Interview With George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
November 15, 2009

QUESTION: And we begin today with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Thanks for spending time with us this morning.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, it’s a pleasure to talk with you from Singapore, George.

QUESTION: Well, and as you’re in Singapore, you and the President are facing, really, his toughest decision yet on Afghanistan. And on his way over when he stopped at Elmendorf Air Force Base, President Obama made this commitment to the troops and the country. Listen:

“We will give you the strategy and the clear mission you deserve. We will give you the equipment and support that you need to get the job done. And that includes public support back home. That is a promise that I make to you.”

QUESTION: Now, that is a tough promise to keep. History shows that the public won't support a war for very long, if they're not convinced that the goal is worthy, but also, and probably more important, that the war can be won. How can you convince the country that this war can be won?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the President said it very well, in talking to some of the brave young men and women in uniform when he stopped at Elmendorf. What he's been doing in the last weeks is testing every single assumption, asking for evidence, asking for dissenting opinions. I mean, he has conducted an extraordinary effort to make sure that the decision he makes is rooted in his best judgement, as to what is in the national security interest of the United States. And I believe that is a case that can be made to the American people. I have no doubt about that.

Now, look, I understand that there will be people who are maybe critical or unconvinced or not persuaded. But I think the majority of Americans will know that this President has gone the extra mile -- in fact, more than that -- to make sure that whatever decision he makes is in the best interest of our country, that it is aimed at making our country more secure, and supporting our men and women in uniform, as they fulfill the mission.

QUESTION: Well, one of those dissenting voices right now is reported to be our ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry. He is also the former commanding general of U.S. forces there. And he has sent cables to Washington warning that President Karzai is not a worthy partner, and that sending more troops to Afghanistan now could actually make it more difficult for the Afghan Government, President Karzai, the Afghan army, to do what they need to defend their country on their own.

And I know you can't comment on any classified cables, but what do you think of this sentiment that President Karzai has not shown that he is a credible partner yet, and that sending more troops now will actually make the Afghan army too dependent on U.S. forces?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, George, you're right; I can't and wouldn't comment on the confidential advice that anyone has provided to the President during his deliberations. But the argument that you have just described is one that a number of people have made in the press and in arguments that have certainly been made known to me, to the President, and others.

We agree that our goal here is to defeat al-Qaida. That has been a clear goal and a mission from the President ever since he made his commitment of additional troops back in the spring. And we understand that the Afghans themselves need help in order to defend themselves against the Taliban. Those are mutually reinforcing missions.

But our highest obligation is the American people. It is to do everything we can to make sure that America is secure, that our allies, our interests around the world, are protected. And that is what we are focused on.

Now, we believe that President Karzai and his government can do better. We have delivered that message. Now that the election is finally over, we are looking to see tangible evidence that the government, led by the president, but going all the way down to the local level, will be more responsive to the needs of the people, will deliver the services that the people of Afghanistan want – who do not want a return of the Taliban, but they want a government that actually can function on their behalf – and that, together, we and our allies in the international community will help them to build a security force that can take care of their security going forward.

QUESTION: But President Karzai does seem to be ignoring some of our concerns. He is surrounded by a Vice President Marshal Fahim, who’s been accused of corruption. He is allied with General Dostum, a warlord, who has been accused of massacres in the past.

What kind of concrete steps must President Karzai take to prove that sending more troops is not a waste of American lives and American money?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have made it clear that we are not going to be providing any civilian aid to Afghanistan unless we have a certification that, if it goes into the Afghan Government in any form, that we are going to have ministries that we can hold accountable.

We are expecting there to be a major crimes tribunal, an anti-corruption commission established and functioning, because there does have to be action by the Government of Afghanistan against those who have taken advantage of the money that has poured into Afghanistan in the last eight years, so that we can better track it, and we can have actions taken that demonstrate there is no impunity for those who are corrupt.

So, we are going to be doing what we can to create an atmosphere in which the blood and treasure that the United States has committed to Afghanistan can be justified and can produce the kind of results that we're looking for.

But we have no illusions. This is not the prior days when people would come on your show and talk about how we were going to help the Afghans build a modern democracy and build a more functioning state, and do all these wonderful things. That could happen. But our primary focus is on the security of the United States of America. How do we protect and defend against future attacks? We do not want to see Afghanistan return to being a safe haven and a staging platform for terrorism, as it was before. That is what is driving the President to make the best decision he can make.

QUESTION: The word of the week in Washington appears to be "off-ramps." That's what the President is pushing for, off-ramps out of Afghanistan. What is the off-ramp out of Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we want to get al-Qaida, George, and we're very clear about that. And we see it as part of our integrated strategy, looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan as a theater in which we have to operate.

We have made it clear to the Pakistanis, as well as to the Afghans and others, that we want to do everything we can to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida. And when we talk about on-ramps, off-ramps, whatever the terminology of the day might be, that's a kind of shorthand. What we are trying to figure out is what is the best decision the President can make to achieve our primary core objective.

We’re not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We have no long-term stake there. We want that to be made very clear. We came to do a mission. Unfortunately, it was not achieved in the last eight years. In fact, the mission was changed because it could not be achieved or no longer was the primary goal that was expressed in the prior administration.

Well, our goal is very clear. We want to get the people who attacked us. And we want to prevent them and their syndicate of terrorism from posing a threat to us, our allies, and our interests.

QUESTION: While you are there, the Attorney General announced that he was going to be prosecuting al-Qaida members in U.S. criminal courts in Manhattan, in New York City, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his alleged accomplices. And that’s come under some fire, including from the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, who is our next guest. Here is what the mayor had to say about that decision:

“This was an act of war and an act of terror. They should be prosecuted. They should be prosecuted in a military tribunal. We would not have tried the people who attacked Pearl Harbor in a civilian court in Hawaii for what they did.”

QUESTION: Now it is true that during World War II we tried Nazis who crossed our borders in military courts, in military tribunals. Why is it so important to have these trials in federal criminal courts?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, George, this is a decision that the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense have made after extensive, exhaustive review. Look, I was a senator for eight years. I was a senator on 9/11. My goal is to make sure that the masterminds and the other implementers and designers of this horrific attack on us pay the ultimate penalty for what they did to the United States and to a lot of people who I know and who I had the honor of representing.

The Attorney General is determined, after consulting with veteran prosecutors, that this is a case that appropriately can be brought in our federal courts. Other cases will be brought in the military commissions. I'm not going to second-guess the Attorney General.

QUESTION: The State Department has the job of trying to find homes for the 90 or so prisoners at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release, but there is no country that will take them. How long will it take to find places for those 90 detainees? And will that delay -- how much further will that delay the closing of Guantanamo?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually, George, we have been making progress. I think when we started, there were way more than 100. I don't remember the exact number. We have a dedicated group, led by Ambassador Dan Fried, who have literally traveled the world making arrangements for detainees to be transferred to countries willing to accept them. And we are making progress. There is a large group of detainees from Yemen that pose some specific security issues that have to be addressed, but we are making progress.

QUESTION: While you have been gone, Sarah Palin is making quite a splash back here in the United States. Her book, "Going Rogue," is about to be released, but there are already excerpts out. And she has some kind words for you in the book. She says she was wrong to criticize you last year for whining, and now she says that she realized the media was biased when talking about your candidacy.

And she goes on to say this, to write this: "Should Secretary Clinton and I ever sit down over a cup of coffee, I know that we will fundamentally disagree on many issues. But my hat is off to her hard work on the 2008 campaign trail. A lot of her supporters think she proved what Margaret Thatcher proclaimed, 'If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.'"

It sounds like she's fishing for a coffee date. Is it going to happen?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you know, I have never met her. And look, I’d look forward to sit down and talk with her. Obviously, we are going to hear a lot more from her in the upcoming weeks, with her book coming out. And I would look forward to having a chance to actually get to meet her.

QUESTION: Was the media fair to her?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, George, I will leave that for my book, if I ever write another one. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I only have one final question. As you know, Mayor Giuliani is following you in just a minute. And he's been talking to a lot of people in New York about running for governor next year. And a lot of governors think you are doing exactly the same thing. Are they right?

SECRETARY CLINTON: What, that I am talking about --

QUESTION: Talking to people about running for governor.

SECRETARY CLINTON: -- Mayor Giuliani running for governor?

QUESTION: No, talking about running for governor yourself next year.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, no. That's another one of those stories that never will die, and I hope maybe we can put it to rest today. No, I am committed to the job that I have. It is an extraordinarily important time to be the Secretary of State of my country and to work with President Obama in trying to pursue our interests and advance our values around the world. And that's what I am going to continue doing.

QUESTION: So that rumor is dead. You're not running.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That rumor is dead. And if you could please, you know, like put it in a little box and send it off somewhere, I would appreciate it.

QUESTION: It is done. Madame Secretary, thanks very much for your time today.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks, George. Good to talk to you.

PRN: 2009/1139