12:40 PM EDT, June 6, 2014
Reporting from Washington
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged in her new book that negotiations with the Taliban were bound to be hotly controversial with Americans, but wrote that bringing home captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had to be a top priority.
Clinton writes in “Hard Choices” that “opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war,” according to an account of excerpts published Thursday by CBS News. Yet in every contact with the Taliban, U.S. officials demanded the release of Bergdahl and made clear that “there would not be any agreement about prisoners without the sergeant coming home.”
Clinton’s book, due for release Tuesday, was written well before the swap of five top Taliban officials for Bergdahl last Saturday set off controversy in Washington. Her comments underscored, however, that the Obama administration was determined to complete the deal, despite its political risks.
The book is intended to defend Clinton’s reputation as the nation’s top diplomat from 2009 to 2013 and help stir enthusiasm among her followers in advance of her possible 2016 presidential run. In describing her policy views and actions, the excerpts released so far break little new ground.
Clinton uses her strongest language yet in disavowing her 2002 vote authorizing military action in Iraq. She says she was torn by the decision about whether the United States should go to war against Saddam Hussein.
“I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had,” she wrote. “And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong.”
Clinton appears to want to finally close the door on a vote that was unpopular with many Democrats during her 2008 run, and may be even more out of step with the public mood today.
Clinton distances herself from President Obama’s much-criticized approach to the Syrian civil war, saying that she supported arming the rebels when Obama did not.
“No one likes to lose a debate, including me,” she writes. “But this was the president’s call and I respect his deliberations and decisions.”
Clinton renews her criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing him as “thin-skinned and autocratic.”
Putin has already fired back, calling her “weak” and “not graceful” in interviews with French television on Thursday.
Clinton acknowledges that aides let her down in 2009 during a meeting in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that she intended to be a fence-mending opportunity. Clinton handed Lavrov an oversized red button labeled "Reset," intended to symbolize the American desire for improved relations with Moscow.
But an aide mistranslated the word, as Lavrov pointed out with relish. “It was not the finest hour for American linguistic skills,” she writes.
Clinton says she believes the truth will remain elusive on what happened in the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
“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,” she writes. “But it should not be confused with a lack of effort to discover the truth or to share it with the American people.”
She describes a fence-mending meeting with Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention as an “awkward first date.”
“We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date, taking a few sips of Chardonnay.” She said that both candidates and their staffs “had a long list of grievances” from the primary campaign. “It was time to clear the air.”
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