I recently just completed reading “Hard Choices” written by Hilary Rodham Clinton after reading it for over 8 months! I first heard about it on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart when she was talking about the book and it sounded interesting. It is a long memoir about the period that she served as Secretary of State. In the beginning of the book, she recalled the path after losing to Obama and eventually becoming his first Secretary of State. The meat of the book includes Clinton’s experiences of traveling to 112 different countries. She focuses a lot of her energy on the big players in the world (NATO, China, Russia, Israel, and India) but also in areas of conflict and disaster. Some of these countries produced unique challenges that put Clinton into a position where she had to make some hard choices regarding security, human rights and foreign policy. The book revealed her expert negotiating skills in these countries and it all shows that she can produce fair deals without damaging relations and in preserving our interests around the world.
One important issue that she interceded in was the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It was a continuous problem during her reign as Secretary of State but she did her best to put pressure on Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abba to create a feasible solution. Clinton encourages that a two-state solution is necessary for lasting peace. Netanyahu was promoting the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which makes relations worse and worse. Palestinians want to cease the settlements and want to take steps to create a Palestinian state and require East Jerusalem as their capital city.
Clinton brought both leaders to meet with each other at the UN but the leaders were too stubborn to agree to anything. Sometime after the meeting, however, Netanyahu decided to freeze settlements for 10 months and Abbas delayed a vote on the Israel War Crime Report. This created temporary peace for a while, but tensions soon rose again in 2012. Over a thousand rockets were fired from Gaza and Israel was on the verge of launching a ground attack. Clinton went to see Netanyahu in Israel, Abbas, then to Egypt (acting as intermediary for Hamas) in a matter of hours and convinced all parties to agree to a unilateral cease fire. The cease fire lasted well over a year until 2014 when war broke out again. Even though Clinton did not solve the conflict necessarily, she certainly made an effort to cool the flames and created peace in the present time that she was Secretary. That was essentially a hard choice, since a practical solution was not available she had to make the decision to create a secondary solution that at least temporarily paused the conflict.
Hilary Clinton had the most success interceding in issues regarding human rights. When she visited Myanmar (Burma), a semi-democratic nation, she learned about the plight of a political prisoner named Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the 1980’s, this woman has tried to guide the nation towards a democratic future but every time her party had partial success, she has been imprisoned for a period of time. She was under house arrest and her sentence was increased when a Vietnam Vet from the US breached security to reach Kyi and possibly save her. This made her miss the 2010 election in Myanmar. Clinton had to spring into action to free the vet and negotiate the release of Kyi. It took a while but Clinton got though to the leader of Myanmar, Thein Sein, and freed Kyi and eventually allowed her party to run in the 2012 elections. Sein also as a result passed important laws protecting human rights and easing restrictions on the media. Kyi and her party won many seats in Parliament and is working for a democratic future.
In another instance, Clinton had a more complicated human rights situation in China regarding political dissident, Cheng Guangcheng. Cheng was a blind human rights activist who was under house arrest after filing a lawsuit against the Chinese government over unjust repression. Cheng actually managed to escape and reached the US embassy in Beijing. The timing was awful because Clinton was headed to Beijing to an economic summit so this situation could have put a damper on relations. Clinton and the embassy interceded in negotiations with the Chinese and they all agreed to allow Cheng to attend law school in China and to continue studies at NYU. So Cheng was released and suddenly had a change of heart and wanted him and his family out of the country for fear of repercussions. Clinton worked hard to renegotiate another deal and it seems like the Chinese were so aggravated that they just let Cheng move to America. However, this situation did not spoil relations or the summit. Cheng is living in America with his family and attended law school.
Clinton interceded in a variety of affairs around the world and some cases were successful while others were not very successful. Clinton recalls the crisis in Benghazi, Libya and how quickly events transpired that ended in the deaths of embassy ambassadors and members of the CIA. She personally knew Chris Stevens and was impressed at how he interacted with the Libyan people after the fall of Qaddafi. She appointed him to continue working in Libya and he did it despite knowing the level of danger associated with the post. Clinton was upset over losing such a valuable asset but sticks to the point that “total elimination of risk is a non-starter because the US needs to be in places where safety is non-existent.” Clinton is certainly in charge of security of American embassies around the world but sometimes there is only so much that you can do.
The day of the attack there was no warning of an impending attack on the embassy. Around that day, an anti-Muslim video made in America was released online and the Arab world was enraged especially Egyptians who protested outside the embassy in Cairo. It was not clear if this was a motive in the attack but terrorists appeared out of nowhere outside of the Benghazi embassy. They pinned down security and burned the safe room in the compound killing two US ambassadors. At a nearby secret CIA base, a strike force was assembled to combat the terrorists but they were too late and their base also came under fire which killed two of their men. It seems like there was really nothing that Clinton could possibly do to have prevented this especially because it transpired so quickly. The only revealing thing about this was that American military infrastructure is limited in Africa and therefore most embassies on the continent have limited capabilities for security. That should now be a priority to fix so troops could arrive faster to protect embassies if necessary.
This was a very interesting book to read and it took me a number of months to complete it. There is so much information in this book but what is apparent is that Clinton is experienced in foreign relations. This book felt like a detailed resume for the Presidency in a way. Her successes especially in terms of human and women’s rights prove that she is ready to effect positive change in America and around the world. She is an expert negotiator as well and that is an important skill to have and maybe she can finally break the partisan divide in America and create domestic reforms! There are certainly other qualified candidates for the Presidency in 2016 and that is going to make voting at the polls a hard choice. To me it will not be much of a “hard choice” because Clinton has proven that she can produce results despite the challenges.