If you're in the middle of reading HRC, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes's new biography of Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state, I do not suggest that you watch House of Cards in your downtime. It's not that the Netflix series about a sociopathic politician will force you to think ill of politicians. The problem is that the politicians in House of Cards are so competent, so in control of their lives and plans, that they'll make every politician in HRC look like an amateur in comparison.

It's not that HRC is an especially negative or partisan account (although Allen does work for the rightward-leaning Politico). It is a reminder that much of what the secretary of state (and, by inference, the president) does is reactive. Clinton approached the State Department with a proactive agenda—she wanted to demonstrate "smart power," Pentagon official Joseph Nye's foreign policy approach that blends "traditional 'hard power' such as military force and economic sanctions with the 'soft power' of inducing foreign nations to change their behavior by offering carrots such as political or economic assistance." Instead, she inherited a Middle East that was about to launch into radical upheaval and an America that was standing on shaky financial ground at the same time that China was surging into primacy as an economic power.

And so Clinton did what she always does: She got down to work. In fact, HRC is a portrait of a woman running herself ragged...

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