Interview With Tavis Smiley on Tavis Smiley Reports
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is a game of inches. It’s like a ground game in football where they don’t throw a lot, and if you throw, you’d better be sure the receiver is downfield. (Laughter.) But you just try to make as much forward movement as you possibly can, sometimes against big odds.
QUESTION: You see how tough the job is.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Can you imagine yourself doing all four years and if asked, doing it for another four years?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No.
QUESTION: No to what? All four or all eight?
QUESTION: We all know Chelsea is – has announced her engagement.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I wonder seriously whether or not, as you think about that big event next year, it is a welcome distraction or does it feel at this point like another pressure point that you’re going to have to focus on next year?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, it’s exciting. I mean, we are so happy about it and I’ve never been an MOTB, the mother of the bride before.
QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: So I’m going to relish every minute of this preparation.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I told President Obama when he was president-elect and asked me if I would take this job that I wanted to stay in the Senate and really was not looking for this job, had not sought this job. But it has been a real honor.
This is an extraordinary opportunity to serve my country, and I feel strongly that when a President asks you to serve, you try to say yes. And certainly, for me, working with President Obama and his national security team has been one of the great privileges of my life.
QUESTION: It does raise the obvious question for me, which is how do you accomplish in 18 months what hasn’t been done in eight years?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there’s unfortunately some pretty easy answers to that. The prior administration took their eye off the ball when it came to Afghanistan. Many of us, starting right after we were successful in routing the Taliban, said, look, you can’t just think it’s over. You got to get in there with enough support to be able to hold this and really stabilize Afghanistan. It never happened. They never provided the resources that were needed. And I think what we have now is a resource-smart strategy.
QUESTION: I noticed sitting in the audience almost none of the Republicans showed up, but all the Democrats showed up for that hearing. Some of them pushed you pretty hard. How should the American people read the fact that you’re getting more pushback on this Afghanistan proposal, the President’s proposal?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Tavis, I’m not surprised for a couple of reasons. I think that many Democrats want to be sure that what the President has proposed with this latest strategy has a high likelihood of success. We’ve been in Afghanistan for eight years. It’s been painful. We’ve lost young men and women. We have seen a lot of sacrifice as well as the money that has been spent. So I think Democrats who care about jobs, care about healthcare, care about a lot of other issues want to just be sure that this is headed in the right direction. And I respect that. These are my former colleagues. I’ve served with them. I think it shows they take their responsibilities seriously that they ask tough questions.
QUESTION: This is not a statement about Hillary Clinton’s race politics because this is not your responsibility – let me preface it that way – but I noticed in your press pool a lot of women, which I was happy to see – a significant number of women cover you in the press pool. I, as a visitor on that trip to Brussels, was the only African American in your press pool. And I wondered whether or not you noticed that every day.
I certainly noticed it. The press pool is all white. All the persons serving us on the plane who are active-duty military happen to be black. You have a commander-in-chief who is now black managing and making life-and-death decisions about a military now that’s disproportionately, as you know, black and brown. What does it mean and how should the American people read the news that they get that is not filtered by or reported by, in any significant way, covering the State Department, people of color?
And again, that’s not you. Media outlets make decisions on who covers the State Department. But have you noticed that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ve noticed it, but as you say, the media outlets determine who goes on trips and who covers me. And there’s been a lot of changes in press personnel in the 18 years that I’ve been around Washington, and it is much more diverse than it used to be by a long shot. But I think that it still has some ways to go and there needs to be a continuing effort to make sure it’s as diverse as possible.
QUESTION: How do you – and I can’t ask you to speak for the President, but I know you all have talked about this – whether he won or you won, both of you had to know that your Democratic base would not be in the column of support for this particular policy. How do you now, on this side, feel about – I don’t want to use the wrong word here, but alienating, disappointing? You’ve seen the blogs. You know what your base is saying about this decision.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I give President Obama a lot of credit, Tavis, because this was a decision that he knew would be politically unpopular with many people in the Democratic Party, and particularly people who voted for him. He knew that it would be a controversial decision, that it would be a costly one in both lives and treasure. He would not have made the decision he made if he had not become convinced it was in the national security interests of the United States to keep America safe now and in the future.
I really respect the way he struggled with it, he studied it, he analyzed it from every angle. And at the end of the day, he did what he thought was right. And there is a real sense of peace, and I saw it with him. I flew up to West Point with him first on the Marine helicopter, then on Air Force One, so I was in real close quarters with him coming and going. This was a man at peace. He had made his decision. He thought he had done the right thing for his country.
That’s what presidents are supposed to do. And you may agree or disagree with your president, but I don’t think anybody can doubt that President Obama was deliberative, thoughtful, careful, and very responsible in making this decision. And he believes it’s the right decision and I agree with him. It’s not easy, but I don’t know that America has ever had an easy time. Some are just more difficult times than others.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We concluded that it would be like comparing apples and oranges. The United States of America was not attacked from Vietnam. We were attacked from Afghanistan. The people fighting in Vietnam were fighting for a limited purpose, namely to control their own territory against first the French and then what they saw as a puppet regime in the south, and then of course, the Americans and others who fought with us.
What we have in Afghanistan and in the border area with Pakistan is the epicenter of global extremism. And it provides inspiration, funding, training, equipping of terrorists. We believe that the people of Afghanistan do not want the Taliban. They want a different future. So we have to provide more space for the Afghans to develop the capacity to protect themselves, and that’s our goal. We’re not interested in occupying Afghanistan. We don’t want to stay there forever. We want to begin bringing our troops and other troops home in 2011 as circumstances permit.
So I was satisfied in my own mind that it was not an apt comparison.
QUESTION: Speaking of comparisons, Madam Secretary, one of the comparisons that many have made, that President Obama and his team, including you, sound a lot like the Bush people who you all criticized when you ran, in this one regard. Bush said with regard to Iraq, “We’re going to surge, things are going to get better, and we’re going to pull out.” We’re still there.
Now with Afghanistan, the Obama Administration says, “We’re going to surge, things are going to get better, we’re going to pull out.” A lot of folk making comparisons that’s saying he sounds – Obama, that is – sounds a whole lot like Bush on Afghanistan now.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I really don’t agree with that critique. Number one, we are getting out of Iraq. We’re drawing down. We will be gone by – I think it’s 2011 – we’re done, we’re out of there, not a soldier left. We did it in a responsible way; we inherited that from the Bush Administration. But it looks like the Iraqis are going to make their own decisions for better or worse, and we’re going to be gone. And we’ll continue to have the kind of diplomatic and economic interests that countries do with one another. So I think that we’re on the right path with Afghanistan.
Look, I regret deeply that this wasn’t done before, but we had to look at the hand we were dealt when the President got into office. And he is an incredibly thoughtful, intelligent man and he said, look, I’ve got to study this; I don’t know where I’m going to come out on it. I’m not coming in with any preconceptions other than I want to do the best job and I can. And I think the country, regardless of where you stand on this decision, should sleep better at night that we have a president who takes that kind of approach to these difficult issues.
QUESTION: Has it been easier selling NATO or more difficult than you thought before you arrived here?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Easier. And I think it’s easier because people have confidence in President Obama and his decision-making process. They like what they heard at West Point. And they want to be part of finishing the fight we started.
QUESTION: Your thoughts about the commentary that continues to kick up every now and again about your role versus the role of the special envoys that the White House has appointed? Richard Holbrooke was on the plane with us coming back from Brussels. Whether it’s Richard Holbrooke, whether it’s George Mitchell, your thoughts on how people should view your role, your power, your authority versus that of these special envoys that we have in certain hotspots around the globe?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it was my idea. So obviously, I think it’s a good idea.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I told the President after he convinced me to take this job that we just had so much work to do, we were inheriting a very difficult set of problems, and I would work as hard as I could – which I have – but we needed to beef up our assets. And I have seen special envoys in the past. I believe that they can be very value added, and indeed, I think they have been.
They report to me. They are accountable to me. They represent both the President and me as they travel to these areas of great difficulty. But ultimately, the President and I are responsible, just like everybody else who works in the diplomacy and development world. At the end of the day, it’s President Obama and Secretary Clinton who are responsible.
QUESTION: As our chief diplomat, you keep echoing the same thing President Obama has said, which is that whatever happens in July of 2011 will depend on conditions on the ground. You well know there are a lot of Americans who don’t like that phrase, don’t know exactly what that means, think it’s a loophole. Your thoughts?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it would be very difficult for the President to set a date that was a cliff – okay, we get to this date, we’re out of there. There was a responsible monitoring of the withdrawal in Iraq – we’re going to be gone by a date certain – but we didn’t just set a date and leave. We had a program that we followed working with the Iraqis.
Now, when the American troops leave and the Iraqis are totally on their own, that’s what will happen eventually in Afghanistan. We have 34 provinces in Afghanistan. Some of those are ready for full Afghan control now, some will be ready next year, some will be ready by July 2011, and that’s how we intend to proceed.
QUESTION: I wonder whether or not you think your role as chief diplomat has been helped or hurt by having been First Lady and U.S. Senator?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s been helped immeasurably. First of all, because of my eight years as First Lady, there are so many places I’ve already been and so many people whom I know. It’s a great door-opener, it’s a great validator. I’ve gone back and seen people that I’ve literally worked with for nearly 20 years.
And because I ran for and was elected twice to serve in the Senate for New York, I understand the political dimensions of a lot of these difficult diplomatic issues, and I can say to a president or a prime minister, “Look, I understand your problem, but here’s how I hope you can think about it.” I’m not here as a lifelong Foreign Service officer or bureaucrat or academic. I’ve been in politics. I know what it takes to have to convince people to support you. And I have been told time and time again how useful that’s been to a lot of the people I’ve met in many different settings around the world.
QUESTION: You’ve made it clear that you are your own person, but I would assume that having Bill Clinton is an asset.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It sure is an asset – (laughter) – because the people I don’t know he does know, and the places I haven’t been, he’s been. We talk all the time. I ask advice about every issue you can imagine. I have such a great ongoing conversation with Bill that’s lasted for so many years, and I find him a great sounding board for me.
QUESTION: When you walked into the holding room before your testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Afghanistan troop request, and Bertie Bowman, who you’ve known for years since you were a U.S. Senator, is in the room. You immediately spotted Bertie, you walked up to him, and asked him how he was holding up because his wife had just passed away. And I thought, here is Hillary Clinton, Secretary Clinton about to get grilled by this Foreign Relations Committee, but she took the time for the little things, which leads to this question: How do you make time for the little important things in life when you are on the run as much as you are?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s really an interesting observation, Tavis, because for me, it is those personal relationships, it is reaching out to other people, particularly in times of grief or need, that are really the most important parts of my life. Obviously, appearing before the Senate, doing an interview with you, those are significant. But I have to be honest and say it’s those personal connections that have really made my life what it is today. The friends I’ve made, the people that I’ve known over the years, the laughs and tears that we’ve shared.
Take Bertie Bowman, for example. He was working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when my husband was an intern and had a part-time job, when he was in college. So there is just so much of our lives that to me is profoundly important, even though, as you say, there – they may look somewhat little in the great scheme of the big issues we deal with in Washington. But at the end of the day, I think that they’re probably the most important parts of your life.
QUESTION: I cannot think of any women in American political history who has been more demonized by the press than Hillary Clinton. Now, whether you like her or loathe Hillary, agree or disagree, the press has had a field day covering you. I was taking note of the fact that even with that, you seem to make yourself accessible to the press. Talk to me about your relationship with the press, because I know it’s changed over the years.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it has, and I think that the press that covers international events and certainly here at the State Department has been a joy to work with. They are very substantive. They live and breathe the difficult issues that we cope with every single day. And I had a really positive relationship with the press in New York who covered me.
I think that there are still some people living in the past who like to stay with a storyline whether it’s accurate or not. But that’s their decision; I really feel that we’ve got a good working relationship with the press here at the State Department.
QUESTION: Is there a particular storyline on any issue that has continued into your role of Secretary of State, or even started since you’ve been here that particularly rankles you?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. I really try not to think about it. I learned a long time ago to take press coverage seriously, but not personally. You take it seriously because you may learn something, and maybe those who are critiquing you have something to say that you should hear that you wouldn’t hear elsewhere, but don’t take it personally because you never know kind of what’s going on behind the scenes. And so I just don’t pay a lot of attention to that.
I’m well aware of political campaigns being just extremely hard, and there’s nothing harder than the presidential campaign process in the United States. So I was well aware getting into it that it was going to be just hard-knuckled, difficult. What I was not prepared for was a lot of the criticism that I thought had less to do with me and more to do with attitudes about women. That was surprising to me. I mean, it was 2007 and 2008, but that’s something we still have to work on in this country.
QUESTION: You have made it clear – everywhere you go, you continue to raise the issue of women and girls. Pardon the naïveté of the question deliberately, but why women and girls everywhere you go?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, because I care deeply about the rights and responsibilities and the future prospects for women and girls. I couldn’t feel any other way being both a woman and the mother of one, and --
QUESTION: But there are other women, though, who have been in positions like this and, you know, other major positions who haven’t been so passionate about it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have – I’ve been lucky because I have a personal passion, but I also have a well-developed opinion based on evidence that focusing on the well-being of women and girls promotes democracy, promotes stability, creates more opportunity in societies. That’s just an absolute fact. And it is totally uncontroverted now, study after study after study. If you want to see societies emerge from instability and conflict, you have to focus on women and girls. And if you look around the world at areas that are unstable, are unfortunately incubators of terrorism or other forms of violence, you will find women and girls being oppressed, being denied their rights, being marginalized in a way that is dehumanizing.
So it’s both something that I find morally and ethically repugnant when I see the way girls and women are still treated in many parts of the world. It’s also something that I see as Secretary of State that is absolutely integral to our approach to the kind of better and safer world that we’re trying to help create.
QUESTION: Tell me more about that. That is to say, how specifically and uniquely, by focusing on the causes and the concerns of women and girls, that that accrues a benefit to the U.S. long term?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have done this work now, as you say, for nearly 20 years, about 18 internationally. And what I have seen in conflict situation after conflict situation is that when women and girls finally get involved, when women’s voices are heard, you are on the way, more likely than not, to ending the conflict.
I saw that in my work in Northern Ireland. I saw that in Central America. I have seen that in Liberia, where a woman was elected president based on the extraordinary efforts for peace that market women just stood up and demanded and hounded everybody until there was a peace conference and a resolution. In countries that are trying to develop themselves economically, if they leave out half the population, they will never grow and prosper the way they do. There’s a reason why some countries do well in today’s global economy and others don’t – the quality of governance, the rule of law, whether contracts are respected and the like.
But it is also how many rights they give to their women and whether they educate their girls. And it’s something that I follow very closely because when you go to a country, as I did recently – the Democratic Republic of Congo – and you see the unspeakable violence inflicted on girls and women, you know that that country has a very long path before they can be stabilized. If they can’t protect their own women and girls, how on earth can they govern themselves effectively to produce positive results?
So it’s an area of great concern to me, but I think it also is directly connected to our U.S. national security interests.
QUESTION: What is this – I sense this heart connection between you and the continent of Africa. What’s that about?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am very emotionally moved by Africa, by the people, their resilience, their joy in living, the extraordinary optimism they have under some of the most difficult circumstances. I will never forget driving down the streets in Goma, which is the epicenter of so much of the violence in the Congo, and crowds of men and women and children waving and racing along the car and laughing and holding signs welcoming me. It is a place that is as ancient as any experience we have in our human consciousness.
We are all from Africa. Our DNA goes back to Africa. As we look at Africa today, there are so many lessons to learn and so many pitfalls to avoid. But what I always bring away is just the energy of a place that has so much to contribute and so many opportunities and promise yet to be realized.
QUESTION: I was just thinking – maybe I’m wrong about this, but I was thinking about your career and of all the things that you have done, and we all know that well, this is the first time to my mind, at least, that you have managed a major bureaucracy like this. So how has this bureaucracy changed you, and how are you trying to change it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a really interesting observation. Yes, because, I mean, the State Department worldwide – we have, I guess, about 68,000 employees. It is the first time I’ve been on the top of a giant bureaucracy like the State Department and USAID.
I’ll tell you three things. One, I take my management responsibilities very much to heart. I care deeply about how the workforce is treated, setting high expectations for our Foreign Service and our Civil Service personnel, having a lot of communication with people so that I get feedback; I’m not isolated on the seventh floor of the State Department, which can easily happen. I go down to the cafeteria, I try to walk the halls, I try to bring people in to see me. It’s very important to me to really have a feel for what’s going on.
We’ve made some management decisions that I think have been important in creating a collegial workforce and also a modern 21st century workforce. We’ve also brought in more of the tools of technology. I have a young crew of sort of technophiles who are out there with 21st century statecraft.
QUESTION: Who are all – you can’t see them because they’re off camera right now --
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- but there are five of them sitting off camera right now all working their Blackberries --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- behind your back while you’re saying that, but I digress, for – here.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right. There’s just an enormous amount of energy, and that has been a joy for me. And finally, I feel strongly about recognizing the sacrifices that our civilians make serving overseas.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think we also have to realize that we have 17 posts that people have to go to unaccompanied. That means that they too are gone without their families for at least a year. They’re the obvious ones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. We have a lot of dangerous assignments where our diplomats and our development experts, they don’t wear bulletproof vests and carry a weapon. They’re just out there working with often contentious communities. So I’ve been impressed by the courage of a lot of the people I serve with.
QUESTION: There’s already speculation – already speculation about whether or not Secretary Clinton is going to do this for the full term, the full first term, and whether or not she has any interest, if asked, to stay on to do it for eight years. I mean, you’ve see how tough the job is.
SECRETARY CLINTON: No.
QUESTION: I want to end where we began. You see how tough the job is.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Can you imagine yourself doing all four years, and if asked, doing it for another four years?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I really can’t. I mean, it is just --
QUESTION: No to what? All four or eight?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The whole eight. I mean, that would be very challenging. But I don’t want to make any predictions sitting here. I’m honored to serve. I serve at the pleasure of the President. But it’s a 24/7 job and I think at some point, I will be very happy to pass it on to someone else.
QUESTION: But that opens the door for the obvious question: What would Hillary Clinton want to do if she is no longer – when she’s no longer Secretary of State?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, there’s so many things I’m interested in. I mean, really going back to private life and spending time reading and writing and maybe teaching, doing some personal travel, not the kind of travel where you bring along a couple hundred people with you. Just focusing on issues of women, girls, families, the kind of intersection between what’s considered realpolitik and real life politics, which has always fascinated me.
QUESTION: And finally, just for the record, since you have opened this door again here, you have said before – emphatically, in fact – that you are not interested in running again for president of the United States. I’m taking your answer now to mean that that’s still the same?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. Not interested.