“Hard Choices” by Hillary Clinton

AUTHOR: Hillary Clinton

AUTHOR: Hillary Clinton

International relations is filled with hard choices we have to make, particularly when it comes to top level management. The stakes are high and the wrong choices could end up costing lives. Sometimes, it is better for us not to live through experiences particularly when such experiences are marred with heartache, pain, and public humiliation. However, experience is the best medicine for us to learn from and what better way to learn and see diplomacy in action than from a woman who was married to the most powerful man in the world, worked for the most famous President in the world, and lost an election to the most shocking President in the world.  

To help you get your mind set in the world of international relations and get to grips to skills required in the fast-changing modern world, we would like to recommend the book “Hard Choices” written by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This book is recommended as further reading to support “chapter 1 “Skills for a Changing World” of the “Diplomatic Planner”. Hillary Clinton is known worldwide for her successes and failures as a diplomat, and there is a lot we can learn from her perspective, as someone who acted as Chief Diplomat for the world’s biggest superpower and supporting an administration from a less political standpoint.  

In this memoir, Clinton offers a first-hand account of the trials, tribulations, choices and challenges she faced during her four years as America’s 67th Secretary of State, and how those experiences shaped her view of the future. In the preface, she notes: “All of us face hard choices in our lives. Life is about making such choices. Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become.” 

Her descriptions of diplomatic conversations at the highest levels offers us a master class in international relations, as well as her detailed analysis of how ‘smart power’ works in action in a rapidly changing world. Smart power is a term used often during the study of international relations. Formidably, smart power is a combination of soft power such as partnerships and cultures, and hard power that involves military might. She talks in great detail about President Obama’s shift to using smart power during his administration and how Clinton was able to use this to influence key international relationships from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region. Clinton’s first official trip as Secretary of State was to East Asia and she noted to have visited the Pacific Region at least 36 times during her first three years in office. She also made 7 trips to China alone as this rising superpower posed quite a diplomatic challenge. 

In dealing with China, the US had to balance its own conflicting interests, an aspect of international relations felt by all diplomats around the world. Imagine you own a business. One of your trading partners is generous at lending you money but they are a control freak and terrorises the community. What do you do? How do you work with them? And by being seen to work with them, do their behaviour have any impact on how you are publicly perceived? In its most simplest form, this is the nature of the United States’ ties with China. As a diplomat, you have to maintain good relations with those that will further your interest but how do you maintain balance in the relationship and ensure that strategies does not cause negative repercussions? What do you do when this trading partner constantly violates both human rights and international borders? I have my own opinion on this, but the Obama administration navigated this complicated relationship by attempting to focus on common ground. For the sake of the US and China, good relations were maintained around joint concerns of terrorism, nuclear weapon proliferation and a growing economy.  

As with china, diplomacy between Iran and the US has been challenging. Since 1979, Iran’s leaders have dubbed America “The Great Satan” and this did not change when Obama was elected. Iran’s nuclear ambitions were growing and this was a cause for concern for the US. and the global community. She goes on to discuss these issues in further depth in her memoirs.  

She also notes poor communication and inadequate security measures that contributed to the tragedy in Benghazi, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stephens. In the weeks following the attacks, the media criticised Clinton for her failed responsibility to keep US personnel safe. As we know in the world of diplomacy, the world is still dangerous but not even diplomatic immunity can keep us safe from hard threats. In investigations following these deaths, it was found that the Diplomatic Security office and the State Department offices policies on safeguarding matters were not effective which raised red flags on security protocols. Even though the embassy compound had undergone security upgrades with a fortified outer wall, these measures were still insufficient in protecting those that were inside. She talks in detail about how cables are written and how these are processed by. As you can imagine the volumes of cables that any Chief Diplomat receives is not necessarily read by the intended party.  

As the memoir winds down, Clinton offers us a moment of reflection about the state of the world and her country, and what she would do differently as president. She states that the protection of women’s rights at a global level would be at the top of her priority which would have been a great contribution for all nations. Women make up the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unfed and unpaid population, where laws and customs prevent women from pursuing an education or paid work. In many countries, women are underrepresented in the political arena and women negotiators still fall short at a global level as signatories of global treaties. In addition, sexual violence against women plagues the world and it is shocking to learn that in Papua New Guinea, 70 percent of all women fall victim to rape or physical violence during their lifetime. To change this, we need an international approach with local mandates but to really affect change, we need women and men in power driving these change.  

She makes strong emphasis on how a diversity of experiences, religion, race, gender and ethnicity is required to shape debates and possible solutions and policymaking isn’t just about making decisions behind the board room. Diplomacy is hard work, Democracy is hard work. Governance is hard work, and international relations is hard work. 

As a closing statement, Clinton urges: “Never stop working to make the world a better place. That’s our unfinished business.” So, as you are at the start of your diplomatic self development journey, think about the kind of legacy you want to leave the world, how you want to involve yourself in international relations, and the kind of diplomat you want to become. There isn’t just one type or role. There are many types and roles, but we have to make hard choices to know what path to pick and how to achieve these roads.

“Hard Choices” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register