It seems that as soon as Americans elect one president, the chattering classes begin speculating on the next. Thus, the question of the moment in US politics is: will Hillary Rodham Clinton run?
The possibility that the former secretary of state and former first lady might indeed stand for president in 2016 should make an in-depth biography required reading for anyone interested in world affairs. Unfortunately, The Secretary, by the Lebanese-born journalist Kim Ghattas, is not that biography.
The book certainly offers lots of little-known details that Ghattas picked up during her four years as the BBC's radio and television correspondent at the US State Department. She reveals, for instance, the colour of the toenail-polish that Clinton wore when visiting the historic Shwedagon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in Myanmar (dark red). The insider tales of life and logistics on the press plane will enthral any politics aficionado.
What's missing, however, are the details of Clinton's mind - her real goals, her doubts, her analysis of global developments, or her opinions of world leaders. Nor does the investigation of her personality go any deeper than her toenails.
The book's thesis is that Clinton has been a successful secretary of state because of her humanising approach - what might even be labelled a woman's touch. This could involve town-hall meetings with ordinary people, an emphasis on civil society in her public speeches, or unusual candour in talks with world leaders. In large part due to this outreach, Ghattas says, "working with the United States had again become desirable" to the rest of the world.
As the author writes, Clinton "gave the people she was talking to her full attention and listened closely to their stories, head tilted, eyes focused … She made them feel like she had travelled all the way from Washington just for them."
This operating style had its most obvious success in Myanmar, where Clinton quickly bonded with Aung San Suu Kyi, the legendary opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner. As well, the American diplomat was greeted with near-adoration when she spoke to women's groups from Seoul to Saudi Arabia "as though she was sitting in a café with friends having a cup of coffee".
But Clinton's warmth didn't work only with women. She eagerly engaged in a freewheeling question-and-answer session with the educated elite of Yemen. When a shoe slipped off as she was walking up the steps of the Elysée Palace, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy caught her hand to stop her from tripping, her thank-you note was almost flirtatious. "I may not be Cinderella," she wrote, "but you'll always be my Prince Charming."
Sometimes, indeed, the secretary could be too human and not enough of a cautious diplomat. Ghattas points out that when Clinton, in an interview, discussed the complexity of supporting the rebel groups in Syria in the summer of 2012, "this was not the message that the administration wanted to put out".
Into this story of a US political icon, Ghattas brings her own perspective as a Lebanese Christian and the views of her longtime local friends. Sometimes they admire the US, sometimes they resent it, but always they assume that Washington DC is a puppet-master controlling the world.
During a visit to Beirut in the summer of 2011, as the revolutions in Syria and Libya heated up, a Lebanese fashion designer and friend asks Ghattas what the Americans "have planned" for Lebanon and Syria. Ghattas replies that there is no plan. Her friend, horrified, declares, "If the Americans have no plan, then who the hell is in charge of everything?"
Those personal viewpoints are indeed fascinating. However, they reveal nothing about the viewpoint of the title character of The Secretary.
From : The National