HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton. By Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Crown. 405 pages. $26.
For more than 20 years, Hillary Rodham Clinton has played an extraordinary role in American politics, one that goes far beyond the career heights to which her steely ambition has taken her. Her power as a lightening rod for both Democrats and Republicans is as difficult to overstate as it is to entirely comprehend.
Even more than her controversial husband, Hillary Clinton inspires loyalty in her supporters and suspicion in her detractors to a degree that often borders on the irrational. The name "Hillary" is enough to send either side into a frenzy.
Thus it is with a great deal of wariness that one approaches any new dissection of the veteran first lady, senator and secretary of state. No matter how objective-appearing, will the book be, at base, a puff piece? A vicious slam? What could be the motives driving the authors of yet another book about Hillary Rodham Clinton who, we are told, is contemplating a run for the presidency in 2016?
Author Jonathan Allen is White House bureau chief for Politico, and his fellow author, Amie Parnes, is White House correspondent for The Hill newspaper. Their avowed intention is to describe Hillary's rise from the ashes of her 2008 defeat into the job at the State Department that placed her on the world stage and helped her position herself for another presidential run. They structure their discussion by juxtaposing details of her movement through the process of becoming and acting as Secretary of State with connections to various steps towards the achievement of her personal goals. For instance, as she struggles over the decision to accept President Obama's offer of one of the most prestigious positions in his administration, but one that necessitates her maintaining a strict political neutrality, her team comes to see the benefits of her saying yes. Choosing to become secretary of state would, needless to say, increase her credibility as a foreign policy expert, but also prove that she was a good Democratic team player. Not insignificantly, it would, in addition, go a long way toward removing her from her husband's shadow.
Not that Bill would disappear from the picture. Far from it. Bill Clinton, one of the most savvy and indefatigable public figures in the world could, once his wife was safely ensconced at Foggy Bottom, or on one of her well-publicized trips across the globe, continue working on her political career. He traveled around the United States assisting Democrats in off-year elections and mending fences from the 2008 campaign, while making it clear that he and Hillary had not forgotten who had stuck by, or abandoned her during that period. Part of the ex-president's genius is his near photographic memory for the data, logistics and psychology behind even the most obscure races in the country, and his understanding of how winners can influence local party organizations. Bill's abilities in this area did not escape the attention of the White House. By 2012, the former rivals had largely made up and the only question for Obama strategists was how to deploy the powerhouse that was Bill Clinton to help get the president re-elected.
Allen and Parnes offer a detailed summary of Hillary's activities at State, one that centers around her efforts to repopularize the American brand, which she felt had been soiled in the Bush years; her belief in "smart power," a combination of "hard power," military force and sanctions, and "soft power," wooing of foreign nations with economic and political assistance, and her reputed "bias for action," as evidenced by her support of the bin Laden raid and facilitating the downfall of Muammar Qaddafi. The latter event, which may have been her signature achievement while in office, was badly undercut by the attack at Benghazi, Libya, the circumstances around which remain murky. The authors contended that Republicans planned to "keep Benghazi alive well into the start of the presidential election cycle."
Allen and Parnes portray Hillary as a tireless worker who is always more prepared than anyone else on even the most arcane of subjects, a quality more pronounced than any gift for "creative' thinking. Her Methodist faith provides her with a genuine impetus toward public service and it is likely that she would have - politics aside - felt it was simply wrong to turn down the president's request to be a part of his first-term cabinet. She is also a master at forging permanent relationships with unlikely figures such as Robert Gates and John McCain.
Indeed, she can take loyalty beyond the point of usefulness, as in her stubborn defense of the abrasive Richard Holbrooke, whom the president apparently loathed.
Not surprisingly, "HRC" is based on a combination of anonymous and named sources, the latter including David Petraeus, Madeleine Albright and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, among others. If there is a bias for or against Hillary, the book's cool, balanced tone makes detecting it a challenge. Briskly written, but with depth, some may find the political minutiae in particular excruciating. For junkies, though, it will be catnip.
"HRC" concerns itself with topics and questions that are likely to become even more important over the next two years.
Reviewer Rosemary Michaud is a writer in Charleston.