Hard Choices, by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2015, 535 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
August 23, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) - Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former First Lady of the United States, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State, has written an insightful and finely calibrated work; Hard Choices. This book, or memoir, takes us inside national and international politics from the perspective of someone who has actually lived and breathed it for the majority of her life, making her eminently qualified to speak on subjects such as climate change or nuclear proliferation. Being the author of several bestselling books, including her memoir Living History, and her groundbreaking work on children, It Takes a Village, Clinton demonstrates her compassion and humanity in this book.
I actually had the opportunity to review this book and meet the author a year ago, when Clinton had a book signing and press event at Warwick’s Booksellers in La Jolla, California, which required me to go through secret service screening, but at the last minute I decided against it due to my having to travel approximately 200 miles from the Los Angeles area to the event in the early morning hours.
Hard Choices frames the overall story in Clinton’s “Author’s Notes”, as she states: “All of us face hard choices in our lives. Some face more than their share. We have to decide how to balance the demands of work and family. Caring for a sick child or an aging parent. Figuring out how to pay for college. Finding a good job, and what to do if you lose it. Whether to get married – or stay married. How to give our kids the opportunities they dream about and deserve. Life is about making such choices. Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become. For leaders and nations, they can mean the difference between war and peace, poverty and prosperity.”
If it is true that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, the 100 photos that Clinton includes in her book speaks volumes. One that stands out is her with President Obama and his national security team as they watch the Osama bin Laden raid on May 1, 2011. This is riveting! Another, is that of Chris Stevens being sworn in by Clinton as the new U.S. Ambassador to Libya in the State Department’s Treaty Room on May 14, 2012, which we are still feeling the effects of due to Stevens’ subsequent death in the Benghazi raid.
Perhaps most telling in this book that looks into the soul of the author, is her transition from fierce campaigner against now President Barack Obama, to his Secretary of State. Clinton speaks candidly in her book about how she resisted a number of overtures by President Obama at her being his choice for Secretary of State, and after a lot of soul searching and conferring with a number of trusted confidants, including her husband and former President Bill Clinton, she was made to realize that it was a logical choice for her. She chronicles in Hard Choices some major decisions she had to make with the Obama administration, such as her husband Bill having to give up holding overseas versions of the innovative philanthropy conference he had started, the Clinton Global Initiative, to avoid any perceived conflict. She states: “This was like a rerun of the final season of The West Wing; there, too, the new President-elect offers his defeated opponent the job of Secretary of State. In the TV version, the rival turns down the job at first, but the President-elect refuses to take no for an answer.” This is exactly how things played out for Clinton and Obama, and the country seems to be the better for it.
Clinton speaks of her first diplomatic mission as Secretary of State, her travels to Asia and engaging with Vietnam and other countries on a proposed new trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would link markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while ideally raising standards on labor, the environment, and intellectual property though the TPP has generated controversy and protests from some labor and environmental groups. The author states in her book: “As President Obama explained, the goal of the TPP negotiations is to establish ‘a high standard, enforceable, meaningful trade agreement’ that ‘is going to be incredibly powerful for American companies who, up until this point, have been locked out of those markets.’” Although Clinton was not around as Secretary of State to see the TPP come into fruition, clearly she helped pave the way, and this statement in her book is prophetic: “It’s safe to say that the TPP won’t be perfect – no deal negotiated among a dozen countries ever will be – but its higher standards, if implemented and enforced, should benefit American businesses and workers.”
A subsequent and very significant journey for Clinton involving Asia, concerns Burma and the celebrated Burmese dissident, Aung San Suu Kyi. The author indicated in her book that Suu Kyi carried the hopes of a nation on her shoulders, and exhibited the qualities she had glimpsed before in other former political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel. Decades of military dictatorship and economic mismanagement turned the country of Myanmar (Burma) into a poverty-stricken pariah, with Burma ranking among the world’s worst abusers of human rights, resulting in many years of imprisonment and house arrest for Suu Kyi. Clinton’s diplomacy while Secretary of State would change all of that. Clinton visiting Suu Kyi and Burma, Suu Kyi’s subsequent visit to the White House and President Obama, set the stage for democracy in her country. Clinton noted in her book that both President Obama and Suu Kyi were recipients of the Nobel Peace prize, and that while her husband Bill was President, he bestowed upon Suu Kyi America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The author gives a candid and poetic assessment of Burma, in particular the Irrawaddy River, through the words of George Orwell: “glittering like diamonds in the patches that caught the sun.” She reveals a side of her that perhaps many would be surprised by.
Clinton speaks warmly of her mother in this book, which speaks volumes. She indicates in Hard Choices that her mother overcame a difficult childhood with very little love or support, without going into specifics, and yet still figured out how to be a loving and caring mom to her and her brothers, Hugh and Tony. She took particular pride in her mother being there to see and experience the wedding of her daughter, Chelsea. This clearly is the softer side of Clinton. She speaks with such undeniable depth in this book, which makes for a rich and compelling read.
Jake Sullivan, who is referenenced numerous times and throughout Hard Choices, a former policy director and deputy chief of staff under Clinton at the State Department, arrived early Friday (9/4/2015) for what is expected to be a daylong session of testimony behind closed doors before the Select Committee on Benghazi. This should put in perspective this book.
With occasional humorous asides, like describing an offer by our nemesis Vladimar V. Putin, the Russian leader, to take Bill Clinton along on a polar-bear tagging expedition, this makes for interesting and engaging reading. With Clinton now running for President of the United States, Hard Choices could very well be an advance preview of the first female President, and surely to inspire other women such as my 22-year old daughter Brandy to think and believe that they can achieve whatever their hearts and minds desire.
Dennis Moore is the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine in San Diego and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, as well as a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.