By Patricia Lee Sharpe
Take the time to read Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices. Read it carefully and take it seriously, as many critics have not. Instead, having salivated in anticipation of its publication date, they swooped in, intending to gorge on juicy (but highly unlikely) revelations, then panned the actual book. It isn’t the tell-all exposé they’d prayed for.
Gossip’s Not the Point
For one thing—and wisely, not coyly, as some critics believe—Clinton, in these pages, limits herself to confessing she’s still weighing the pros and cons of making another run for the presidency. Whether she’s even leaning this way or that, she doesn't tell. And thank goodness for that! Spring 2014 is way too early for presidential hat-tossing. Her reticence is a grace note for ordinary Americans who feel that presidential campaigns are much too long.
Meanwhile, others sneer that Hard Choices is “merely” a campaign tool allowing Clinton to test the waters while ostensibly just signing books. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Nor with the fact that little or nothing on any page can hurt her much. What kind of an idiot commits political suicide? Should she decide to run, however, there’s much worth gleaning here. Above all, voters would know beyond a doubt that we’d have with her, for the first time since George H.W. Bush was on the scene, a president who understood from the get-go how the world works and how to work with it.
So Hard Choices is not gossipy. It's certainly not a long delayed sob story, even as Monica Lewinsky attempts to rake up the sordid sex life of the 42nd president. Never ever expect Hillary Clinton to spill her guts about her partnership with Bill, although she does expose her deep love for her daughter Chelsea. Unlike the recent memoirs of Robert Gates, it’s not sprinkled with snarky put downs of erstwhile colleagues either. Yet, for all that she avoids gratuitous personal pot shots at political opponents, Clinton does, as relevant, acknowledge differences of opinion on policy-making.
What’s Wrong with Solid and Reliable?
Some would say that Clinton is simply playing it safe in Hard Choices. I don’t think so. The Hillary we get here is the real thing. Intelligent. Conscientious. Earnest. Hard-working. Intense. Straightforward. Principled and pragmatic. Not flamboyant. Not bombastic. Not vicious. And so, maybe, a trifle boring, as serious people are often held to be.
No, Clinton’s not a drama queen, and thank god for that. There’s already enough drama in today’s world. To those who think they’d prefer a more exuberant political performer at center stage, I suggest a hard look at a powerful politician who dominates Europe without pizzaz or a wasp waist: Angela Merkel. She doesn’t seem to have a unified grand theory of diplomacy either, but wow! Whether or not you agree with her all the time, Merkel, these days, puts every other European politician in the shade.
What! No Grand theory?
Hillary Clinton set out to write a book about her role in the formation (maybe not so much) and carrying out (tirelessly) of U.S. foreign policy as Secretary state in the first Obama administration, a task at which some say she failed. The dreadful deficiency? She never evolved a grand theory to guide the Obama administration’s encounters with the rest of the world. The touchstone for this criteron? Something on the order of George Kennan’s policy of containment, which worked so well during the Cold War.
These critics don’t seem to have noticed how much simpler the world was back then. Bipolar is the modern word for it. Facing a credible threat of nuclear war, it fell to the U.S. to blunt the U.S.S.R.’s geographic and ideological ambitions until that sudden implosion in 1989. To a very large extent the richer state won, although it feels much better to say that the better system won, which I can’t help thinking was no less true. Unfortunately, today’s world is anything but the harmonious unipolar system imagined by American triumphalists contemplating the rubble of the Berlin Wall. For one thing, they overlooked the possibility that countries getting richer—China, Brazil, et. al.—would seek the equivalent in power and influence as well. Worse, who dreamed that the U.S. would also have to deal with a proliferation of non-state actors whose tactics, weapons and dedication make for a serious threat?