Rose­mary Neill re­views Gertrude van Tijn’s The Am­bi­gu­ity of Virtue

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Bob Carr HRC: State Se­crets and the Re­birth of Hil­lary Clin­ton By Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes Hutchin­son, 440pp, $34.99

HIL­LARY Clin­ton deftly steps down from the plane, her blonde hair pulled back, her face be­hind out­size sun­glasses. Beam­ing star power, she de­clares it’s won­der­ful to be in Perth.

Won­der­ful? It has been 35 hours with three stops to get to Aus­tralia for an­nual talks, part of her 1.5 mil­lion kilo­me­tres notched up as US sec­re­tary of state, vis­it­ing 112 out of 193 na­tions. Later she tells me she sleeps on planes and, yes, she be­lieves in vi­ta­mins. At our din­ner she shows no fa­tigue, han­dles all with breezy grace.

When we last saw her in the pages of a book it was in Game Change (2010) by Mark Halperin and John Heile­mann. They cap­tured her in June 2008 in her Se­nate of­fice af­ter her de­feat in the Demo­cratic pri­maries. She de­clared: “We had the en­tire press corps against us, which usu­ally Bill and I could care less, but this was above and be­yond any­thing that had ever hap­pened.” She seemed punch drunk, dazed.

Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s HRC, which cov­ers Clin­ton’s four years as sec­re­tary of state, takes up the story at this point, with her staff putting to­gether a list of traitors who had to be pun­ished for swing­ing to Barack Obama. Later, a Clin­ton aide would see divine jus­tice in the down­fall — one af­ter the other — of these mis­cre­ants, as the au­thors record: “‘Bill Richard­son: in­ves­ti­gated; John Ed­wards: dis­graced by scan­dal; Chris Dodd: stepped down ... Ted Kennedy,’ the aide con­tin­ued, low­er­ing his voice to a whis­per for the punch line, ‘dead’.”

De­spite the sul­phur in the air, it was im­pos­si­ble for her to say no to the job of­fer from the Pres­i­dent. And Obama han­dled her adroitly, over­rul­ing his staff to let her have her loy­al­ists on the pay­roll, in­clud­ing as chief of pro­to­col, a po­si­tion usu­ally cho­sen by the pres­i­dent.

Early ma­noeu­vres be­tween Obama and Clin­ton were as del­i­cate as a merger of two cor­po­ra­tions, re­calls one ad­viser. Obama’s def­er­ence al­lowed this team of ri­vals to fall into place. When Clin­ton suf­fered con­cus­sion in 2012 he was to say of her: “I love her, love her ... I love my friend.” He’s ex­pected to sup­port her over Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den if (or when) she an­nounces for the 2016 Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion.

In this ca­reer shift she dis­played the adapt­abil­ity she had shown in in­vent­ing her­self as a Se­nate can­di­date from New York in 2000 and, af­ter her win, as a mem­ber of the Se­nate club. It’s “stages of Hil­lary”, one in­sider says. You start by dread­ing work­ing with her, then be­grudg­ingly start to re­spect her; then out­right re­spect her be­cause of her fe­ro­cious work ethic. Then, you ac­tu­ally come to like her “and she’s charm­ing and she’s funny and she’s in­ter­est­ing and she’s in­quis­i­tive and she’s en­gag­ing”.

Sec­re­taries of state can be over­shad­owed by the na­tional se­cu­rity staff in the White House. One Clin­ton re­sponse, how­ever, was to build strong al­liances with de­fence sec­re­tary Robert Gates and Gen­eral David Pe­traeus. It was this al­liance with the Pen­tagon that in De­cem­ber 2009 per­suaded the Pres­i­dent to favour a surge of troop num­bers in Afghanistan, a pol­icy bat­tle cap­tured in yet an­other of Bob Wood­ward’s lugubri­ous books, Obama’s Wars (2010).

No­body can au­dit Clin­ton’s four years as sec­re­tary of state with­out ref­er­ence to the reck­less­ness of the pre­ced­ing Bush years. To­day, Ge­orge W. seems locked up in what looks like house ar­rest in Pre­ston Hol­low in Dal­las, and his swivel-eyed ad­vis­ers Dick Cheney and Don­ald Rums­feld are held ac­count­able for two tril­lion-dol­lar wars that only demon­strated US weak­ness and en­larged its en­e­mies.

The first Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had to ab­sorb the cost of these ad­ven­tures. It was plain as day Amer­ica could not shape events in the Mid-

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