The time is ripe for a good book about Hillary Clinton’s view of the world

The time is ripe for a good book about Hillary Clinton’s view of the world

Feb 15th 2014 | From the print edition

HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton. By Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Crown; 440 pages, $26. Hutchinson; £20. Buy from,

AS SECRETARY OF STATE until 2013, Hillary Clinton was chief foreign envoy for a president who came into office burdened with impossible expectations. Barack Obama’s to-do list included slowing global warming, ending the Iraq war, setting Afghanistan on its feet, defanging al-Qaeda, mending ties with Muslims, devoting more military and economic attention to Asia, preventing Iran from building the bomb and—in his own words—restoring America’s image as “the last, best hope on Earth”. He duly fell short. Sometimes, the fault lay elsewhere: with foreign leaders, domestic opponents and events immune even to Mr Obama’s charms.

But foes and friends alike increasingly began to doubt whether Mr Obama aspired to a global role at all, or whether he saw foreign policy as a distraction from his primary goal: to restore prosperity at home. Though publicly loyal to the man who defeated her for the Democratic presidential nomination, when it came to some tough debates—on troop levels in Afghanistan, intervention in Libya, or the arming of rebels in Syria—Mrs Clinton could not quite silence reports that she had more faith in American power as a force for good than her sceptical, imagine-the-worst boss.

With Democratic grandees now lining up to support Mrs Clinton, should she choose to run for her party’s presidential nomination in 2016, the inside story on her world view would be more than a publishing scoop. Voters deserve to know whether she, too, worries that America has over-learned lessons from Iraq and a decade of war, and may be retreating too far from the world. They need to know how much blame Mrs Clinton should share for a first Obama term which ended without any significant foreign-policy achievements, and seemed at times adrift in the face of such messy crises as Syria.

Dismayingly, maddeningly, “HRC”, a new account of Mrs Clinton’s State Department years and her subsequent re-emergence as a partisan political leader, is not that book. Written by two members of the White House press corps, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, the book is crammed with revelations about Mrs Clinton’s service with Team Obama. The authors report that they have interviewed more than 200 people. Alas, for all their hard work, they seem much more excited by the process of politics than the ideas that lie beneath.

There are stories about favourites who fell from favour and Democratic politicians being punished for crossing the Clintons. There are breathless anecdotes about Obama staff who loathed Clinton people until they were won round by canny Mrs Clinton. One tale describes how Tommy Vietor, an Obama press aide, hurt his shoulder in 2009, around the same time that Mrs Clinton broke her arm. He admired her sling with the State Department seal, only to receive a similar sling two days later. The gesture “won Vietor over”, ending any lingering animus from the 2008 primary, the book records.

No detail is too footling to report. “The couches in the room were soft, but Abdullah’s tone was not,” the book explains, while describing a meeting with an Arab foreign minister. An account of crisis meetings in 2012 with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, amid Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and talk of a full-scale Israeli counter-attack, notes that Mrs Clinton and aides “noshed on fruit and cookies” and that Mrs Clinton was worried about getting home to spend Thanksgiving with her family. There is higher-calibre gossip. Before Mrs Clinton flew to Israel, the same account explains, Mr Obama used a chat aboard Air Force One to ask his secretary of state to stay on an extra year, but was turned down.

What is missing is information that will still matter in even a few years’ time. True, loose-lipped staffers tell the authors how, as the Gaza crisis unfolded, Mrs Clinton told colleagues: “We’ve gotta support Israel one hundred and ten per cent here.” The authors briskly assert that Mrs Clinton had a good relationship with the Israelis; “certainly better than Obama had”. But this gap between president and secretary of state is not explored any further.

The book is equally at a loss when it comes to Mrs Clinton’s thinking on Afghanistan, and whether she really believed that a comprehensive settlement there, involving the Taliban, Pakistan, the Afghan government and America, was possible, as her own pugnacious envoy Richard Holbrooke insisted. “There is disagreement to this day” about her views, the authors sigh.

One tantalising line of inquiry is their assertion that Mrs Clinton, more than any other official, was responsible for America’s intervention in Libya on the side of anti-Qaddafi rebels. Yet having declared Libya “Hillary’s war”, they venture no view as to whether she was right, given the chaos that grips that country now. Instead, in line with the rest of the Washington politico-media bubble, they focus virtually all their attention on the murder in 2012 of four Americans in Benghazi, among them America’s ambassador. Two chapters examine Mrs Clinton’s role in the affair without breaking any new ground (security was lacking but this was not directly Mrs Clinton’s fault, the book suggests, though it makes the point that she had wanted to send American diplomats to Libya quickly to show that the country was returning to normal). As for the rest of the saga, “The story of Libya continues to unfold,” the authors limply conclude.

Their focus on the American deaths in Benghazi is no coincidence. The incident is, essentially, a point of domestic political contention. It is an obsession of conservative radio stations, and Republicans hope to use it against Candidate Clinton, should she declare herself. “HRC” is a relentlessly domestic book. Blame the parochial side of Washington, a world capital that is also a small town. Even so, what a waste.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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