Interview With Savannah Guthrie of NBC's Today Show

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
October 12, 2011

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for doing this.

SECRETARY CLINTON: It is a pleasure, Savannah, and welcome to the State Department.

QUESTION: Thank you. Let’s talk about the news of the day, this plot by some members of the Quds Force to take out the Saudi ambassador at a restaurant here in Washington. I guess the question today is: How high does this go? Do we know that the top levels of the Iranian Government were aware of this plot?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me add my word of congratulations to our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, who once again have proven their extraordinary professionalism and disrupting this plot, which was a major accomplishment.

We think that this was conceived and directed from Tehran. We know that it goes to a certain level within the Quds Force, which is part of the Revolutionary Guard, which is the military wing of the Iranian Government. And we know that this was in the making and there was a lot of communication between the defendants and others in Tehran.

So we’re going to let the evidence unfold, but the important point to make is that this just is in violation of international norms. It is a state-sponsored act of terror, and the world needs to speak out strongly against it.

QUESTION: It’s very brazen, as you mentioned, which suggests the Iranians didn’t particularly fear retaliation by the U.S.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s a little hard to tell what was really going on, why this was given a seal of approval, why there was a go-ahead from Tehran, whether within their military and their government the kinds of the debates and divisions that we are now watching unfold – because it’s difficult to know who is actually making the decisions. Was this for political purposes? Was this just a crazy idea that got out of hand?

QUESTION: Do you think the ayatollah ordered it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We don’t know. We don’t know and I’m not going to speculate. But I am going to say that the Iranian Government has to take responsibility, because it was clearly done by, directed by, elements within the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, the President, you, have repeatedly said the way to win in Afghanistan is to root out terrorism in Pakistan. To the extent that diplomatic efforts have failed to do so, is it time to consider military action against the terrorists in Pakistan? Is that being considered?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Savannah, we have a very complex and challenging relationship with Pakistan, but we have interests that are very much in line with America’s national security and Pakistani security. So we have a lot of cooperation that I think does deserve to be given some attention. We do a lot of work with the Pakistanis against terrorists. Of course, we acted unilaterally to take out bin Ladin. We will always act in America’s interest.

But what we want to see is more cooperation from the Pakistanis themselves. And we’ve seen some, but not enough.

QUESTION: To the extent cooperation has failed and diplomacy has failed, at what point does the U.S. say we are going to take unilateral action in Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we don’t want to open up another military conflict, and we certainly don’t want to wage a war on top of the ones we are currently involved in and beginning to wrap up. But we do expect the Pakistanis – and this has been delivered at the highest levels and we have set forth specific requests about what we would like to see them do – and we get some cooperation, but not enough. And that’s going to be continuing as a topic of intense negotiations between us.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, we just had the anniversary, ten years of this war, ten years since you voted to authorize military force there. If you had known ten years ago that we would still be in it, that we’d have the fragile gains we have, would you have cast the same vote?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I would have, because the plot against the United States emanated from Afghanistan. The Taliban gave safe haven to al Qaida in Afghanistan. We had to retaliate. And in doing so, we brought much of the rest of the world – NATO and other countries – with us, because it was viewed as a threat to international security.

Now, in hindsight, there are decisions that I wish had been made or had been made earlier or with more commitment. I think President Obama made the right decision when he came into the White House to add to troops to essentially reverse the momentum of the Taliban, and we have done that.

And it’s easy to underestimate what has been accomplished. Life is a lot better for many Afghans, particularly for women, for young people. Infant mortality is down, economic activity is up, and lots of different kinds of criteria to demonstrate progress has been made.

And if you look at the last two and a half years under this Administration’s policy, certainly the Taliban is on the ropes. They are always going to keep fighting. Well, we’re going to keep fighting and killing them because they pose a threat to us and a threat to Afghanistan. But they’re also willing to begin some kind of process that is Afghan-led and Afghan-managed which we’re going to support.

QUESTION: The U.S. obviously continues to have deep struggles economically. I wondered if that makes your job harder. Do world leaders smell weakness in this country? Do they see an America that’s in decline?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if they do, they’re badly mistaken, because our country is not only the leader of the world, but we are expected to be by countless nations around the globe. And yes, we have challenges here at home, but these are challenges that we can meet. I’m very confident and optimistic about what America is capable of. I’ve lived through in my life a lot of ups and downs in our country, but you can never count America out and you should never bet against America.

So we do have to get our own house in order – our economic house, our political house – but at the same time we cannot abdicate leadership around the world because when we do it does come back to bite us. So I’m very much in the frame of explaining to Americans who are struggling, who have lost a job or have been foreclosed on, all the terrible things that are happening right here in our own country, why while we fix what’s wrong here domestically we cannot give up on American leadership around the world.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about your tenure as Secretary of State. I was thinking about something that, actually, Ambassador Holbrook said to me a while back. He said it’s a big job but not a good job. (Laughter.) Is being Secretary of State a big job or a good job?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s both. I know what Dick Holbrook meant, because he was such a foremost American diplomat. It’s an impossible job, because in the world we live in, it is 24/7, there is no respite. Where we used to be able to in the Cold War kind of manage relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, or when we looked at the challenges that we faced in the 20th century from start to finish, a fight against totalitarianism, there were relatively few power players. Now it’s a much more diverse set of actors on the international scene.

So I would like to say okay, I think I’ll just concentrate on the Middle East, on our relations with China, on the reset with Russia. Okay, well then what about everybody else and everything that they’re doing, and the importance of other countries, other regions, to our future? For example, Latin America is one of the most important regions to America’s future. We have more trade with our friends in Latin America than anywhere else in the world. We have democratic values in common with the vast majority of countries. So we can’t afford to say okay, well fine, we’re not going to be engaged in and working on these issues. We have to be open to being a part of making the world better everywhere. And that is a big challenge.

QUESTION: What’s the quality that you have that you didn’t know you would need as Secretary of State?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have traveled more than 600,000 miles, and you would think in the 21st century where we have instantaneous communication, where I can have a videoconference halfway around the world, that you wouldn’t be expected to travel as much. But in fact, I think people want you to show up even more. America has to show up, and I very proudly represent our country when I show up. So being on that airplane, making those visits, having those negotiations and discussions, is a very demanding part of the job, but necessary.

QUESTION: Why are you good at this job?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I hope I’m good at it. I think I understand not just the headlines – what are the crises of the moment. You asked about the Iranian plot. Obviously, that’s taken up a lot of my time, the time of my top staff. But it’s not just the headlines. It’s the trend lines. Where is the world going economically? How do we inject economic issues into diplomacy? How do we use 21st century technology so that we’re able to communicate not just with governments but with farmers in Africa, with women seeking their rights in Asia? How do we continue working on big issues like nonproliferation, even though it may not be in the headlines?

So I try to keep a kind of dual track going at all times. What are the immediate, urgent, even emergency issues that I have to deal with, but I don’t want to forget what’s going to matter to you and my daughter next year, five years, ten years? What’s going to happen to, for example, water and food? We’re having shortages; we’re having challenges for both. Climate change, despite the deniers, is real and is affecting how people interact with each other.

So I think it’s, for me, a real honor but it’s also a real challenge and one that I take to my heart because I feel so strongly that America has to lead and America’s leadership is absolutely indispensable.

QUESTION: You obviously know the policy inside and out, and you love the policy. What gets old about the job?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have to say, Savannah, just getting on and off the airplanes. I mean, that’s challenging and very tiring. But other than that, nothing gets old because no two days are the same. My inbox is filled with all kinds of reports from everywhere in the world. And maybe one day I’m thinking about what’s going to happen in the Arctic as the ice retreats and you can have greater navigation. How do we prevent spills of oil if we start drilling in the Arctic? And then I might be thinking about what do we do in Sub-Saharan Africa to try to increase how we help people with AIDS, TB, and malaria? It’s never the same, literally from hour to hour, which is why the job is so exciting for me.

QUESTION: You mentioned technology. I have to wonder, do you – how many people have your personal email address? Do you use your BlackBerry a lot? Do you like technology?


QUESTION: Are you good at it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m okay. For someone of my generation, I’m okay. But no, I have a lot of security restraints on what I can and can’t do. But I do try to stay in touch as much as possible, and electronically is by far the easiest way to do that.

QUESTION: Are you a BlackBerry addict?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m an aficionado. I’m not sure about the addict part.

QUESTION: You mentioned all the travel. Not every Secretary has traveled like that. Why do you keep that pace? I mean, is someone pushing you to take all those trips?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it’s because I think it’s important. When I first became Secretary of State, one of the reports that I took very seriously was this idea in Asia that because we’d been so focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan – understandably so because we had our young men and women at risk in those places – I heard that people in Asia thought we were kind of giving up on being a Pacific power. So I immediately went there, and I’ve gone back and back and back, because I think it’s important not just to go once and kind of wave and have the meetings and not return, but to build those relationships and to look for ways that we can not just have the United States present, but in a position to help manage some of the upcoming problems that we know are just over the horizon.

And that’s true everywhere in the world. So, nobody is saying, “Okay, you need to go here and you need to go there.” I’m thinking through where can I have impact; where do I need to be; does America have to have a role in this, or can we hand it off to others? And that’s a constant evaluation I’m engaged in.

QUESTION: What is the Hillary doctrine? Do you have a grand sweeping strategy or vision that you could articulate in a sentence?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I believe strongly in the United States of America. I believe in our values. I believe our values represent the greatest accomplishment in political history and the history of the world, and those values are not just American values. So I believe the United States has both an opportunity and obligation to make clear around the world that democracy and freedom, free market economies that are open, and meritocracies, providing support for people’s human rights and those fundamental badges of liberty that we know enhance your God-given potential, that’s who we are as a people.

And so through our diplomacy and our development work, are we protecting America’s security? Yes. We are full partners with our military in doing that. Are we promoting our interests and our values? Absolutely. Because it’s not only that we’re the strongest military, we are the strongest economy, but are also the strongest value statement about what human beings can achieve if we are organized appropriately.

QUESTION: You only have a certain amount of time left in this position. What’s the one thing you want to be able to point to and have people be able to say, “Hillary Clinton left it better than she found it”?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Despite very difficult circumstances when President Obama and I started our jobs, we have reasserted American leadership. We are clearly going to lead. And we are going to lead, despite budget difficulties. We are going to lead, despite other countries coming to the forefront and having an opportunity themselves to achieve a better future for their people. We are going to lead because America is destined to lead. And that was not always so, and I think even today some people are saying, “Well, you’re on your economic back heels. Your political system is not functioning.” So America’s values are enduring, and our durability as a nation that people look to, admire, and wish to exemplify is, for me, just permanent. But we need to continue working on it because leadership is not bestowed. It has to be earned, and it has to be earned by every generation and by every political administration in our country.

QUESTION: You mentioned President Obama. So many people are curious about your relationship. You went from arch political rivals to now allies in this Administration. You have to be honest, though; it was certainly awkward at first, wasn’t it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Savannah, of course, because we had had a hard-fought election. And I wanted to beat him, and he ended up beating me and then was elected president. But one of the points that I make as I travel around the world – and it’s always takes people by surprise, because where countries are transitioning to democracy – put aside the ones that don’t have democracy, they’re autocracies or somebody or some group, small group of people, decide who’s going to lead.

But in countries that are either striving for democracy or on the brink of achieving it, when I say, look, I ran against President Obama. He ran against me. He beat me. He asked me to serve our country and him in his Administration. Why? Because we both love our country. So I said yes. Because at the end of the day, we have to be bigger than politics, personal politics or partisan politics.

QUESTION: Are you --

SECRETARY CLINTON: People really gasp at that when I tell them anywhere in the world. They kind of think, “Gee, could our leaders do that?” So it’s been an incredible experience.

QUESTION: Do you think you’re in the inner circle?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think on the issues that I work on in the national security arena, absolutely.

QUESTION: Does he ever ask you for political advice?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, every so often, but I keep that to myself.

QUESTION: Are you – as a woman, I know this matters a lot to you. I’m sure you’ve heard the persistent – not really rumors, but I’m sure you’ve heard the criticism that it’s a little bit of an old boy’s club over there at the White House. You ever see that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m in such a different position being in the cabinet and having a one-on-one relationship with the President on these important issues. So I think that everywhere – in Washington, in America, and around the world – can do better when it comes to empowering women. And so I think that that certainly is the President’s view with his wife and his two daughters; he’s very committed to that.

QUESTION: If you Google yourself today – you ever Google yourself?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t. I’m a little worried about that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. If you Googled yourself today, you would find suggestions that perhaps you would be Vice President, that you could – there would be a switcheroo, and that you might possibly be the Vice President and Biden would come over here as Secretary of State. Is there any chance you would be Vice President in a second term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. There is not.

QUESTION: Is it in the realm of possibility?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I do not think it’s even in the realm of possibility and in large measure because I think Vice President Biden has done an amazingly good job. He has taken on the burden of selling the economic plan, of traveling the country, of answering people’s questions.

QUESTION: Has anyone ever raised this possibility to you?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no. I just – I think it’s maybe a subject for speculation on Google, but it’s not a serious issue in the Administration.

QUESTION: Will you run for President in 2016?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no. Savannah, I’m very privileged to have had the opportunities to serve my country. And I am really old-fashioned; I feel like I’ve made my contribution, I’ve done the best I can, but now I want to try some other things. I want to get back to writing and maybe some teaching, working on women and girls around the world.

QUESTION: But Secretary Clinton, politics is in your blood. People will not believe that you are closing the door and locking it on running for office ever again.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they’ll have to just watch and wait. Because I really think it’s time for me to move on beyond high-level political and public service. I’ve been at the highest reaches of American politics and now global politics for 20 years, and I have made my contribution. I’m very grateful I’ve had a chance to serve, but I think it’s time for others to step up.

QUESTION: Are you definitely going to leave after the first term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. I have made it clear that, of course, I’ll wait until the President has a nominee who’s confirmed, because I assume and believe the President will be reelected, and the work that we are doing will continue. And that gives me a great deal of comfort, because I think we are on the right track and that there are a lot of important issues that we are pushing forward on. But then I will leave.

QUESTION: Back to the President thing for a minute. What if Democrats came to you in 2016 and said, “You are the highest-profile Democrat. You are the only person who can help us get the White House,” perhaps win the White House back at that point. Would you not, as a patriot, say, “Okay, I’ll do it for my country”? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I would say I will back whoever our nominee is and I will do so strongly. And we have a lot of people waiting in the wings who I think will be terrific Democratic standard bearers.

QUESTION: One title I know you seek to have one of these days is grandmother.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. You figured that out. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But I notice that Chelsea has been doing more events. We saw her a couple of weeks ago doing an event with you. She definitely has the Clinton touch. Do you think she has the Clinton bug for politics?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don't know. I don't have any reason to believe that. I think she does have the public service bug. That seems to be in our DNA. I think she wants to help make a difference and she wants to use the experiences and opportunities she’s been given during the course of her life to figure out what her own contribution will be.

QUESTION: And what do you think life will be like when, after twenty years in politics, it will be you and the former President at home, sitting around?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I can’t wait. I can’t wait. I mean, obviously, we’re going to be very active. We have foundation work and Bill’s incredible invention of the Clinton Global Initiative, and I’m going to be looking at ways that I can continue to promote what I care a lot about, particularly the rights and opportunities for women and girls around the world, and other related matters. But it is something that I’m really looking forward to enjoying.

When I get to go home on the weekends, which is not often enough, it’s just great to be doing as little as possible, taking long walks, just taking a deep breath. And I think after this twenty years that will be very welcome.

QUESTION: What do you think of this vegan diet he’s got going?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It works for him. And he – I have to say, Savannah, he has rarely gotten so much reaction since he left the White House as when he talked about it because he basically said, “Look, I mean, some people are more vulnerable to heart problems than other people,” and so he reversed his diet, but he felt like he needed to go even further, and he thinks it’s working for him.

QUESTION: Last thing, because I’m getting the look over here. (Laughter.) There’s been a lot of rumblings lately, particularly among Democrats, as the President’s fortunes politically have fallen, that it should have been Hillary and that she would have done a better job. And I guess that’s got to feel good. It can’t feel bad.

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know what? It feels irrelevant to me because a decision was made. I think the President has done an excellent job under the most difficult circumstances. I don't think he gets the credit he deserves for making a lot of the tough decisions that he had to make that he inherited when he came into office.

QUESTION: You don’t feel vindicated by all that talk that Hillary would have done a better job?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Because I mean everybody comes into any office with their strengths and their weaknesses, with their areas of expertise and what they have to learn. Everybody does. Everybody comes to that. And I think the President will be reelected because I think when he’s actually running against somebody, the American people will say, “Well, wait a minute, we’re going through hard times, but his solutions, his analysis of the problem makes a lot more sense, and we’re going to give him a second term to finish the job.”

QUESTION: Well, Dick Cheney thought you would do a good job. (Laughter.) Bill Maher said, “She knows how to deal with difficult men.” (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Do you feel vindicated?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no. Look, I feel – maybe because I have been at this and do have twenty years of work behind me, I feel like this is all predictable; that we’re living in times that are hard to navigate; the politics and polices are difficult – if they were easy, everybody would be in agreement – and that we need leadership that’s willing to make hard decisions and willing to confront the American political system with the choices. And I think the President has done that.

QUESTION: And your political popularity is at its zenith. This is, I think, you’re ninth year running as Gallup’s most admired woman. You’re the most popular member of this Administration. But I’m sure you can remember back to a time when that always – wasn’t always the case. How do you explain that change?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Savannah, that’s why I think having a longer sort of historical view helps me a lot. Because I never get as inflated as the praise or the positive numbers and feelings would lead me, and I never get as deflated as the criticism might suggest, because your fortunes in public life go up and down. That is just the nature of the beast.

QUESTION: But you haven’t changed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t think I have changed. But I think that people have maybe gotten to know me better. They’ve seen me in more settings. They’ve watched me closely. And for that I’m grateful, because I really try to get up every day and just figure out what’s the best way I can serve my country. And I go back to this idea of look, it’s – it maybe is old-fashioned, but I want to encourage young people who are watching you to think about ways of serving and to raise your voices. I am fully in favor of people being deep into the political debate. And now with the internet, there are so many ways we’ve got to do it.

But at the end of the debate, decisions have to be made, and sometimes compromise is required. So whether you’re on the right or the left, you cannot believe you have the only truth. That’s not the way a democracy works. That’s not the way our country has succeeded. You have to listen to each other, and yes, you have to find compromise. And those of us who are particularly blessed and fortunate, we do have to think of ways to give back to this extraordinary country that has helped us become who we are.

So these are real rock-bottom values that I was raised with by my small businessman father and my dear mother, and I want to keep trying to convey to not only our American audience but the worldwide audience why I believe so deeply in the American enterprise. And I’m going to do that for as long as I have a chance to in whatever setting I am in.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much.

QUESTION: It was wonderful to talk to you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Wonderful to talk to you. Thank you.

PRN: 2011/1759