Hard Choices: To Read or Not to Read Hillary’s Book

Max Neuman, ‘16 and Liana Van Nostrand, ‘16

Much to the delight of pantsuit enthusiasts, 2016 prognosticators, and foreign policy wonks everywhere, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her time as Secretary of State, Hard Choices, was released in June 2014. Although not a career stateswoman, Ms. Clinton seems to navigate her post as America’s top diplomat with relative ease. She rightly attributes some of her success to her incredible and accomplished staff. Although the cover jacket promises “a master class in international relations”, readers with even a basic knowledge of international events that occurred between 2009 and 2013 will be disappointed by her analysis, which is cursory when it appears over the course of this difficult-to-categorize narrative.

The cover identifies the book as a memoir, but Ms. Clinton’s work only technically qualifies as one. It lacks the struggle and grit contained in the most moving memoirs, for in her attempt to straddle two genres, Ms. Clinton falls short of both. Hard Choices lacks the analytical rigor of political nonfiction without providing the personable tone of a true memoir. The book is a watered-down summary of her travels and encounters with foreign leaders, but nonetheless provides an enjoyable look into the life of one of the United State’s most recognizable faces.

What the text lacks in substance, it makes up for in patriotism. Readers interested in pro-America rhetoric will be delighted by all 600 pages of it. Throughout the text, Ms. Clinton reiterates that American values are the highest ideals to which an individual or a nation can aspire, though she tempers her national allegiance with the conciliatory tones of an experienced negotiator. She does, however, take a controversial stance on one hot-button issue: she advocates for Palestinian statehood and notes its necessity for peace in the region. Although the Obama administration officially agrees with her on the topic of a Palestinian state, Ms. Clinton is far more adamant in her arguments than the restrained American line. As tempers and turmoil flare across the Gaza strip today, her deviation from the hard line is all the more notable. As a diplomat, however, it is perhaps no surprise that she believes smart power to be a superior alternative to traditional American hawkishness as a means to assert the values she lauds.

As a public figure, Ms. Clinton takes pains to stay relatable to the American public. To cultivate an empathetic image, three photographical sections are included. The photos range from intimate hotel-room photos of Ms. Clinton and Bono playing a piano while President Bill Clinton looks on to a posed group photo of the foreign ministers of the G8 (now the G7). These photos complement the narrative by depicting specific events that Ms. Clinton mentions, such as her meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. The snapshots have a humanizing effect upon the events of Ms. Clinton’s tenure, and also provide occasional relief from Ms. Clinton’s high-stakes game, which is greatly appreciated given the serious and saddening issues she faces.

Of all twenty-five chapters, one of the most captivating and emotional is “Benghazi: Under Attack,” as Ms. Clinton recounts the 2012 attack on the US embassy compound in Benghazi, Libya, where four American lives were lost. She details not only the actions she took that day, but also her deep feelings of loss and remorse. Although these sorrowful passages are not very original, they are touching and sincere. This standout chapter is morbidly captivating. It exemplifies the excitement of observing some of the world’s most significant events from a first-class seat. Ms. Clinton uses contrition and reaffirmation of her commitment to the safety and values of Americans to ward off any resurgence of the election-stirred vitriol that was directed against Ms. Clinton and President Obama in the wake of the attack and ensuing scandal.

Hard Choices is, at heart, an account written for people who have already made at least an initial foray into Ms. Clinton’s world of American foreign policy.  Readers who prefer their action on the frontlines rather than a negotiating table may be bored by the text. Although no such editing and vetting was disclosed, the text reads as if it has been significantly influenced and subsequently approved by her party and publicist alike. Readers with a critical eye and an established interest in foreign policy will enjoy reading Hard Choices not because they agree with Ms. Clinton, but because she provides ample opportunity for readers to dissect America’s message and actions abroad during her tenure. If you are a foreign policy buff or would like a window into the Obama administration’s diplomatic and political ventures, then selecting this book is, for once, an easy choice.

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