Sudan, and the Persian Gulf, encouraging Iran's competitors to pump and sell more of their own oil, to keep the market balanced and prevent damaging price spikes."
23. Climate change diplomacy. "The problems posed by global warming were evident, despite the deniers. There was a mountain of overwhelming scientific data about the damaging effects of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases."
24. Fair trade diplomacy. "To make trade fairer as well as freer, developing countries have to do a better job of improving productivity, raising labor conditions, and protecting the environment."
25. The five broad challenges of energy diplomacy.
26. Digital diplomacy. The impact of new digital tools on expressing views and disseminating information. Getting the State Department to the 21st century. Threats to our security.
27. The issue of human rights. Homage to Eleanor Roosevelt. Women's rights, addressing violence against women. "I've always believed that good decisions in government, in business, and in life are based on evidence rather than ideology." I agree.
28. About a hundred photos of Hillary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State.
1. At 656 pages this book requires an investment of your time.
2. The book can be dry at times. This is a matter-of-fact book. Its tone is serious to a fault and unrelenting. There are a few humorous anecdotes but very few and far between. I enjoyed the few that were included: the can't trust a woman in a pantsuit reference, the food in the teeth routine, and my favorite "Texts from Hillary".
3. There is no doubt that Clinton held back. There is nothing really controversial in this book. She doesn't throw anyone under the bus and avoids personal attacks.
4. Lack of charts, maps (ok one world map early on but nothing more) or diagrams, timelines, and tables that would have added value to the book.
5. No notes or formal bibliography.
In summary, it was an investment of time but well worth it. Hard Choices lived up to the title, the book captured the many hard diplomatic decisions Clinton was involved with. She does a wonderful job of taking the reader behind the scenes of her meetings and captures the essence of the complexity of dealing with international leaders. Insightful, detailed, and an important account of history, Hard Choices is a must read. I recommend it!
Further recommendations: "Duty" by Robert M. Gates, "No Higher Honor" by Condoleezza Rice, "A Call To Action" by Jimmy Carter, "A Fighting Chance" by Elizabeth Warren, "Double Down: Game Change 2012" by Mark Halperin, "No Place to Hid" by Glenn Greenwald, "Legacy of Ashes" by Tim Weiner, "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, "My Beloved World" by Sonia Sotomayor, and "Diplomacy" by Henry Kissinger.