“All of us face hard choices in our lives,” Hillary Rodham Clinton writes at the start of Hard Choices (Simon &Schuster, $tk), a personal chronicle of years at the center of world events. “Life is about making such choices. Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become.”
In the aftermath of her 2008 presidential run, she expected to return to representing New York in the United States Senate. To her surprise, her former rival for the Democratic Party nomination, newly elected President Barack Obama, asked her to serve in his administration as Secretary of State. This memoir is the story of the four extraordinary and historic years that followed, and the hard choices that she and her colleagues confronted.
Secretary Clinton and President Obama had to decide how to repair fractured alliances, wind down two wars, and address a global financial crisis. They faced a rising competitor in China, growing threats from Iran and North Korea, and revolutions across the Middle East. Along the way, they grappled with some of the toughest dilemmas of US foreign policy, especially the decision to send Americans into harm’s way, from Afghanistan to Libya to the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
By the end of her tenure, Secretary Clinton had visited 112 countries, traveled nearly one million miles, and gained a truly global perspective on many of the major trends reshaping the landscape of the 20th-century, from economic inequality to climate change to revolutions in energy, communications, and health. Drawing on conversations with numerous leaders and experts, Secretary Clinton offers her views on what it will take for the United States to compete and thrive in an interdependent world. She makes a passionate case for human rights and the full participation in society of women, youth and LGBT people. An astute eyewitness to decades of social change, she distinguishes the trendlines from the headlines and describes the progress occurring throughout the world, day after day.
Secretary Clinton’s descriptions of diplomatic conversations at the highest levels offer readers a master class in international relations, as does her analysis of how we can best use “smart power” to deliver security and prosperity in a rapidly changing world—one in which America remains the indispensable nation.
Some critics did not like the book; Time suggests the book was heavily vetted by lawyers, and that stories that should have been added or kept were cut, diluting the book’s potency.
In Hard Choices, Clinton brings readers into the very rooms, SUVs and 747s where some of the most challenging and complicated decisions of our time were made, and discusses such issues and people as:
On their first secret meeting…
“We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date, taking a few sips of Chardonnay. Finally Barack broke the ice by ribbing me a bit about the tough campaign I had run against him. Then he asked for my help uniting our party and winning the presidency. He wanted the two of us to appear together soon, and he wanted the Democratic National Convention in Denver to be unified and energized. He emphasized that he wanted Bill’s help as well.
I had already decided that I would agree to his request for help, but I also needed to raise some of the unpleasant moments of the past year. Neither of us had had total control over everything said or done in our campaigns, let alone by our most passionate supporters or by the political press, including a large herd of bloggers. Remarks on both sides, including some of my own, had been taken out of context, but the preposterous charge of racism against Bill was particularly painful. Barack made clear that neither he nor his team believed that accusation. As to the sexism that surfaced during the campaign, I knew that it arose from cultural and psychological attitudes about women’s roles in society, but that didn’t make it any easier for me and my supporters. In response Barack spoke movingly about his grandmother’s struggle in business and his great pride in Michelle, Malia and Sasha and how strongly he felt they deserved full and equal rights in our society.”
“Before one of our meetings in Prague, on that same April  trip, he pulled me aside and said, ‘Hillary, I need to talk to you.’ He put his arm around me and walked me over toward a window. I wondered what sensitive policy matter he wanted to discuss. Instead he whispered in my ear, ‘You’ve got something in your teeth.’ It was embarrassing, to be sure, but also the kind of thing only a friend would say and a sign that we were going to have each other’s backs.”
“First, if you choose to be in public life, remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice and grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros. Second, learn to take criticism seriously but not personally. Your critics can actually teach you lessons your friends can’t or won’t. I try to sort out the motivation for criticism, whether partisan, ideological, commercial, or sexist, analyze it to see what I might learn from it, and discard the rest. Third, there is a persistent double standard applied to women in politics—regarding clothes, body types, and of course hairstyles—that you can’t let derail you. Smile and keep going. Granted, these words of advice result from years of trial and error and mistakes galore, but they helped me around the world as much as they did at home.”
ON PREPARATIONS FOR DAUGHTER CHELSEA’S WEDDING
“As mother of the bride, I was delighted to help in every way I could, including reviewing photographs of flower arrangements from the road and making time for tastings and dress selections back home. I felt lucky that my day job had prepared me for the elaborate diplomacy required to help plan a big wedding. I got such a kick out of it that I referred to myself as ‘MOTB’ (mother of the bride) in a Mother’s Day email to all State Department staff, also a nod to a necklace Chelsea had given me for Christmas with those same letters. Now that Hanoi was behind me, I was eager to get back to all the last-minute details and decisions that awaited.”
“While many were never going to look past my 2002 vote no matter what I did or said, I should have stated my regret sooner and in the plainest, most direct language possible. I’d gone most of the way there by saying I regretted the way President Bush used his authority and by saying that if we knew then what we later learned, there wouldn’t have been a vote. But I held out against using the word mistake. It wasn’t because of political expediency. After all, primary voters and the press were clamoring for me to say that word. When I voted to authorize force in 2002, I said that it was “probably the toughest decision I have ever had to make.” I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple. In our political culture, saying you made a mistake is often taken as weakness when in fact it can be a sign of strength and growth for people and nations . . .
“As much as I might have wanted to, I could never change my vote on Iraq. But I could try to help us learn the right lessons from that war and apply them to Afghanistan and other challenges where we had fundamental security interests. I was determined to do exactly that when facing future hard choices, with more experience, wisdom, skepticism, and humility.”
AFGHANISTAN AND THE TALIBAN
“Opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war. Reintegrating low-level fighters was odious enough; negotiating directly with top commanders was something else entirely. But diplomacy would be easy if we had to talk only to our friends. That’s not how peace is made. Presidents throughout the Cold War understood that when they negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviets. As President Kennedy put it, ‘Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.’”
“These were difficult and emotional discussions. Unlike most matters I handled as Secretary of State, because of the extreme secrecy of this case there was no trusted advisor I could turn to or expert I could call. I took that seriously, as President Obama found out when, after the raid was over but before he went on television to inform the country, he called all four living ex-Presidents to tell them personally. When he reached Bill, he began, ‘I assume Hillary’s already told you . . .’ Bill had no idea what he was talking about. They told me not to tell anyone, so I didn’t tell anyone. Bill later joked with me, ‘No one will ever doubt you can keep a secret!’”
LGBT RIGHTS SPEECH
“I wanted this speech to be different. I wanted it to mean something to LGBT people in lots of different circumstances—not just the activists on the front lines, fluent in the argot of human rights, but also the bullied teenager in rural America, or Armenia or Algeria, for that matter. I wanted it to be simple and direct—the exact opposite of the over-the-top, darkly suggestive language you hear in many antigay jeremiads. I wanted it to at least have a chance at convincing dubious listeners, so it needed to be reasonable and respectful, without backing a millimeter away from its defense of human rights. Most of all, I wanted it to send a clear message to the leaders of countries everywhere: Protecting their LGBT citizens was part of their human rights obligations, and the world was watching to make sure they’d meet them… I said, ‘Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.’”
THE ROAD AHEAD
“Having run for President before, I understand exactly how challenging it is on every front—not only on candidates but on their families as well. And having lost in 2008, I know that nothing is guaranteed, nothing can be taken for granted. I also know that the most important questions anyone considering running must answer are not ‘Do you want to be President?’ or ‘Can you win?’ They are ‘What’s your vision for America?’ and ‘Can you lead us there?’ The challenge is to lead in a way that unites us again and renews the American Dream. That’s the bar, and it’s a high one.
“Ultimately, what happens in 2016 should be about what kind of future Americans want for themselves and their children—and grandchildren. I hope we choose inclusive politics and a common purpose to unleash the creativity, potential, and opportunity that makes America exceptional. That’s what all Americans deserve.”