The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power

Image of The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power
Release Date: 
March 5, 2013
Times Books
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“. . . paints a picture of Hillary Clinton as a person, praising her strengths, noting her foibles.”

After completing The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power, readers may feel the need to crawl under the covers and sleep for months.

Author Kim Ghattas relates an exhausting, exhilarating, and educational journey covering four years, 300,000 miles, many sleepless nights, physically dangerous situations, accommodations ranging from luxurious to nasty, nonstop stress, and an insider’s view of the United States political system.

In addition to writing of the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the former Secretary of State, Ms. Ghattas offers glimpses into her personal perspective as a member of the press and how she feels returning to her homeland as a journalist.

Although the title of the book gives the impression the content will focus strictly on political issues, Ms. Ghattas also paints a picture of Hillary Clinton as a person, praising her strengths, noting her foibles.

As First Lady, Hillary Clinton projects one image; in her new role as Secretary she has the opportunity to wear a completely different hat. She still embodies the same characteristics—strength, intelligence and poise—but now she is called upon to act as mediator in some of the most complex, harrowing situations with some of the most difficult political leaders in the world.

The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton takes readers inside Ms. Clinton’s head as she manages this transition. “From the day she took office, [Hillary] worked hard to be available to her counterparts, both because she believe in being accessible but also because availability was political capital,” Ms. Ghattas writes.

A quick study and avid reader, Hillary Clinton makes a good student as she eases into her role. Clever and sharp, she reads and retains written material with amazing accuracy. Her personality, markedly different from her predecessor’s, factors greatly in her diplomatic relationships. Still, she makes her share of mistakes, such as mispronouncing names of officials.

Although national newspapers covered the conflicts in the Middle East, this book peers into the underside of negotiations, strategies, and reasoning behind decisions in an attempt to “. . . determine what the essence of American power and influence may be.”

Ms. Ghattas offers background on some of the complicated relationships between the United States and Middle Eastern countries, noting how dependent other countries have become on the U.S., relying on America’s support and approval, while at times resenting it.

And as much as she tries, Hillary Clinton asserts, “We don’t have any magic wands that we can wave.”

Unlike others before her, Hillary Clinton makes efforts to connect with the people in foreign countries, not just high-ranking officials.

Ms. Ghattas offers a laundry list of Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments, one of which involves the creation of 25 formal initiatives that place the “. . . United States at the heart of a web of diplomacy and encourage[d] others to feel involved in managing the planet.”

The author also documents Hillary Clinton’s frustration in making significant headway toward peace in the Middle East. As a basis for comparison, Ms. Ghattas researches former secretaries and finds that they faced similar complex situations with less than satisfactory outcomes.

The author relates many scenarios that exemplify how Secretary Clinton’s innate personality helps in her political work. “[Hillary] had a knack for becoming friends with everyone, from the boorish Boris Yeltsin to the quiet president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. She often ended up liking people she never expected to like because she had come to understand and empathize with their history and background.”

On a more personal note, the author includes her own story in bits and pieces throughout the book. Having grown up in Beirut during its most troubling and dangerous times, Ms. Ghattas expresses “. . . misgivings about American power” even as she is a first-hand witness to it.

Her vivid descriptions of her homeland as it endured violence and invasions in 1982 bring the reader into her world where her bedroom was “. . . gutted by a shell, curtains torn, shrapnel holes on every wall, my toys and clothes covered by grime and dust.”

As fighting erupts in Syria, the author is especially troubled about the lack of United States intervention and relates it to Lebanon’s situation in 1990. “But after several years with a front-row seat in Washington, I was starting to understand the complex decision-making process, the need for the United States to weigh its actions,” she writes.

Even though Hillary Clinton did not manage to “. . . make peace in the Middle East, stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear program or set Afghanistan on a certain path to prosperity,” she contributed a tangible and long-lasting accomplishment, according to Ms. Ghattas, “. . . repositioning America as a leader in a changed world, a palatable global chairman of the board who can help navigate the coming crises, from climate change, to further economic turmoil, to demographic explosions.”

As the United States continues to evaluate its next course of action in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, readers can gain some insight into the historical background and significance of America’s intervention and support in this part of the world—and the woman who helped steer those decisions in recent years.