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Clinton memoir delivers few knockout punches

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Clinton (at a book-signing in Arlington, Va.) insists that she hasn't yet decided if she will run for president in 2016.

OLIVIER DOULIERY / MCT Enlarge Image

Clinton (at a book-signing in Arlington, Va.) insists that she hasn't yet decided if she will run for president in 2016.

Hillary Clinton's recent book-selling visit to Canada included brief stops in Toronto and Edmonton, but not Winnipeg. Former Manitoba premier Gary Doer had to present his credentials to her in 2009 when she was U.S. secretary of state and he was beginning his duties as Canada's ambassador to Washington.

Doer isn't mentioned in this 600-page doorstopper of a book, but he shouldn't feel slighted. Despite the fact that Canada is America's largest trading partner, Prime Minister Stephen Harper earns less than a paragraph's mention in Hard Choices -- for his 2007 declaration about Canada's need to protect our Arctic sovereignty.

Memoirs such as this are sometimes eagerly read for candid descriptions about other notables the author has encountered, especially when they are world leaders. But since her career on the world stage is by no means done, Clinton offers little of that in Hard Choices.

At the end of the book -- and in all the interviews she has done on her book tour -- the former first lady insists that she hasn't yet decided if she will run for president in 2016. Just about everyone else is clearly making that assumption, and opinion polls in the U.S. have her as the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination two years from now.

It's by no means the first time a future candidate for president has written a book before hitting the campaign trail. Barack Obama, who defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008, wrote The Audacity of Hope before his run for the White House. While Obama had very little experience in public office, Clinton can reflect on her record as secretary of state in a very turbulent time on the world stage.

After years in the White House with husband (and then-president) Bill Clinton, followed by a turn in the Senate representing New York State, Clinton is not easily surprised. She admits, however, she was "floored" when Obama asked her to serve in his administration as the boss of America's foreign policy. She managed to put aside the bitterness of the 2008 Democratic campaign and work hard on behalf of the Obama administration.

There was, of course, some major baggage Clinton had to deal with in writing the memoir. As a senator, she voted to support president George W. Bush when he ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Obama camp used it against her with great effectiveness in 2008.

Staying in that troubled part of the world, she devotes 33 pages to the crisis in Libya in September 2012, including the killing of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi. Every word in that section appears to be carefully laundered and lawyered, as that story continues to unfold.

The book is largely devoid of criticism of anyone who might cause Clinton trouble down the road if she were to become the 45th president of the United States. She has many harsh words for Russian President Vladimir Putin, but also includes a dramatic personal story that Putin shared with her about his mother, who was nearly given up for dead when she was wounded in the German siege of Leningrad during the Second World War (Putin was born in 1952, seven years after the war ended). The Russian leader told Clinton the story at the Asia-Pacific Summit in Siberia in 2012, and she says he spoke very good English whenever they met.

When she left the state department in early 2013 -- John Kerry took over as U.S. secretary of state -- Clinton wrote a lengthy report to President Obama about the country's relationship with Russia. She urged Obama to be cautious in dealing with Putin, and to decline his invitation for a high-level meeting in Moscow. All of this makes interesting reading in light of Putin's more recent actions in Ukraine, and Obama's corresponding unwillingness to respond with military force.

Both of the Clintons have relied heavily on writing and public speaking to sustain them in recent years, and they've done very well at it. Hillary is believed to have received a multimillion-dollar advance from Simon and Schuster for Hard Choices, and early sales are said to be slow.

As 2016 draws closer and the author becomes the candidate, she will have a convenient way to answer a wide range of questions about U.S. foreign policy. She can simply say, "It's in the book."


Roger Currie is a Winnipeg writer and broadcaster. He is heard regularly on CJNU, 93.7 FM.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2014 G5

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Updated on Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 8:22 AM CDT: Formatting.

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