‘Hard Choices’ is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s account of the challenges she faced as America’s 67th Secretary of State between 2009 and 2013 during Barack Obama’s first term as President of the United States. Covering major world events including the global financial crisis, the Arab Spring, wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and the continuing global challenges of climate change and poverty, ‘Hard Choices’ charts Clinton’s first-hand experience of foreign affairs and outlines her approach to diplomacy based on “smart power” using a combination of “hard power” in the form of actions and “soft power” through discussions.
Clinton jokingly claims in the Author’s Note that one of the titles for this memoir proposed by Washington Post readers was ‘The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It’s Still All about My Hair’. ‘Hard Choices’ is a much less fun but highly accurate title for Clinton’s memoir as she certainly had to make a fair number of difficult decisions as Secretary of State. Organised by region and later by theme, the book opens with Clinton’s first official overseas visit to Japan to demonstrate America’s “pivot” towards Asia. However, other conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the Arab Spring eventually dominated Clinton’s term as Secretary of State and consequently dominate this book too. Nevertheless, Clinton also devotes a fair amount of space in the book to other regions and for me, the chapters about Russia and Latin America were probably the most intriguing.
Most 600 page books cover their subject more or less exhaustively but in many ways, ‘Hard Choices’ barely skims the surface of Clinton’s four years as America’s chief diplomat which saw her travel almost one million miles and visit 112 countries. She clearly has a wealth of knowledge and expertise on foreign affairs but it is impossible to cram all of this into one book. That said, there is a limit to what can be included here anyway for personal and security reasons. While there is some analysis and insight into her thoughts on dealing with particular leaders, there is also an awful lot of background information in the text. This is obviously important for context but becomes rather plodding after a while and I admit that I skimmed quite a lot of it.
Clinton claims in the epilogue that she has yet to decide whether or not to run for President in 2016. However, reading between the lines, it seems that her political ambitions are far from over. Unsurprisingly, ‘Hard Choices’ has been carefully written with what appears to be a fair amount of political calculation involved, especially given that the majority of the challenges and crises she describes are currently ongoing and many of the leaders and ambassadors she has worked with are still in office. I’m sure it would have been a very different and perhaps more revealing book if Clinton wasn’t seriously considering her options for the near future.