Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoir of her time as secretary of State isn’t officially being released until Tuesday, but thanks to a deluge of excerpts, we already know most of what’s in the book, and that makes it easy to figure out why she wrote it.
If there was any remaining doubt that Clinton is planning to run for president, “Hard Choices“ should remove it.
Her spokespeople insist that she hasn’t made the final decision. But she’s propping the door wide open with her 656-page bestseller-to-be.
Judging from the excerpts, the memoir Clinton chose to write is a classic campaign book, a finely calibrated dance between candor and blandness, with blandness winning most of the time.
Only a few Washington memoirs ever “tell all“ or anything close. The best recent example is former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s “Duty,“ practically a bodice ripper for policy wonks. It called Vice President Joe Biden “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy issue” for 40 years. Translation: I don’t want another job, so I can say what I really think.
Clinton’s memoir is the other kind: the “tell just enough” book. It isn’t completely devoid of news, but the news nuggets all serve a purpose: making the author look like just the kind of person you might want to have in high office.
There’s sober statesmanship: “To succeed in the 21st century,” she writes, “we have to use all of America’s strengths to build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries, more shared responsibility and fewer conflicts, more good jobs and less poverty.” Anybody out there disagree?
There’s the glass ceiling; Clinton doesn’t mind telling us that even as secretary of State, she sometimes ran into sexism. Her favorite proposed title for the book, she says, was “The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It’s Still All About My Hair.”
Despite the title, there’s a long list of easy choices, foreign policy positions that should be likable enough in 2016. Clinton says she supported President Obama’s decision to OK the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, even though Biden (remember him?) was “skeptical.” She spends many pages detailing her fierce protectiveness toward Israel and her skepticism toward Iran. She notes (accurately) that she was an early proponent of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, although the word “pivot” turned out to be a headache.
She cannily tackles her biggest negatives head on: Her 2003 vote in favor of George W. Bush’s war in Iraq (I “got it wrong. Plain and simple”) and the security failures that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 (with essentially the same answers she’s been offering for two years).
And, in the most interesting tidbits, she makes it clear that she differed with Obama on some issues: arming Syrian rebels (that divide was already well known), on being tough on Russia’s Vladimir Putin (she says she would have been tougher), on pushing Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak out of power (she counseled more caution), and on avoiding a clash with Israel over settlements in the West Bank. I’ll write more about those issues once I’ve had time to plow through the whole book.
The upshot: Clinton’s not going to run on Obama’s record. Which is exactly what any smart campaign strategist would advise.