Madam Secretary

The HRC Poll: Which books should be on Hillary’s reading list?

It’s time again for Madam Secretary’s Hillary Poll. This week, we asked our panel of experts which book they think Hillary should read this weekend to bone up on the issues she’ll be tackling at Foggy Bottom. Paul Begala: Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. My favorite moment is when Milo Minderbinder says, “Frankly I’d like to see the ...

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It's time again for Madam Secretary's Hillary Poll. This week, we asked our panel of experts which book they think Hillary should read this weekend to bone up on the issues she'll be tackling at Foggy Bottom.

Paul Begala:

Joseph Heller's Catch 22. My favorite moment is when Milo Minderbinder says, "Frankly I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry." Heller meant it as dark humor; Dick Cheney and George W. Bush made it government policy. Pres. Obama and Sec. Clinton need to put America's national interest back at the heart of our foreign policy; not crackpot theories of "transformation" carried out by multibillion dollar no-bid contracts. Only Heller can do justice to the circular logic of the Bush occupation of Iraq: When things are going badly, it's proof we have to stay there. When things are going better, it's proof we cannot leave. Col. Cathcart would love Don Rumsfeld. 

It’s time again for Madam Secretary’s Hillary Poll. This week, we asked our panel of experts which book they think Hillary should read this weekend to bone up on the issues she’ll be tackling at Foggy Bottom.

Paul Begala:


Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. My favorite moment is when Milo Minderbinder says, “Frankly I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.” Heller meant it as dark humor; Dick Cheney and George W. Bush made it government policy. Pres. Obama and Sec. Clinton need to put America‘s national interest back at the heart of our foreign policy; not crackpot theories of “transformation” carried out by multibillion dollar no-bid contracts. Only Heller can do justice to the circular logic of the Bush occupation of Iraq: When things are going badly, it’s proof we have to stay there. When things are going better, it’s proof we cannot leave. Col. Cathcart would love Don Rumsfeld. 

 

Les Gelb:


Given her crushing schedule, I recommend my own forthcoming book entitled Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy. Why, you ask? Because it will show her that power isn’t smart or dumb or hard or soft. Power is power — that is, pressure and coercion. Only leaders can be hard or soft or smart or dumb.

 

Dov Zakheim:


I would strongly recommend that she read Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America‘s War with Militant Islam, which retells in gripping fashion the story of the 1979-80 hostage crisis. Bowden demonstrates how little we understood the Iranians, even though we had a massive fortress-like embassy in Tehran (and as we now have in Baghdad). The embassy did not have enough Farsi speakers, nor people who really understood the culture. We consistently misread the mood of the Iranians, were constantly caught by surprise, and paid a steep price as a result. As she undertakes to engage our putative, or actual, enemies, the new Secretary of State needs to have a sense not only of what we know about them, but of what we don’t know, and how that lack of knowledge might affect the outcomes she seeks. And Bowden’s book is a good read!

 

Jacques Attali:

Machiavelli’s The Prince

 

 

 

 

Mort Abramowitz:


Clinton
should get an advance copy of Les Gelb’s new book on power. And George Eliot’s Middlemarch is good for any weekend.

 

 

 

Stephen Walt:


I’d recommend Richard Neustadt and Ernest May’s Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decisionmakers. Secretary Clinton will inevitably face an array of difficult policy choices, and both her aides and her adversaries will employ historical precedents, analogies, and arguments to try to sway her decisions. May and Neustadt can help her think more critically about the ways that history and its interpretation shapes our attitudes and decisions, and make her less likely to give future historians a juicy example of “what not to do.”

And if she can’t fit a whole book into a busy weekend, she could start with the concluding chapter of my own Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy. She might even agree with it!

 

David Rothkopf:

Let me suggest David Sanger’s excellent new book The Inheritance, which frames the primary national security threats we face better than any other book I know. Sanger offers the same kind of superb reporting that earned him such distinction as the NY Times White House correspondent and now as the Times’ Washington Correspondent. It also offers penetrating insight into the errors made by the Bush administration and the current risks that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are now confronted with in Iran, the greater Middle East, AfghanistanPakistan, China, North Korea and beyond. It’s as good a briefing as an incoming Secretary of State could receive.

 

Dan Drezner:

I would recommend Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). The title is not a play on words — it’s about the problems and puzzles created by people trying to get from point A to point B in various vehicles of conveyance. Why is it a good book for the Secretary of State? Vanderbilt’s chapters are filled with the myriad ways in which fixing traffic problems is a more complex task than one would think. Traffic jams exist in part because the sum of people acting rational at the local level can translate into systemic gridlock. After just a week at Foggy Bottom, this pattern will seem familiar to Madam Secretary. In many ways, the best advice to Clinton is to respond to bureaucratic gridlock in the same way as one responds to traffic gridlock: Don’t lose your temper, and consider alternate routes to your desired destination.

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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