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Review: 'HRC' a less than revealing portrait of Hillary Clinton

Here's the good news. I've just read all 405 pages of HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton so you won't have to waste your time.

Consider that: A) there are virtually no secrets revealed in this book, and B) the term "rebirth" would suggest Hillary Clinton's ascendency to the presidency is all but a matter of Manifest Destiny, when a more sober-minded assessment might conclude that her candidacy, much less her nomination, remains, at best, problematic.

This isn't so much a book tracking Clinton's tenure as secretary of state as it is a fat, bloated, sloppy 405-page air kiss in the general direction of the woman widely expected to vie for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

This much we can be fairly certain of by reading this lumbering, cumbersome tome, which feels as if it was written by two loyal campaign operatives rather than a duo of supposedly seasoned Washington political reporters, Jonathan Allen at Politico and Amie Parnes at the Hill.

By their accounting, Hillary Clinton is the wisest, savviest, sharpest, kindest, most loyal, most discerning secretary of state in the nation's history. Indeed, by the authors' accounting, had Clinton's firm hand not been on the tiller of the nation's foreign policy from 2009 to 2013, the United States might well have descended into Freedonia meets the Grand Duchy of Fenwick.

But what is perhaps even more amazing is that, despite its tonnage in wasted paper, HRC offers up so precious little fresh insight or information about Clinton the woman, the pol or the stateswoman.

And that is fairly puzzling considering their subject. Whether you admire Hillary Clinton or regard her as the sign of the beast, it is undeniably true the former first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate remains a fascinating, intriguing and vexing political figure on the national scene.

'Tis a pity HRC isn't able to drill down more effectively into Clinton's life, her innermost thoughts, her trials and triumphs with more intellectual rigor, or at least some curiosity.

There may be a perfectly good reason why HRC isn't more probing, incisive and most of all critical. After all, Chapter One is unsubtly titled "Hillary's Hit List" and details her 2008 presidential campaign staff's copious — and lengthy — compilation of everyone who either endorsed Barack Obama over her or committed some other slight in her general direction. The Clintons, we learn, have long, long memories and even longer knives, the better to administer the appropriate political backstabbing when the moment is right.

Oddly enough, the second chapter is titled "Be Gracious in Defeat." Go figure. But we are reliably informed by the authors that Bill Clinton is "perhaps the most charismatic man in the country." And that should give some idea where the remaining 364 pages are going.

Oddly enough a running subplot throughout HRC is Bill Clinton's obsessive-compulsive effort to retire his wife's 2008 campaign debt, pushing Obama to hold a fundraiser to whittle down the final $250,000. Odd because Bill Clinton, who has earned about $90 million in speaking fees since he left office, could have easily written the check himself. Well, why pay the tab if someone else will? Photo op included.

HRC details the team-of-rivals courtship of Obama to woo Hillary Clinton to the State Department. The account explores the numerous political considerations for 2016 that accepting the role of the nation's top diplomat would have on Clinton's political future. Then, suddenly, Clinton accepts the post out of a sense of patriotic duty — but only after her demands have been met. Patriotism, it seems, can be negotiated.

For the most part, HRC asserts that only with the hawkish Clinton as part of the inner circle was Obama able to avoid going wobbly in the knees about giving the order to go after Osama bin Laden.

Without Clinton's forceful advocacy for military action, we are led to believe, Muammar Qaddafi might still be in power. Who knew?

And it was Clinton who almost single-handedly created the environment for the isolated dictatorship in Burma to move toward more openness.

Then there is the attack in Benghazi, which claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, an issue sure to dog Clinton if she enters the presidential fray. Only here does HRC very carefully dip a toe in the critical waters, noting the efforts to beef up embassy security in Libya that were rebuffed by underlings at State — but not, the authors dutifully note, by Clinton herself.

Even her greatest detractors would admit Hillary Clinton is blessed with a keen mind and relentless spirit. However, HRC's broad-strokes portrait of Clinton makes no effort to explore the nuances of American foreign policy on her watch, nor her unique skills to handle the global challenges of the 21st century.

There is probably a very good book out there about Hillary Clinton's stewardship of the U.S. State Department. But as HRC demonstrates, it hasn't been written yet.

Daniel Ruth can be reached at druth@tampabay.com.

HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton

By Jonathan Allen

and Amie Parners

Crown, 440 pages, $26

Review: 'HRC' a less than revealing portrait of Hillary Clinton 03/12/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 1:40pm]

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