Opinion: Carolina Journal Opinions

Hillary’s Hard Choices an Autobiography for Dummies

• Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices: A Memoir, Simon and Schuster, 2014, 635 pages, $35.00.

RALEIGH — The cover shot evokes Vanity Fair, and the inside photo shows Hillary Clinton at her desk, looking very much in charge. Readers will find it hard to imagine a book like Hard Choices if, as Hillary claims on page 595, she has yet to decide whether to run for president in 2016. In that quest, the former first lady faces a big problem, revealed in the book’s dedication.

“For America’s diplomat and development experts,” it reads, “who represent our country and our values so well in places large and small, peaceful and perilous all over the world.” One of those perilous places is Benghazi, Libya, where Hillary demonstrated some of the “choices I made as secretary of state.” Readers do not encounter the Benghazi chapter until page 382, but other clues come early.

The death of Osama bin Laden, and the loss of so many of his top lieutenants, she explains, “would certainly degrade the capacity of al-Qaida’s core in Afghanistan and Pakistan to stage new attacks against the West.” That is the official Obama administration narrative, but the nation’s 67th secretary of State acknowledges “a more diffuse and complex threat” of terrorist attack.

In September 2012, for example, “when extremists whipped up outrage across the Muslim world over an offensive but obscure internet video about the Prophet Muhammad. U.S. embassies and consulates in many countries were targeted as a result.”

In Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton touts a concept known as “smart power,” that involves “choosing the right combination of tools — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural — for each situation.” She explains, “I felt even more certain that we needed to pursue the smart power approach to counterterrorism.” She charts past attacks such as Iran in 1979, Beirut in 1983, along with Kenya, Tanzania and, of course, Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C..

“I knew how essential it would be to lead with strength a reeling department while remaining focused on ongoing threats,” Hillary writes. But September 2012 in Benghazi, the leadership did not seem strong, and the secretary of state showed little evidence that she had learned lessons of past attacks.

“As secretary of state, I was responsible for nearly 70,000 employees,” she says. “When something went wrong, as it did in Benghazi, it was my responsibility.”

Hillary Clinton says the events in Benghazi occurred in the “fog of war,” which is not quite right. The United States had provided military aid, including air support, to forces opposed to longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was captured and executed. Libya might have been unstable under the new government, but strictly speaking, the country was not at war.

“There will never be perfect clarity on everything that happened,” Hillary says. “It is unlikely that there will ever be anything close to full agreement on exactly what happened. But Hillary’s uncertainty disappears when it comes to the infamous video.

“I know there are some who don’t want to hear that an Internet video played a role in this upheaval,” she contends. “But it did.” To back it up, she cites The New York Times and Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. On television, Rice said it was “a spontaneous reaction” to what had happened in Cairo, “prompted, of course, by a video.” Yet, on page 34, Hillary contradicts that narrative, referring to the “terrorist attack in Benghazi.”

On that attack, she says, there has been “a regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media.” Critics accuse Rice of “trumping up tales of a protest that never happened in order to cover up the fact that this had been a successful terrorist attack on President Obama’s watch.” She denies that Rice was “intentionally deceitful.” And how about the secretary of state? Clinton includes her famous statement:

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” Then she denies that this was minimizing the tragedy and walks away from the whole thing.

“Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy,” she says, “will have to do so without me.” Readers will be hard-pressed to find a clearer declaration of irresponsibility.

Much of Hard Choices is vintage autohagiography, bulked with promotional filler. It took a village to produce this book, and the text betrays extensive vetting. The accounts are perfectly predictable and sometimes enlightening.

In North Korea, the political oppression is “nearly” total. Fidel Castro rules Cuba with “absolute power,” but Chile suffered the “brutal military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.” The coup that brought Pinochet to power, says Hillary, is “a dark chapter in our involvement in the region.” She does not describe Benghazi attack and the ongoing cover-up as a dark chapter.

Benghazi is evidence that America’s enemies are rushing to attack during the Obama administration. After reading Hillary Clinton’s book, they may make the hard choice to wait for even better conditions.

Readers would do well to consult Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 1999 book by Barbara Olson, who perished in the 9/11 terrorist attack. For a contrasting account of the views an influential American woman, see Peter Collier’s Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Lloyd Billingsley is a contributor to Carolina Journal.