Hard Choices is more a manifesto than a memoir. It is best understood as Clinton’s attempt to position herself for the intense political battles she will likely face in the next few years as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. Still, it is a rich and even compelling read, hinting at how Clinton wants to be seen in the culminating years of her political career. The memoir pulls off a deft political balancing act; Clinton distinguishes herself from President Barack Obama even as she highlights her loyalty to the man she served as secretary of state. Clinton ran for president in 2008 as a liberal hawk, albeit one chastened by the Iraq war, which she supported. Hard Choices indicates that she is standing her ground, and has perhaps become more hawkish and less chastened. She makes clear that she would have preferred a more muscular U.S. intervention in the civil war in Syria and highlights her deep reservations about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, she demonstrates her continuing liberal values by emphasizing the importance of women’s issues in her approach to foreign affairs.
Allen and Parnes, a pair of Washington-based journalists, take a broadly sympathetic look at Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, one that mostly aligns with Clinton’s own account. In their telling, Clinton was an effective secretary who, in the face of a presidential staff bent on keeping key foreign policy issues under the White House’s control, nevertheless managed to keep herself and her department relevant in the national security process. She did this in part by forging an alliance with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and CIA Director David Petraeus and in part by building a strong professional relationship with Obama. In addition to drawing attention to women’s rights and technology issues, Clinton exercised influence on the renewed U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region (and the associated tough line on China), the opening to Myanmar (also called Burma), and NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011. None of these ended in unqualified triumph, and the aftermath in Libya has justified the concerns of those who argued against aiding the cause of regime change there. Nevertheless, it appears on balance that Clinton’s service in the State Department has burnished her resumé and strengthened her already formidable position in U.S. politics.