By most accounts, Hillary Clinton’s new book, Hard Choices, released today, is boring. And that goes a long way toward explaining why she is not just the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination for presidency in 2016, but the smart money choice to win the White House.
Campaign books, for the most part, are meant to create a persona, to introduce someone, who much of the country only knows in passing, to a larger audience. Hillary Clinton does not need to do that. She has something approaching 100 percent name recognition in the U.S. That means she’s in the position, a good year before many of her prospective opponents, of dispensing with the “get-to-know-me” narratives and getting straight to the task of dismissing possible campaign issues before they get traction.
And she’s good at it. Last night, she appeared in an hour-long segment on ABC television touting her book with Diane Sawyer, and she swatted away questions about everything from the relatively fresh concerns about the terrorist attack on the U.S compound in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012, to the nearly two-decade-old scandal over her husband’s affair with a White House intern.
This is a woman who has lived in the public eye since her husband became governor of Arkansas in the 1980s. She’s been a First Lady of both a state and of the country, a U.S. senator, a presidential candidate, and the Secretary of State. At this point in her political career, Clinton can afford to be boring for a while. It may even be a plus.
She also knows how to deal with interview questions. Even the stupid ones.
For instance, asked whether her soon-to-be status as a grandmother might affect her ability to be president, she deadpanned, “Men have been serving in that position, being fathers and grandfathers, since the beginning of the Republic.”
The fact is that Hillary Clinton has spent so much of her life in the political wringer, there’s not a whole lot left to squeeze out. And that means that when she writes a book, she now does it largely on her own terms. She doesn’t need to answer a lot of questions she would rather not, and she can focus her energy on the messages she really wants to deliver.
Herewith are the nine main takeaways Hillary Clinton seems to want the public to internalize:
Clinton was in favor of taking out bin Laden
Another element of the book that provides little in the way of actual news is Clinton’s description of the events leading up to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. She has noted multiple times that she was in favor of the raid and worked to convince the president to authorize it, in contrast to her potential 2016 opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, who was worried it was too risky.
Clinton also uses the discussion of the bin Laden raid to paint a portrait of Obama as cool and collected under pressure.
Clinton knew Putin was trouble before he walked (back) in the door
Clinton’s much-discussed “reset” with Russia at the beginning of Obama’s first term has been the butt of more than a few jokes, but despite some hiccups, she did seem to have used a relationship with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to begin repairing frayed ties with the United States’ former cold war enemy.
However, Clinton also paints a picture of herself as a clear-eyed realist when it came to Vladimir Putin’s return to the Russian presidency. She writes that she urged Obama to be cool toward Putin, even including a memo in which she advised the president not to “flatter him with high-level attention.”
Hillary will stand up to China
Hillary tells the story of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who escaped from official custody and presented himself with an injured foot at the door of the U.S. embassy in Beijing. She relates desperate phone conversations with Chinese leaders, as both the U.S. and China struggled to avoid a diplomatic incident. In the end though, Clinton authorized State Department personnel to allow Chen into the embassy, writing that it wasn’t even “a close call.”
Apart form the Chen saga, she also notes multiple times where she advocated on behalf of U.S. businesses either struggling to get China to open its markets to outside firms, or facing potentially unfair competition from China’s state-supported industries.
Hillary supported the surge in Afghanistan
Clinton writes that in the internal debates over Afghanistan policy in the fall of 2009, she argued in favor of the controversial “surge,” during which President Obama sent tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops into the fight. With Obama now touting the pending withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, this looks like a good call.
However, she wants readers to know that it wasn’t an easy one. She was “under no illusions” about the difficulty of the path forward, “But all things considered, I believed that the President had made the right choice and put us in the best position to succeed."
Hillary is on everybody’s side in the Middle East
Clinton has a strong understanding of the problems of the Jewish state of Israel, and a solid working understanding of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. She absolutely supports Israel and she always has.
Clinton also has a strong understanding of the problems of the stateless Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, and absolutely respects their need for a state of their own.
Honestly, what else could she say? Presidents who are less than totally supportive of Israel in their public statements don’t get elected in the U.S. At the same time, the generations-long humanitarian crisis that is the Palestinian people is something no reasonable person can ignore. This is a punt, and nobody expected anything else.
Hillary has had quite enough of Benghazi, thankyouverymuch
Easily the most divisive element of her tenure as Secretary of State, Clinton could hardly avoid dealing with the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi Libya in 2011. She deals with it by claiming that she will not engage with her critics.
"I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans," she writes in a chapter that was strategically leaked to the media last week.
Of course, she does engage. Clinton spends the chapter defending her handling of the crisis as well as her leadership before it, stressing that she hired the most capable people available to assess the security needs of the country’s diplomats serving overseas.
Clinton thinks the U.S. didn’t do enough to overthrow Iran’s government
She writes about the negotiations that led to broad sanctions against Iran early in her tenure, after the Islamic republic continued to stonewall the international community on its efforts to enrich radioactive materials that could be used in weapons of mass destruction.
One interesting note is that she doesn’t believe the U.S. did all it could to support the Green Revolution of 2009, which ever-so-briefly appeared to challenge the government of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Hillary wanted to arm the rebels in Syria
The book doesn’t show a lot of disagreement between Clinton and Obama during her tenure at State, but she reveals that she argued strongly in favor of arming the rebels who have been in armed resistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for several years.
Clinton took the side of former CIA Director David Petraeus, who also believed that the best strategy would be to supply arms to the rebels, while closely monitoring the situation to make sure that Islamist extremist groups didn’t wind up benefiting from U.S. arms shipments.
She uses the discussion of her disagreement with the president to indirectly praise him for being open to all sides of an argument. She didn’t win the day, she concedes, but said that she felt she had been given the chance to make her case.
Hillary wants America to know she’s still not sure she’ll run for president
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