What Hillary Clinton’s book says about 16 world leaders


Clinton's book, already in German. (Kay Nietfeld/European Pressphoto Agency)

Hillary Rodham Clinton's new book, "Hard Choices," is many things. At its most basic, it's an autobiography, but it's also, no doubt, some kind of campaign manifesto (Clinton's 2016 run is now looking like more and more inevitable).

For me, however, the most interesting thing is that the book is a first-person portrayal of global diplomacy at its highest level. Sure, it's almost certainly a sanitized, agenda-driven portrayal, but it's still fascinating glimpse into that world. Clinton was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, dealing with many of world's best (and worst) leaders, and the book details her experiences with many of them. So what is Vladimir Putin like behind closed doors? And what did Clinton really think of Silvio Berlusconi?

These are questions that don't just matter to Americans: They matter to readers all over the world. WorldViews has collected some of the best moments below.

Vladimir Putin


(Alexey Druzhinyn/RIA Novosti/Kremlin pool)

As you might imagine, the Russian president is an important part of Clinton's book, and while she stops shorting of comparing him to Adolf Hitler, she has some criticism. "He was disciplined and fit, a practitioner of judo, and he inspired hope and confidence among Russians still reeling from so much political change and economic adversity,"  Clinton says, before adding. "But he also proved over time to be thin-skinned and autocratic, resenting criticism and eventually cracking down on dissent and debate, including a free press and NGOs."

The few moments of detente between the two come when Clinton attempts to move outside of geopolitics, instead asking Putin about Siberian tigers and environmentalism ("He launched into an animated discourse in English on the fate of the tigers in the east, polar bears in the north, and other endangered species," she observes). At one point Putin tells a remarkable story about his father saving his mother from certain death during the brutal Siege of Leningrad, although Clinton's tone suggests that perhaps she doesn't buy it.

Clinton is more positive when talking about Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and speaks at length about Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who she says was "perpetually tanned and well-tailored, spoke fluent English, had a taste for fine whiskey and the poetry of Pushkin." She also describes, in detail, the moment that she gave him a giant button that was supposed to say "reset" in Russian, but actually read "overcharge".

Moammar Gaddafi


(Ernesto Ruscio/AFP/Getty Images)

Clinton doesn't mince words with this dictator. According to her, the late Libyan leader was "of the most eccentric, cruel, and unpredictable autocrats in the world."

"In my eyes, Qaddafi was a criminal and a terrorist who could never be trusted," Clinton writes, detailing his long history.

Later, she briefly mentions Gaddafi's strange obsession with her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice.

Kim Jong Il


(Reuters/Korea News Service)

The late North Korean leader is described as "aging and eccentric," although Clinton notes that Kim apparently had a "soft spot" for Bill Clinton since 1994, when, as president, he sent a letter of condolence after the death of Kim Il Sung, Kim's father. The new leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, is only mentioned in passing.

Silvio Berlusconi


(Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

Clinton's description of the former Italian prime minister is perhaps one of the most interesting in the book, although he is not a major character. Portrayed as somewhat vulnerable, he is shown to be incensed by France's lack of consultation before military action in Libya (a former Italian colony) and is clearly hurt when WikiLeak's publishes U.S. diplomatic cables that portray him as a "feckless, vain, and ineffective."

"Why are you saying those things about me?" Clinton recalls Berlusconi saying.

It seems possible that Clinton has some sympathy for Berlusconi, who was convicted of fraud after quitting Italian office. (The other possibility – that Clinton may want to avoid offending Berlusconi in case he enters office again – is more worrying.)

David Cameron


(Stefan Rousseau/AFP)

Despite the "special relationship," the British prime minister, like his predecessor, Gordon Brown, is described in pleasant though unexciting and brief terms. Instead, she heaps praise on Foreign Ministers William Hague and David Miliband, the latter of which is described as "young, energetic, smart, creative, and attractive, with a ready smile."

Clinton also occasionally mentions former British prime minister Tony Blair, who is described as an "old friend" and someone she confides in.

Hamid Karzai


AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini

Clinton writes that talking to the Afghan president was often “a frustrating exercise," adding that he could be charming but was often stubborn. “There was, however, no way to avoid him or to only take those parts of him with which we agreed," she explains.

Benjamin Netanyahu


(AP Photo/Gali Tibbon, Pool)

Clinton calls the Israeli prime minister a "complicated figure," who is "deeply skeptical" of the Oslo Accords and "understandably fixated" on the threat posed to Israel by Iran.

She writes that she and Netanyahu "argued frequently," but worked together as "partners and friends."

Mahmoud Abbas


(Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

Clinton has the following, not entirely positive comments to make about the Palestinian president: "I sometimes thought that while Arafat had the circumstances required to make peace but not the will, Abbas may have had the will but not the circumstances, though at some of our more frustrating moments, I wondered about his will, too."

Mohamed Morsi


(Oliver Weiken/EPA)

Clinton points out that the ousted Egyptian president had a number of bad moments, such as his clashes with the judiciary, poor economic track record, and an apparent refusal to stop religious persecution. However, she adds that some things he did – like keeping the peace deal with Israel and negotiating for a ceasefire in Gaza – were clearly positive.

Speaking about military leader (and now president) Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Clinton writes that he "appears to be following the classic mold of Middle Eastern strongmen."

Felipe Calderon


(Bernardo Montoya/Reuters)

In the book, Clinton recalls meeting Calderon in March 2009, and that the then Mexican president expressed anger about what he felt were mixed messages from the United States. "How am I supposed to stop the well-armed drug traffickers, he would ask, when you won't stop the weapons they buy across the border and you have states starting to legalize the use of marijuana? Why should my citizens, law enforcement, or military put their lives on the line under such circumstances?" Clinton recalls him saying, admitting: "Those were uncomfortable but fair questions."

Hugo Chavez


(Miraflores Palace via Reuters)

Clinton manages to both insult and dismiss the late Venezuelan leader with just a half-sentence: "A self-aggrandizing dictator who was more of an aggravation than a real threat, except to his own citizens"

She also recalls that Chavez once went on Venezuelan television and sang a song with the lyrics "I'm not loved by Hillary Clinton … and I don't love her either."

"It was hard to argue with that," she writes.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan


(Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

Erdogan is a "ambitious, forceful, devout and effective politician," Clinton says, before going on to be more critical of the Turkish prime minister. "Despite positive developments under Erdogan, there was growing cause for concern, even alarm, about his government's treatment of political opponents and journalists," Clinton writes.

She later criticizes Erdogan's attempt to broker a new Iran deal. describing him as man who thought he was "action able to bend history" to his will, but only producing only "lackluster" or even "counterproductive" results.

Nicholas Sarkozy


(Susana Vera/Reuters)

Thanks to French involvement in Libya, the former French president is one of the most important world leaders in Clinton's book, and he comes across well. "Most leaders are quieter than they appear to be on the stage," Clinton writes. "Not Sarkozy. He was even more dramatic – and fun – in person."

Intriguingly, she notes that Sarkozy loved to gossip about other world leader, and told her one was a "drug-addled maniac" (sadly, Clinton doesn't reveal who). Later, Clinton describes how he was influenced in his thoughts on intervention in Libya by "the French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy who had hitched a ride in a vegetable truck from the Egyptian border to see for himself what was happening."

Sarkozy's successor, Francois Hollande, is only mentioned once in passing.

Hu Jintao


(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

"Hu [Jintao] seemed to me more like an aloof chairman of the board than a hands-on CEO," Clinton observes, largely ignoring the Chinese president and instead preferring to talk at length about State Councillor Dai Bingguo (he's "small and compact" but "vigorous and healthy") and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, to whom she "gently pointed out that America, in fact, had won the most medals of any country" after the London Olympics.

Hu's successor, Xi Jinping, is only mentioned in passing.

Angela Merkel


(Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Clinton's kindest words are saved for the German chancellor, a rare female world leader who Clinton has known since 1994. "For all of its vaunted progressivism on matters like health care and climate change," Clinton writes. "Europe can still feel like the world's most venerable old boys' club, and it was heartening to see Angela shaking things up." Clinton says that Merkel was "decisive, astute, and straightforward, and she always told me exactly what was on her mind," and she mentions their shared fondness for pantsuits.

She appears to be the only world leader that Clinton refers to by first name only.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad


(Atta Kenare/AFP)

While much of the book deals with negotiations with Iran and protests within the country, Clinton has little to say about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, dismissing him as "a holocaust denier and provocateur who threatened to wipe Israel off the map and insulted the West at every point." She later points out that while Ahmadinejad was a "bellicose peacock strutting on the world stage," the "real authority rested with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ... [who] made no secret of his hatred for America."

Want more? You can check out the book here.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
SECTION: {section=world, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=5, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=5, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=world, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=5, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=5, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read World
Next Story
Fred Barbash · June 11