In June, 2014, before announcing her candidacy for president (in April 2015), Hillary Rodham Clinton published a massive tome of 600 pages, Hard Choices, cataloging her experience as the 67th US Secretary of State (serving from January, 2009 to February, 2013). While a great many politicians, and especially former Secretaries of State, have published memoirs and other works based on their experiences, it was clear from the start that this book was meant to be more, from an author who herself intended to continue with her political career to the next step – the path to the presidency. And indeed, Hard Choices reads like an overwhelmingly fleshed-out resume. Taking the book as an argument for her qualification for the next job in her sights, the book argues clearly (as a resume should) about the candidate’s experience, training, professionalism, relevance, and attitude. Clinton’s detractors may condemn her self-congratulation for solving major problems, and for explaining away those episodes (especially the Benghazi consulate attack) that the conservatives have used to attack her. The book may, in part, have been written in the intention of finding allies against such attacks. However, despite ending her book with uncertainty about whether to run (and considering that question as her next “hard choice”), Clinton clearly wrote the book to market herself for the next major job ahead.
Taking Hard Choices as Clinton’s resume, Clinton argues, in effect, that her foreign policy experience and philosophy is her key asset as a prospective president, rather than her domestic issues platform. At the very least, the book is an argument that Clinton’s foreign-policy platform is well grounded (and her campaign since releasing the book and announcing her candidacy has striven to beef up her domestic issues portfolio). Clinton describes her basic approach to foreign policy as “smart power,” tying “soft power” elements of diplomacy, technological development, humanitarian assistance and relief, cultural ties; and a multilayered involvement moving past governments and foreign ministries to include businesses and corporations, students, unions, NGOs, and other institutions of civil society (and especially political non-state actors who are growing in international political power and significance); with “hard power” elements of military force and alliance systems (p. 33). Throughout her book, Clinton details her involvement with all of these elements of international strategy and foreign policy.
Clinton argues that her executive experience is strong, and that it shows her ability to face crises and make the “hard choices” posed by both unexpected and long-developing events, conditions, and situations. Her executive experience is of course the main study of her argument, depicting the world from the point of view of the office of Secretary of State. Clinton shows herself to be not merely an office-dwelling paper-pusher, but an activist solver of problems, flying millions of miles in the course of her four-year term to a multitude of nations across the world. She clearly believes in an up-close and personal “shuttle diplomacy” style of engagement, visiting with foreign leaders (political and otherwise) directly, and negotiating settlements and agreements directly. Clinton argues that, particularly in Asia, a key region of modern global development and policy, personal relations and in-person conversations are central to building close international ties (and Pew Research Center polling indicates that, indeed, global popular approval of the US spiked during Clinton’s term as Secretary of State; although it is likely that Obama’s presidency beyond Clinton’s own work may have helped generate global support for the US).
Clinton’s close and personal style of foreign policy has helped build relations with world leaders, and she describes her work with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, etc., not just in terms of effective policy but in terms of her own personal connection with these leaders. She argues in effect that the US can best be served by having a leader who already knows, is friendly with, and has had positive and successful dealings with the many players on the stage of global affairs.
The title and concept of Clinton’s book themselves also argue that Clinton is capable of facing crises and taking risks, a necessary qualification for any President and Commander in Chief. She depicted risky, multilayered approaches to foreign policy problem areas such as China, where while negotiating for trade and political agreements, she still pushed human rights (and specifically defended certain “celebrity dissidents,” such as Chen Guangchen and Gao Yaojie), and she defended the smaller powers of southeast Asia from a Chinese attempt to dominate the region during ASEAN talks in July 2010. In Afghanistan, while leading efforts to wean both lesser members and higher heads of the Taliban away from the movement (or at least toward reconciliation with Karzai’s regime), she continued and expanded efforts to build agency and opportunity for women (which many Islamic fundamentalists consider to be a deal-breaker). Afghanistan also figures as an example of Clinton’s “smart power” approach, where “hard” military operations were linked to nation-building efforts (by both military and civilian organizations), and by other “soft” power venues. Clinton also describes the “Russian reset” during Medvedev’s term as president, with the US engaging cooperatively with Russia on issues where possible, working with other powers to “contain” Russian expansionism where not, and working at local, “popular” levels to build relations with the Russian people and with non-governmental actors. Despite Putin’s own later “reset” upon returning to the presidency (transforming Medvedev’s more cooperative Russia back into Putin’s more aggressive state), Clinton notes the successes of the American “reset” in “…imposing strong sanctions on Iran and North Korea, [and] opening a northern supply route to equip our forces in Afghanistan…” (p. 235). Clinton also described her management of crises in Libya (working with the ground forces of the revolution to remove Gaddafi from power), the Gaza War (using “shuttle diplomacy” and her personal relationship with Netanyahu to tone down the tense and violent conflict with a limited cease-fire), and Haiti (leading the effort to rebuild after a massive earthquake, and supporting the peaceful transfer of power from President Préval to Michel Martelly).
Clinton uses both the overall narrative of the book, as well as a dedicated chapter, to argue that she in particular has been a dependable soldier for human rights. From a controversial speech as First Lady in Beijing, declaring that “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights,” to a similar speech in Geneva as Secretary of State, using the same phraseology to argue that LGBT rights are human rights, to steering US support to political activists in Belarus, helping dissidents in China and Burma, aiding Haiti in a rare, peaceful transition of power, connecting with women’s rights activists in Yemen and Afghanistan, Clinton demonstrates her commitment to human rights. She argues that as Secretary of State, her commitment helped to realize a noticeable improvement in human rights across the world.
There are subtler messages in Clinton’s narrative which, while not tangible arguments, manage to bleed through the lines to argue for her candidacy. Her work with Obama is demonstrated as a principle of pushing past political fights and working with political opponents, and therefore reads as an argument that she can also work with other political rivals within the Democratic Party, with Republican conservatives, and perhaps even with Tea Party extremists. Her depiction of her husband Bill Clinton’s mission to North Korea to arrange the release of two American journalists effectively argues that, as a team, the two Clintons would make a formidable political force if given once again the powers of the White House. Clinton also depicts the events leading up to, and including, the US special forces operation killing Osama bin Laden. While she does not take credit for the operation, her narrative seems to argue a right to “collateral credit” for being in the room and for supporting the operation with her own diplomatic forces.
If viewed as a resume, Clinton’s Hard Choices does what a resume should do. It is a document told from the point of view of a prospective candidate for a job, selling and focusing on the strengths of the candidate for that job, and minimizing (or at least explaining) the candidate’s failings and mistakes. A resume is sometimes used to blow up a candidate’s actual, smaller role in previous jobs into a greater fiction; and Clinton’s detractors may well see a similar, self-serving message in her narrative. The length of the tome may also discourage less enthusiastic or interested readers; and therefore suffers from the tendency to preach to the choir. On the other hand, the principal rule of marketing is: first, last, and always, market to your existing customers. This Clinton’s book purports to do. As to how much of her message will reach, and will resonate with, the rest of her party, and the rest of the nation, the next year of campaigning will have to tell.