Hillary Clinton’s a Book Critic Now

by Tim Cavanaugh

I’ve never had much regard for the newspaper breakfast test, but no American family should encounter this spectacle over their Sunday hot cakes:

Maybe there’s no way to avoid the phenomenon of Democratic and Republican secretaries of state meeting in the lethal center, but couldn’t we have Madeleine Albright delivering the long-overdue appreciation of Al Haig? A John Kerry/George Shultz international cookbook? Henry Kissinger long ago ascended to an elder-statesman mesosphere where just about everybody praises his sagacity and few could tell you what his ideas are on any topic. (I’m foggy on anything beyond Vietnamization and his work as a shiatsu pitch man.) But he has a long record in foreign affairs going back to actual service (as an enlisted man, no less) in World War II, and including policy shifts like the China thaw that are, for better or worse, still with us. Clinton’s dull review of Kissinger’s new book World Order is a reminder of how little remains, just two years later, of any of her State Department’s policies.

The prospective 2016 Democratic presidential candidate does try to argue otherwise. Of 25 paragraphs in the print version of Clinton’s review, eight are mostly or entirely devoted to herself, seven deal with Kissinger’s book, and the rest are either a combination of the previous two (“Kissinger is my friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state”) or extremely familiar blather about America’s place in the world (“In the past, we’ve flirted with isolation and retreat, but always heeded the call to leadership when it was needed most”). It turns out, though, that her time at Foggy Bottom was more in the way of a rebuilding season: “In the president’s first term,” Clinton writes, “we laid the foundation, from repaired alliances to updated international institutions to decisive action on challenges such as Iran’s nuclear program and the threat from Osama bin Laden.”

Sadly, you can only use the “I killed bin Laden” card one time in a presidential election, and that’s already been done. That Clinton is one of the least interesting people in American public life is no big news, and it’s no surprise that even her book reviews are boring. But there is one piece of sort-of negative interest in the way she dwells on low-priority stuff like the “Asia pivot.” At some level, even Hillary Clinton understands how little she really has to run on.

“Our country is at its best, and our leadership in the world is strongest, when we are united behind a common purpose and shared mission, and advancing shared prosperity and social justice at home,” Clinton writes. “Sustaining America’s leadership in the world depends on renewing the American dream for all our people.” Like everything Clinton says, it sounds like boilerplate, but it also invites another invidious comparison: Whatever Kissinger  may have done as a statesman, you never had to listen to his opinions on domestic policy.

Establishment conservatives, human rights liberals, old-right non-interventionists and others have panned Clinton’s effort as a feuilletonist. Their reasons differ, but I’d like to say I agree with all of them.

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