Hillary Clinton embarks on book tour - or is it campaign trail?

In this May 14, 2014 file photo, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles before speaking at the World Bank in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
In this May 14, 2014 file photo, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles before speaking at the World Bank in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hillary Clinton embarks this week on her most high-profile tour since leaving the State Department, a cross-country bonanza where the American public and media will focus as much on her political future as her past.

Of course, she is hawking her new memoir too. "Hard Choices," which details her four-year tenure as President Barack Obama's first secretary of state, hits bookshelves on Tuesday and is the rationale for the publicity blitz.

But the optics of Clinton's weeks-long book tour, when she comes face to face with voters and refreshes some of the skills she has not used as much since leaving public office last year, unavoidably suggest the opening salvo of a 2016 presidential run.

Team Hillary has spent months carefully crafting a systematic rollout of the most anticipated book of the year, teasing the Beltway press corps with excerpts about her response to the deadly attacks in Benghazi and how America remains the "indispensable nation."

Along the way, the former first lady has kept up a frenetic pace of speeches and television interviews, a whirlwind that will only intensify beginning on Monday with a one-hour interview with ABC News, followed by a swarm of book-related events in places like New York, Chicago and even Canada.

Amid the battle by US networks for on-air interviews, Clinton has scheduled speeches in Philadelphia and Kansas City, a townhall in Washington, a book-signing event at a Virginia Costco and a "conversation" in Austin, Texas, among several other appearances in June.

The woman who narrowly lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to Obama has even agreed to a sit-down interview with Fox News, hardly the friendliest of media outlets for Clinton.

Would someone not interested in the world's top job really be putting herself through such paces?

"Obviously, she's getting ready to run for president, (and) she well knows that everything she does is a step in the direction of that goal," University of Michigan assistant professor Michael Heaney told AFP.

- 'Safe Choices' -

One of those steps is publishing a memoir that is less a tell-all and more a series of cautious revelations about her time as chief US diplomat.

It is also a reactive and pre-emptive strike against her Republican critics.

The memoir touches on the Iraq War - she called her 2002 Senate vote authorizing it a "mistake" - the deadly attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Washington's shaky Kremlin ties and Russia's invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

She also tactfully put some distance between herself and Obama, writing that she favoured arming rebels early in Syria's civil war. Obama resisted.

"No one likes to lose a debate, including me. But this was the president's call," she wrote, according to CBS News, which obtained an early copy of the book.

She peppered her memoir with personal tales, including husband Bill Clinton's emotional first dance with their daughter Chelsea at her wedding.

With Clinton only handing in her manuscript on April 23, the memoir includes passages that seem pulled from recent headlines, including criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression in Ukraine.

She also addresses her mulling the 2011 negotiations with the Taliban over a US soldier who coincidentally was released last weekend as part of a controversial exchange for five Taliban officials held at Guantanamo.

But "Hard Choices" shares little gossip, and does not shed much light on the inner workings of an administration contending with a dangerous world. "Safe Choices" is how Slate magazine described it.

"No politician is going to write a tell-all book if they think they're going to have to face the voters again," said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government at American University.

Its publication provides "a venue for her to now start travelling across the country and dipping her toe back in the water, and meeting voters and talking to people."

As for whether Clinton will seek the White House, the former first lady has said she will make her decision this year.

"Will I run for president in 2016?" she writes in her memoir. "The answer is, I haven't decided yet."

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