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Hillary Rodham Clinton’s inside account of the crises, choices, and challenges she faced during her four years as America’s 67th Secretary of State, and how those experiences drive her view of the future.
“All of us face hard choices in our lives,” Hillary Rodham Clinton writes at the start of this personal chronicle of years at the center of world events. “Life is about making such choices. Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become.”
In the aftermath of her 2008 presidential run, she expected to return to representing New York in the United States Senate. To her surprise, her former rival for the Democratic Party nomination, newly elected President Barack Obama, asked her to serve in his administration as Secretary of State. This memoir is the story of the four extraordinary and historic years that followed, and the hard choices that she and her colleagues confronted.
Secretary Clinton and President Obama had to decide how to repair fractured alliances, wind down two wars, and address a global financial crisis. They faced a rising competitor in China, growing threats from Iran and North Korea, and revolutions across the Middle East. Along the way, they grappled with some of the toughest dilemmas of US foreign policy, especially the decision to send Americans into harm’s way, from Afghanistan to Libya to the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
By the end of her tenure, Secretary Clinton had visited 112 countries, traveled nearly one million miles, and gained a truly global perspective on many of the major trends reshaping the landscape of the twenty-first century, from economic inequality to climate change to revolutions in energy, communications, and health. Drawing on conversations with numerous leaders and experts, Secretary Clinton offers her views on what it will take for the United States to compete and thrive in an interdependent world. She makes a passionate case for human rights and the full participation in society of women, youth, and LGBT people. An astute eyewitness to decades of social change, she distinguishes the trendlines from the headlines and describes the progress occurring throughout the world, day after day.
Secretary Clinton’s descriptions of diplomatic conversations at the highest levels offer readers a master class in international relations, as does her analysis of how we can best use “smart power” to deliver security and prosperity in a rapidly changing world—one in which America remains the indispensable nation.
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Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman in US history to become the presidential nominee of a major political party. She served as the 67th Secretary of State—from January 21, 2009, until February 1, 2013—after nearly four decades in public service advocating on behalf of children and families as an attorney, First Lady, and Senator. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Benghazi: Under Attack
On September 11, 2012, Ambassador Chris Stevens and Information Management Officer Sean Smith were killed in a terrorist attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Two CIA officers, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were killed hours later during an attack on the Agency’s nearby compound.
Sean Smith had joined the State Department after six years in the Air Force and served for a decade at our embassies and consulates in Pretoria, Baghdad, Montreal, and The Hague.
Tyrone Woods was known to his friends in the Navy SEALs and later the CIA as “Rone.” He served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to being an experienced combat veteran, he also earned distinction as a registered nurse and certified paramedic. He and his wife, Dorothy, had three sons, including one born just a few months before he died.
Glen Doherty, who went by “Bub,” was a former SEAL as well and an experienced paramedic. He too had deployed to some of the most dangerous places on earth, including Iraq and Afghanistan, always putting his life on the line to safeguard other Americans. Both Tyrone and Glen had committed their skills and experience to protecting CIA personnel in Libya.
Ambassador Chris Stevens, the only one of the four I had the privilege of knowing personally, was a talented diplomat and an engaging and extraordinarily warm human being. When I asked him in the spring of 2011 to undertake the dangerous mission to make contact with the Libyan rebel leadership in Benghazi during the revolution, and later to return to Libya as Ambassador after the fall of Qaddafi, he quickly accepted. Chris understood the risks and recognized how challenging it would be to help pull together a shattered country, but he knew that America had vital national security interests at stake. His long experience in the region and talent for delicate diplomacy made him a natural choice.
Losing these fearless public servants in the line of duty was a crushing blow. As Secretary I was the one ultimately responsible for my people’s safety, and I never felt that responsibility more deeply than I did that day.
Sending those who serve our nation into harm’s way is one of the hardest choices our country and leaders ever have to make. Far and away my greatest regret from those years is that not all of them returned home safely. I often think about the families who lost loved ones serving our country. The gravity of the mission and the gratitude of our nation may provide some solace, but in the end there is nothing any of us can say or do to fill the holes left behind.
The truest way to honor them is to improve our ability to protect those who carry on their work and prevent future losses.
From my first day leading the State Department, I was aware that terrorists could strike any of our more than 270 diplomatic posts around the world. It had happened too many times before, and those hell-bent on attacking America would never stop trying. In 1979, fifty-two American diplomats were taken hostage in Iran and held captive for 444 days. The Hezbollah attacks on our embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 killed 258 Americans and more than a hundred others. In 1998, al Qaeda bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than two hundred people, including twelve Americans. I vividly remember standing next to Bill at Andrews Air Force Base when the remains of those who had fallen returned home.
All told, terrorists have killed sixty-six American diplomatic personnel since the 1970s and more than a hundred contractors and locally employed staff. Four U.S. Ambassadors were murdered in terrorist attacks between 1973 and 1979 alone. Since 2001 there have been more than one hundred assaults on U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world and nearly two dozen direct attacks on diplomatic personnel. In 2004, gunmen killed nine people, including five locally employed staff in an attack on our consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In May 2009, a roadside bomb in Iraq killed Terry Barnich, the Deputy Director of our Transition Assistance Team. In March 2010, Lesley Enriquez, a pregnant twenty-five-year-old consular officer in Juarez, Mexico, was shot to death, along with her husband. In August 2012, USAID officer Ragaei Said Abdelfattah was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. As of 2014, 244 of America’s diplomats have fallen in our nation’s history while serving overseas.
Diplomacy, by its very nature, must often be practiced in dangerous places where America’s national security hangs in the balance. We have to weigh the imperatives of our national security against the sacrifices required to safeguard it. As Secretary of State I was responsible for nearly seventy thousand employees, and I deeply admired those who volunteered to accept the risks that come with carrying our flag where it is needed most. Every day as they walk into work the men and women of the State Department pass the names of those 244 fallen diplomats inscribed in marble in the lobby of the Harry S Truman Building. It’s a constant reminder of the risks that come with representing the United States around the world. I was heartened—though not surprised—to learn from the Department that after major attacks against the United States, applications to the Foreign Service went up. People want to serve our country, even when it means being in harm’s way. Nothing speaks more to the character and dedication of those who represent our country around the world.
The events of September 2012, and the choices made in the days and weeks before and since, throw into sharp relief some of the toughest dilemmas of American foreign policy—and the heartbreaking human stakes of every decision we make. Our diplomats must balance the necessity of engaging in difficult and dangerous settings with the need to stay safe and secure. As a country, we have to do more to protect them, without preventing them from doing their important jobs. We need to stay open to the world in a time when any provocation can spark anti-American riots across the globe and far-flung terrorist groups continue to plot new attacks. Ultimately these challenges boil down to this: Are we willing to shoulder the burdens of American leadership in a perilous age?
Part of the answer came from the independent investigation into the Benghazi attacks, which noted, “The total elimination of risk is a non-starter for U.S. diplomacy, given the need for the U.S. government to be present in places where stability and security are often most profoundly lacking and host government support is sometimes minimal to non-existent.”
While we can and must work to reduce the danger, the only way to eliminate risk entirely is to retreat entirely and to accept the consequences of the void we leave behind. When America is absent, extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened. There are some who believe that is the better choice; I am not one of them. Retreat is not the answer; it won’t make the world a safer place, and it’s just not in our country’s DNA. When faced with setbacks and tragedies, Americans have always worked harder and smarter. We strive to learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them. And we do not shrink from the challenges ahead. That is what we must continue to do.
The events of that September occurred in what is often called the “fog of war,” with information hard to come by, and conflicting or incomplete reports making it difficult to tell what was actually happening on the ground, especially from thousands of miles away in Washington. To a frustrating degree, that fog persisted so long, in part because of continuing turmoil in Libya. And despite the best efforts of officials from across our government—including the White House, the State Department, the military, the intelligence community, the FBI, an independent Accountability Review Board, and eight Congressional committees—there will never be perfect clarity on everything that happened. It is unlikely that there will ever be anything close to full agreement on exactly what happened that night, how it happened, or why it happened. But that should not be confused with a lack of effort to discover the truth or to share it with the American people. I am grateful to the many dedicated professionals who have worked tirelessly to answer all the questions they could to the best of their abilities.
What follows is based on a combination of my own personal experience and information learned over the following days, weeks, and months thanks to several exhaustive investigations, especially the work of the independent review board charged with determining the facts and pulling no punches. While there has been a regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media, more than a year later in-depth reporting from a number of reputable sources continues to expand our understanding of these events.
While the morning of September 11, 2012, began like many others, there are few dates as meaningful to our country. On every 9/11 since 2001, I think back to that terrible day. I was not even a year into representing New York in the Senate when it was devastated by the attacks on the Twin Towers. That day, which started with hundreds fleeing down the stairs of the Capitol Building and ended with hundreds of members standing on those very same steps singing “God Bless America” in a moving display of unity, shaped my unrelenting focus on helping New York recover and securing it against future attacks. With those memories flooding back, I left home for the State Department.
After the short drive to the office, the first order of business, as always, was to receive the daily briefing on intelligence and national security developments, including the latest reports of terrorist threats around the world. This briefing is given every day to senior officials across our government. It is prepared by a team of dedicated career intelligence analysts who work overnight before fanning out across Washington before dawn every morning to hand-deliver and orally present their reports.
The past few months had been a tumultuous time across the Middle East and North Africa. The civil war in Syria was escalating, sending refugees streaming into Jordan and Turkey. In Egypt the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood and tensions with the military raised questions about the future of the Arab Spring. Al Qaeda’s affiliates in North Africa, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula continued to threaten regional security.
On September 8, an inflammatory fourteen-minute video that purported to be a trailer for a full-length movie called Innocence of Muslims was aired on an Egyptian satellite TV network widely available across the Middle East. According to several press accounts, the film depicts a “buffoonish caricature of the prophet Muhammad,” using “slurs about him that are often repeated by Islamophobes,” even comparing him to a donkey. One press report claims that in the film the Prophet is “accused of homosexuality and child molestation.” Many Egyptian viewers were outraged, and, fueled by the internet, that rage quickly spread across the Middle East and North Africa. Although the U.S. government had absolutely nothing to do with the video, many blamed America.
The anniversary of 9/11 added another potentially combustible element and, like every year, prompted our intelligence and security officials to proceed with extra caution. Yet the intelligence community, as they’ve testified since, relayed no actionable intelligence about specific threats against any U.S. diplomatic post across the Middle East and North Africa.
Later that morning I walked from my office down the hall to the Treaty Room to officially swear in Gene Cretz, who had recently returned from service in Libya, as our new Ambassador to Ghana. Around the same time, half a world away in Cairo, young men began gathering in the street outside the U.S. Embassy as part of a protest organized by hardline Islamist leaders against the insulting video. The crowd swelled to more than two thousand people shouting anti-American slogans and waving black jihadi banners. Some demonstrators climbed the walls and ripped apart a large American flag, replacing it with a black flag. Egyptian riot police eventually arrived, but the protest continued. Thankfully none of our people were injured in the melee. Journalists and others in the crowd using social media recorded angry comments about the video. One young man said, “This is a very simple reaction to harming our prophet.” Another insisted, “This movie must be banned immediately and an apology should be made.”
This was not the first time that provocateurs had used offensive material to whip up popular outrage across the Muslim world, often with deadly results. In 2010, a Florida pastor named Terry Jones announced plans to burn the Quran, Islam’s holy text, on the ninth anniversary of 9/11. His threats were picked up and amplified by extremists setting off widespread protests. At that time I was surprised that one firebrand in Gainesville, Florida, with a tiny church could cause so much trouble. But the consequences of his threat were all too real. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates personally called Jones and told him that his actions endangered the lives of American and Coalition soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jones agreed to hold off, and the anniversary came and went. Then in March 2011, he went back on his word and burned a Quran. Bob’s warnings proved tragically prescient, as an angry mob in Afghanistan set fire to a UN office and killed seven people. Deadly protests erupted again in February 2012 after U.S. troops inadvertently burned religious texts at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Four Americans died. Now Jones was helping promote this new video insulting the Prophet Muhammad and there was a real danger of history repeating itself.
With an eye on the developing situation in Cairo, I headed to the White House to meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. When I returned to my office, I huddled with senior State Department leaders throughout the afternoon, closely monitoring reports from our embassy. Our Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, happened to be back in Washington for consultations, and she stayed in constant contact with her Deputy Chief of Mission and worked the phones to pressure the Egyptian authorities to get control of the situation. We were all relieved when further violence was avoided.
We learned later that as events unfolded in Cairo, in neighboring Libya Ambassador Chris Stevens was visiting the country’s second largest city, ...
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