TWO words in Hillary Clinton’s book published this week went largely unnoticed but they hint more powerfully than anything else in the 600 pages of Hard Choices that this is a woman with her sights firmly set on a run for the US presidency.
Written almost exactly six years after her failed attempt against Barack Obama, the words ‘Unfinished Business’ that headline the final chapter portend the next leg in Clinton’s journey to try to capture the White House.
“Never rest on your laurels. Never quit. Never stop working to make the world a better place. That’s our unfinished business,” she writes, recalling her mother’s example.
Clinton says she will not decide whether to run for the presidency before the end of this year but, nevertheless, her book is being seen as an unofficial launch-pad for a White House bid and is being pored over for her stance on a number of domestic and foreign policy issues.
One of the hardest choices she will face if she runs is how to frame her campaign. As Obama sinks in polls and she continues to rise, she must avoid identifying too closely with his policies. But, as his former secretary of state, who also needs the backing of his political machine, this is going to be a tough challenge and one that will require all her diplomatic skills.
She seems to have achieved the balance to some extent in the book, highlighting their differences over the handling of the Arab Spring, when she says she pushed for Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak to transition power to his successor but was overruled by Obama. She also cites their differences in pushing peace efforts in the Middle East and the halting of Israeli settlements.
However, she is also taking the battle to Republicans, denouncing their criticism of her handling of the fallout from the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including a US ambassador. She concludes a lengthy section on Benghazi this way: “I will not be part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans.”
Then, in a TV interview about her book, she went a step further by suggesting that, far from deterring her, Republican actions and demands for inquiries have emboldened her to run for president. “It’s more of a reason to run,” she said, “because I do not believe our great country should be playing minor league ball. We ought to be in the majors.”
She has also dismissed Republican efforts, led by their strategist Karl Rove, to cast doubt on the state of her health. While she does not write about her hospitalisation for a blood clot and a concussion caused by a fall in December 2012, she told ABC that if she seeks the White House again she will release her medical records, like past presidential candidates.
Clinton is known to have worked on Hard Choices mostly on the third floor of her home in Chappaqua, New York, and is reported to have received an advance of some $14m (€10m) to write the book. She is expected to earn about $25m in royalties. Her 2003 memoir, Living History, for which she received a reported €$8m advance, sold over a million copies.
Hard Choices opens on a personal note with a description of her heading to a secret meeting with Obama on June 5, 2008. Over a glass each of California Chardonnay, the rivals discussed how Clinton might finally throw her weight behind Obama and bow out of the race.
“We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date, taking a few sips of the Chardonnay.” Two days later, with husband Bill, daughter Chelsea, and her 80-year-old mother Dorothy at her side, Clinton publicly withdrew her candidacy and backed Obama. “People were crying before I even started talking. The atmosphere was a bit like a wake.”
Even though her comments on her involvement in the Irish peace process got her into hot water during that campaign, she does not shy away from citing the peace process again in the book.
Some accused her back in 2008 of exaggerating her role in the North and said it was her husband who was the central player. However, peace brokers such as George Mitchell and John Hume came to her defence and, when she became Obama’s secretary of state the following year, all sides praised her work on Ireland and she went on to make a number of visits here as America’s top diplomat. Altogether, she has now visited this country eight times.
In the section of her book entitled ‘Between Hope and History’, a line borrowed from Seamus Heaney’s poem, she speaks of reminiscing with leaders in the North during her final visit in December 2012 about “how far we’ve come together”.
This time she refers to the Good Friday Agreement as “a triumph for diplomacy, especially for Bill and George Mitchell” and then goes on to recall her own address to the Northern Ireland assembly in 2009 when she said the Irish peace model “stands as an example to the world”.
New York lawyer Brian O’Dwyer, who was part of the Irish-American group which secured the involvement of the Clinton White House in the Irish peace process, says he believes it had a profound effect in shaping Clinton global views. “She was an integral part of the process. She was the person who managed the peace process while she was secretary of state,” he told me.
He said those who had criticised her in 2008 had not grasped the nuances of the evolving peace process. “Those of us who were intimately involved know differently. She was a very, very substantial part of the process.”
He also described how she became a bridge between Irish America and the unionist community. “I was with her in Northern Ireland when she met with all sides. She showed that Irish America and America prized both traditions, and that was a really important breakthrough for us in the peace process because up until then it was assumed that Irish America was very much opposed to the unionist tradition.
“She was able to break that perception and it was an important way of bringing the unionist community on board with the process and making sure they became comfortable with the advocacy of Irish America. She was very important to the process, from the time she was first lady to the time she was senator to the time she was secretary of state.”
Other trouble spots have proven more problematic. Clinton describes how she and Obama had to decide how to repair fractured alliances, wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 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.
However, her opponents do not dwell on the diplomatic successes she cites in her book, but instead focus on issues such as Benghazi and her handling of relations with Russia.
Some are also gearing up for a counter-book tour to get their message out as Clinton sets off on a publicity tour with a number of stops around the US and Canada.
A stop in Ireland could also be on the cards. “We’ve asked her to, so we’re hoping a book tour is in the making,” said Mr O’Dwyer. “I can tell you from experience that it’s never difficult to convince a Clinton to come to Ireland.”