Hard Choices

Hillary Clinton’s new memoir “Hard Choices”  comes out on June 10th. As part of a campaign to stir interest in her book, today Simon & Schuster released a largely sterile and uncontroversial excerpt.

In the excerpt (which you can read at the bottom of this article), the former Secretary of State and First Lady covers every single theme that your standard book preceding a presidential campaign hits: love of family, love of country, a commitment to defense, a record of service, some form of human interest aspect/staid humor and then a look to the future — implying that the author is potentially seeking the presidency and presumably feels they can make said future better.

Nevertheless, despite the short standard excerpt, the media at large seemed to parse her every word, with headlines such as:

Yet perhaps the excerpt is most noteworthy for how little of substance it actually contains.

Sally Kohn (no conservative) argues, “I…think this is going to be the most boring book ever in the history of the world…If this excerpt has anything to indicate, it should be called ‘Boring Choices.”

Conservative blogger Jim Hoft aka Gateway Pundit felt that there was some substance to the excerpt in the form of Ms. Clinton’s comment that she was “proud of what we accomplished” during her time as Secretary of State. Hoft quipped:

“A stellar career from her reset button moment to Benghazi – and she’s proud of her accomplishments. Unreal.”

Clinton’s soon-to-be-released book currently sits at no. 269 in the overall Amazon book rankings, while coming in at no. 2 in the category of Gender Studies, no. 3 in the category of Women’s Studies and no. 11 in the category of Political biographies.

Below is the excerpt:

All of us face hard choices in our lives. Some face more than their share. We have to decide how to balance the demands of work and family. Caring for a sick child or an aging parent. Figuring out how to pay for college. Finding a good job, and what to do if you lose it. Whether to get married—or stay married. How to give our kids the opportunities they dream about and deserve. Life is about making such choices. Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become. For leaders and nations, they can mean the difference between war and peace, poverty and prosperity.

I’m eternally grateful that I was born to loving and supportive parents in a country that offered me every opportunity and blessing—factors beyond my control that set the stage for the life I’ve led and the values and faith I’ve embraced.  When I chose to leave a career as a young lawyer in Washington to move to Arkansas to marry Bill and start a family, my friends asked, “Are you out of your mind?” I heard similar questions when I took on health care reform as First Lady, ran for office myself, and accepted President Barack Obama’s offer to represent our country as Secretary of State.

In making these decisions, I listened to both my heart and my head. I followed my heart to Arkansas; it burst with love at the birth of our daughter, Chelsea; and it ached with the losses of my father and mother. My head urged me forward in my education and professional choices.

And my heart and head together sent me into public service. Along the way, I’ve tried not to make the same mistake twice, to learn, to adapt, and to pray for the wisdom to make better choices in the future.

What’s true in our daily lives is also true at the highest levels of government. Keeping America safe, strong, and prosperous presents an endless set of choices, many of which come with imperfect information and conflicting imperatives. Perhaps the most famous example from my four years as Secretary of State was President Obama’s order to send a team of Navy SEALs into a moonless Pakistani night to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. The President’s top advisors were divided. The intelligence was compelling, but far from definitive. The risks of failure were daunting. The stakes were significant for America’s national security, our battle against al Qaeda, and our relationship with Pakistan. Most of all, the lives of those brave SEALs and helicopter pilots hung in the balance. It was as crisp and courageous a display of leadership as I’ve ever seen.

This book is about choices I made as Secretary of State and those made by President Obama and other leaders around the world. Some chapters are about events that made headlines; others are about the trendlines that will continue to define our world for future generations.

Of course, quite a few important choices, characters, countries, and events are not included here. To give them all the space they deserve, I would need many more pages. I could fill a whole book just with thanks to the talented and dedicated colleagues I relied on at the State Department. I have enormous gratitude for their service and friendship.

As Secretary of State I thought of our choices and challenges in three categories: The problems we inherited, including two wars and a global financial crisis; the new, often unexpected events and emerging threats, from the shifting sands of the Middle East to the turbulent waters of the Pacific to the uncharted terrain of cyberspace; and the opportunities presented by an increasingly networked world that could help lay the foundation for American prosperity and leadership in the 21st century.

I approached my work with confidence in our country’s enduring strengths and purpose, and humility about how much remains beyond our knowledge and control. I worked to reorient American foreign policy around what I call “smart power.” To succeed in the 21st century, we need to integrate the traditional tools of foreign policy—diplomacy, development assistance, and military force—while also tapping the energy and ideas of the private sector and empowering citizens, especially the activists, organizers, and problem solvers we call civil society, to meet their own challenges and shape their own futures. We have to use all of America’s strengths to build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries, more shared responsibility and fewer conflicts, more good jobs and less poverty, more broadly based prosperity with less damage to our environment.

As is usually the case with the benefit of hindsight, I wish we could go back and revisit certain choices. But I’m proud of what we accomplished. This century began traumatically for our country, with the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the long wars that followed, and the Great Recession. We needed to do better, and I believe we did.

These years were also a personal journey for me, both literally (I ended up visiting 112 countries and traveling nearly one million miles) and figuratively, from the painful end of the 2008 campaign to an unexpected partnership and friendship with my former rival Barack Obama. I’ve served our country in one way or another for decades. Yet during my years as Secretary of State, I learned even more about our exceptional strengths and what it will take for us to compete and thrive at home and abroad.

I hope this book will be of use to anyone who wants to know what America stood for in the early years of the 21st century, as well as how the Obama Administration confronted great challenges in a perilous time.

While my views and experiences will surely be scrutinized by followers of Washington’s long-running soap opera—who took what side, who opposed whom, who was up and who was down—I didn’t write this book for them.

I wrote it for Americans and people everywhere who are trying to make sense of this rapidly changing world of ours, who want to understand how leaders and nations can work together and why they sometimes collide, and how their decisions affect all our lives: How a collapsing economy in Athens, Greece, affects businesses in Athens, Georgia. How a revolution in Cairo, Egypt, impacts life in Cairo, Illinois. What a tense diplomatic encounter in St. Petersburg, Russia, means for families in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Not every story in this book has a happy ending or even an ending yet—that’s not the world we live in—but all of them are stories about people we can learn from whether we agree with them or not. There are still heroes out there: peacemakers who persevered when success seemed impossible, leaders who ignored politics and pressure to make tough decisions, men and women with the courage to leave the past behind in order to shape a new and better future. These are some of the stories I tell.

I wrote this book to honor the exceptional diplomats and development experts whom I had the honor of leading as America’s sixty-seventh Secretary of State. I wrote it for anyone anywhere who wonders whether the United States still has what it takes to lead. For me, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” Talk of America’s decline has become commonplace, but my faith in our future has never been greater. While there are few problems in today’s world that the United States can solve alone, there are even fewer that can be solved without the United States. Everything that I have done and seen has convinced me that America remains the “indispensable nation.” I am just as convinced, however, that our leadership is not a birthright. It must be earned by every generation.

And it will be—so long as we stay true to our values and remember that, before we are Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, or any of the other labels that divide us as often as define us, we are Americans, all with a personal stake in our country.

When I began this book, shortly after leaving the State Department, I considered a number of titles. Helpfully, theWashington Post asked its readers to send in suggestions. One proposed “It Takes a World,” a fitting sequel to It Takes a Village. My favorite was “The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It’s Still All about My Hair.”

In the end, the title that best captured my experiences on the high wire of international diplomacy and my thoughts and feelings about what it will take to secure American leadership for the 21st century was Hard Choices.

One thing that has never been a hard choice for me is serving our country. It has been the greatest honor of my life.

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