Author, Hard Choices; Former Secretary, U.S. Department of State; Former Senator, U.S. Senate (D-NY); Former First Lady of the United States
President, Council on Foreign Relations
Following the recent publication of her memoir, Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joins CFR President Richard N. Haass to reflect on her tenure at the State Department. Clinton recounts some of her major foreign policy initiatives including the strategic rebalance toward Asia and her efforts to promote a more rules-based international order. She also offers her thoughts on the continuing political instability in the Middle East, the U.S.-Afghan relationship, and other current foreign policy challenges.
The Home Box Office History Makers Series focuses particular attention on the contributions made by a prominent individual at a critical juncture in international relations.
HAASS: Well, good morning. I'm Richard Haass, and I want to welcome all of you here, as well as those watching on screens of various sorts, to this meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. At its core, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan organization. We're a think-tank, and we're a publisher dedicated to helping its members and others better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States.
And it's difficult to imagine a person better to do just that, to help us understand the foreign policy choices facing the United States and the world, than the 67th secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
CLINTON: Thank you, Richard.
HAASS: The timing of today's meeting could hardly be better, given all that's going on in the world. Turbulence in the Middle East continues to mount. Iraq's central government is steadily losing control of territory, including Mosul, its second-most-important city. Syria's civil war, now in its fourth year, shows no signs of abating. Egypt's new president faces a divided public and a struggling economy. The Israeli-Palestinian talks have hit a wall. And it's far from certain that negotiations with Iran will produce agreement on a nuclear program that is enough for that country and not too much for others.
Elsewhere, the peace that we've all grown accustomed to in Europe has been shaken by the heavy-handed Russian interference in Ukraine. Asia, for three decades characterized by economic dynamism and political stability, now is defined more by economic slowdown and political tension. There's a new government in India with broad popular support, but next door, there's a weak government in Pakistan with a growing nuclear arsenal and a growing terrorist threat. Another Afghan government will soon emerge, but how it will fare is anyone's guess.
Meanwhile, here at home in the United States, recent polls show a large number of Americans have little interest in this world and an even larger number who think this country's ability to lead the world is in decline. I would imagine at times like this, our speaker is pleased to be the former secretary of state.
This is Secretary Clinton's ninth visit to the Council on Foreign Relations, and we're honored to have her. And I expect I speak for everyone in this room and watching and thanking her for her decades of public service as first lady, as senator here from the great state of New York, and as secretary of state.
Now, unless you've been in the witness protection program, you will know that she has just published a memoir of her time at Foggy Bottom, Hard Choices. It comes in at 656 pages. For the record, this is longer than the memoirs of James Byrnes, Warren Christopher, Alexander Haig, and Madeleine Albright, but it is shorter—in some cases, much shorter—than those of Dean Acheson, George Schulz, Condoleezza Rice, James Baker, Henry Kissinger, and Cordell Hull.
It is also to the page the same length as Colin Powell's. Make of all this what you will.
This meeting today is part of the Council's History Maker Series that focus on the contributions made by prominent individuals at a critical juncture in U.S. foreign policy, and I would like to thank HBO and Richard Plepler for making this possible.
The way we're going to do it is the secretary and I will speak for a time, and then I will turn it open to CFR members for their questions.
Madam Secretary, welcome.
CLINTON: Thank you.
HAASS: Your first visit as secretary of state was to Asia. And for many observers—and I'll count myself among them—the biggest foreign policy idea of your tenure as secretary of state was what some call the pivot, others call the rebalance to Asia.
So to begin, do you actually agree that—do you see your own legacy that way? And why and how did you choose Asia for such a focus?
CLINTON: Well, Richard, first thank you, and I'm delighted to be back here at the Council and have an opportunity to talk with you and then with the audience about these issues.
I do see it as one of the most significant strategic moves that we made during those first four years. And if you just step back from the immediacy of all of the crises that you were listing, you do have to keep your eye on the trend lines, not just the headlines. And there is certainly no doubt that much of the history of the 21st century is going to be shaped in Asia, and the United States has always been a Pacific power, but when I became secretary, there was a widespread feeling among our friends and our competitors in Asia that the United States had basically vacated the field and there was a great pent-up desire that we begin once again to demonstrate our concern for and involvement in the Asia Pacific. And that's why I decided to go first to Asia.
And also to do what is one of the most important jobs of American foreign policy right now, and that is to defend and renew the rules-based order. That's true globally, but it was especially true in Asia, to demonstrate that there had to be a consensus about the way forward economically and politically. It's why I went to Indonesia and signed something called the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, hardly a headline-grabber back here at home, but it committed the United States to be an active participant in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and eventually become a member of the East Asia Summit, because our goal was to support and embed the United States in the multilateral architecture of Asia.
"There is certainly no doubt that much of the history of the 21st century is going to be shaped in Asia."
It was also important to reassure our friends and our treaty allies, such as Japan, that the United States was still committed to their security, as well as to economic prosperity. And I also brought with me the idea that we would try to have a broader dialogue with China. Most of our dialogue up until that point, as you know, had to be about economics. And the Treasury Department led that. Secretary Paulson had done a heroic job, you know, really working and involving China in conversations about currency, trade and the like.
But there were a lot of strategic questions that needed to be addressed. So Tim Geithner and I formed the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. And I think there's a tendency too often in our country, in our Congress and in the public, the press, that these kinds of steps to build strong foundations are not the real stuff of important diplomacy. They're not the headlines that people are seeking. But I believe that we have to rebuild this rules-based order. We have to come up with an architecture that can persuade countries that it is in their interests then to be a part of it.
So we had all of this at work when I went in February 2009 and then followed through over the next four years.
HAASS: An important part of the pivot and the rebalance was the—was an economic dimension, and was obviously trade, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Is it your sense that, given where this country is, in part also given where your own party is, the Democratic Party, that it's possible right now for the United States to give the president the authority he needs to complete the negotiations of such an agreement?
CLINTON: Well, he can complete the negotiations. That is ongoing. And in fact, I have been briefed that there is progress being made on the so-called TPP negotiations. The challenge—and really, what your question was about—is whether there will be what's called fast-track authority granted to the president...
HAASS: Trade promotion authority.
CLINTON: Trade promotion authority. Right now, I think that's not likely, but that doesn't mean that the treaty can't be presented and considered on its merits, and particularly if it can be used to convince the American electorate, as well as the Congress, that we have to address these internal at the border barriers to our products, we have to begin to take on state capitalism, because it's one of our biggest competitive threats, we have to be able to raise standards on goods that are going to end up in our markets one way or the other, it may be possible—and I certainly hope it will be—to make that case. But, of course, it depends upon what's in it. And we don't yet have the final document.
HAASS: One of the crises you had to manage with China was over—with the human rights activist Chen Guangcheng. And in the end, it all worked, and he was able to come here. He actually spoke here at the Council on Foreign Relations. What did this experience teach you about dealing with the Chinese and about how you see the right balance between promoting political change in China, yet at the same time having a relationship that deals with strategic issues?
CLINTON: Yeah. Well, you know, this book is named Hard Choices for a purpose, because that is exactly the experience that I had. You're constantly trying to promote your values. We think they're American values, but in my view, they're universal values and we need to stand up for them. You're trying to pursue your interests—strategic, economic, political—and you're also trying to protect the security of our country, our friends, and our allies. And oftentimes, those are in conflict or at least appear to be.
This is a case, however, where I think the work we had done for the previous two-plus years to create this more comprehensive relationship and to spend a lot of time building the personal relationships that go into that with the Chinese leaders paid off, so that when I got that phone call at my home telling me that this blind dissident, this human rights activist, had escaped from house arrest and he was seeking to be driven to Beijing and find refuge in the American embassy, because there was nowhere else that he felt safe, that was the kind of tribute to American values that you don't just turn your back on, or at least I don't.
And I said, "Go get him," and we did get him, a little, you know, James Bond-ish kind of activity going on there. And we brought him into the embassy, where he was treated by our medical team. And we then began working with him to try to figure out what he wanted and how we could help facilitate it.
The negotiations with the Chinese, as I recount in this chapter, were contentious. They were not happy, to put it mildly. I was on my way to China just a few days after I gave the order to go out and get him. But we had a very candid, open, ongoing discussion. There were a lot of false starts and detours, but we ended up in a good place. We didn't sacrifice the relationship, and we stood up for our values at the same time.
So that's why this very slow, hard, boring—to paraphrase Weber—in the diplomatic sphere, as in politics, is so important. And we can't get impatient. Building these relationships, continuing to stand up for our values, pursue our interests, protect our security is a long-term investment, and it takes the kind of strategic patience that, you know, we're just going to have to demonstrate more effectively in the years to come.
HAASS: You mentioned the phrase in your answer there about personal relationships. You dealt with some fairly strong personalities. Mr. Lavrov, the...
CLINTON: Well, I like to think that the same is true.
HAASS: ... touche—Foreign Minister Yang of China, the prime minister of Israel. And to what extent did you come away actually thinking that the personal relationship mattered? Or at the end of the day, whether they liked you or you liked them, it didn't really matter that it was just good, old-fashioned statecraft?
CLINTON: I do think the personal relationships matter, which is why I stressed building them, expanding them, trying to understand the point of view of the other party. But at the end of the day, leaders are going to do what they think is in the best interests of their states.
Part of building that relationship, though, is perhaps to open the window a little wider about how to define those interests. Again, just to build on the Chen China example, both the Chinese and we valued the relationships we had been building. They were not one-offs. I mean, I did a lot of, you know, personal time and hospitality to demonstrate respect and appreciation for the Chinese leaders. They reciprocated. So that when we kept running into obstacles to resolve that particular crisis, we could fall back on those relationships.
And I think the same is true going country by country. There are obvious exceptions, very difficult to build relationships with some people, and I'm talking about you, Vladimir. But...
"I do think the personal relationships matter, which is why I stressed building them, expanding them, trying to understand the point of view of the other party."
... you know, it doesn't mean you don't keep trying. You do have to keep trying, because you've got to find what those—what those marginal differences can be that really could make a significant change in how an issue is perceived.
And what's—what was surprising to me, because I also spent a lot of time advancing technology as a tool of diplomacy and the like, but we could talk to anybody anywhere long distance. You can have a video conference. You could Skype. You could pick up the phone. It was more important than ever that the United States showed up, and that we sat there, and we listened, and we talked, and we ate and ate and ate.
And we did what is not necessarily building a friendship, but building more understanding and from that perhaps establishing more strategic trust, which is really the coin of the diplomatic realm, based on my experience.
HAASS: It's the Woody Allen approach to diplomacy, 80 percent is showing up.
HAASS: Let's switch to the Middle East. The so-called Arab Spring broke out on your watch. What's your take on it after three-and-a-half years? And what do you say to those who say, look, we inherited a flawed order in the Middle East, and what we've helped bring about is an even more flawed disorder?
CLINTON: Hmm. Well, I think there is some truth to that, but it's not the whole picture by any means. And it probably—you know, this is always an escape hatch for anybody asked a question like this—it's probably too soon to tell, but I can certainly share my observations and experiences.
If you compare the different places where this occurred, there are different reasons why maybe not as much progress has happened as we would have liked, but there are some commonalities.
Take Tunisia, Libya, Egypt. Very different settings for the Arab Spring. Tunisia, which had a middle class, basically, lots of poverty, lots of wealth, but they had a solid middle class, they had laws which enshrined equality for women in Tunisia. They had an Islamist movement, but it was not extreme. It was much more based in an intellectual, if you will, approach to using Islam as an organizing principle for a new state post-Ben Ali.
And they've had a rocky, but—I would argue—successful transition. Now, they still have to make it sustainable. They've got a constitution which has been agreed to by all the different parties. They've changed governments a few times, and it's been peaceful. So a lot of observers are looking at Tunisia to see how they manage moving forward.
Compare that, of course, with Libya, where the 42-year rule of Gadhafi hollowed the country, hollowed out the institutions, drove into exile people who could have contributed post-revolution. When Gadhafi fell and the revolution was successful, there were some very promising early signs. That first election was well done, carried out according to international standards, and the winners were largely moderate secularists.
And then what happened is when you can't perform the most basic function of a state—in other words, provide security—you're going to have all those tribes who had allied themselves predominantly with the rebels trying to figure out, what's in it for them? And I've met some of them, and, you know, they were united by their hatred of Gadhafi, but little else. And so now there's an effort to try to assert state security over this range of militias and tribal organizations.
So the jury is out. We don't know. It's a rich country. It has the resources, if it can get itself organized. It's supposed to have an election towards the end of this month. We'll watch.
Compare that to Egypt. You know, the revolution in Egypt was leaderless. It truly was run by young people. They were motivated and organized through social media. But they were not political.
And when I went to Egypt, shortly after the fall of Mubarak, I met with several dozen leaders, so-called leaders of the Tahrir Square revolution, and I asked them, I said, "Well, so who's going to run for office, if there are elections?" "Well, we don't do that." "Well, who's going to organize a political party?" "That's not our job. Our job was to protest, demonstrate, and bring down the dictator."
I said, "Well, you realize there are only two organized forces in Egypt, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood." "Oh, no. Others will rise up. There will be an election that will validate the revolution." I was pessimistic and, I think, realistic. We had quite an exchange, some have called it a shouting match, because I was just appalled that there was no political element to this revolution.
Fast-forward, we went through the Muslim Brotherhood, we went through the uprising orchestrated by the military to remove the Muslim Brotherhood, and now the military is back. And Egypt faces an enormous amount of internal opposition and, I think, extremism, so we'll watch. We'll see how that unfolds.
HAASS: But given what you just said, did we not—maybe should we have been a bit slower in our haste to push out Mr. Mubarak? You mentioned in the book your concerns about that and your support for some of what Frank Wisner was trying to do. Or in the case of Libya, if we were going to participate in the ousting of Gadhafi, ought not we have been prepared to have done more in the follow-up, almost Colin Powell's rule about Pottery Barn? We helped break it, but we didn't really help put it back together.
CLINTON: Well, on Libya first, that's not accurate. We did try. We tried very hard to help them secure their borders, to help them follow our advice, along with our European and some of our Arab colleagues in the action against Gadhafi, to begin to assert security.
That—that is a perfect case where people who've never had that opportunity to run anything, manage anything, even participate in meaningful politics understandably are not even sure what questions to ask, let alone what answers to take. There was reluctance to accept too much Western help, and we did accomplish a couple of very good objectives. We removed some of the stockpiles of WMD. We got some—we got some important work done, but not near enough, and we're still at it. We're still trying to work with whoever is going to be in the government.
On Egypt, you're right, I detail in the book—I had a lot of apprehension about just throwing Mubarak out of office not knowing what was going to come next or not helping to prepare a more orderly transition. And I was the one who suggested—I, along with Bill Burns—that we send Frank Wisner, who knew Mubarak well. I also called the sultan of Oman, who knew him well. I was trying to urge other voices to tell Mubarak to move more quickly to demonstrate, number one, he would not run again, number two, his son would not run again, number three, there would be a process of inclusive consultation that could lead to reform. We couldn't persuade him to do that.
And at a certain point, you know, the president and other leaders spoke out and said he had to go, but I remained apprehensive about what would follow.
HAASS: You describe in the book Syria. I think the phrase you use is a wicked problem. And I don't think anybody in this room would disagree. And you're extremely open about saying that you argued in favor—I think it was 2012—that we ought to provide arms to selected opposition, and you lost the argument.
CLINTON: I did.
"I had a lot of apprehension about just throwing Mubarak out of office not knowing what was going to come next or not helping to prepare a more orderly transition."
HAASS: And you went on to say that the president was influenced by the Iraq experience and his concern about—that the United States should not get overly entangled in Syria. Do you think in retrospect that people have overlearned the lessons of Iraq?
CLINTON: Well, I think that it's often the case that we overlearn lessons and underlearn some lessons, if that's a word. I think that Iraq was one of the three reasons we were in such a big hole when the president became president, and certainly that's what I experienced as secretary of state from day one.
Iraq had soured so much of the world, particularly our friends, against the United States. The abuses that were disclosed arising out of the war on terror further soured the feelings. And then, of course, the economic collapse was an extraordinary blow to America's prestige and our projection of leadership.
So I think it's understandable that not just the president, but many people were trying to quickly learn and apply the lessons. I mean, one of the lessons that the president took, which is certainly supported by the American people, is that our foreign policy cannot be defined principally by military means and by our defense budget. It's why I started talking about smart power. That was a meme that I was trying to inject and send the message overseas that we were going to focus on diplomacy and development. We would always focus on defense, but not to the extent that it had been relied upon and had been perceived as being the only tool in our toolbox.
So, yes, I think you can overlearn and underlearn. I mean, too strong an America, too weak an America, how do you get to where the right balance is? Because, obviously, as you have written, Richard, if we're not strong at home, if our economy is not producing at home, if the American people are not united at home, we can't project leadership abroad. So you have to learn the right lessons and apply them.
With respect to Syria, yeah, I did feel quite strongly that we needed to see if it were possible to vet and train and equip moderate opposition figures, because when this started, there was truly a citizens' uprising. And you had people taking arms who were pharmacists or professors or students, and they had no training, they were up against a very disciplined, large army that Assad—give him credit for this—kept control over, very few defections, a quite lethal fighting force.
Where we are now is obvious to everyone. We didn't do that. I'm not saying if we had it would have prevented the outcome we're seeing now. But in addition to the formation of a well-armed, incredibly tough fighting force by ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and other jihadist groups, you have at least 1,000 foreign fighters, primarily from Europe, but also at least some from the United States, who are getting combat, battlefield experience and becoming even more extreme.
So this is not just a Syrian problem anymore. I never thought it was just a Syrian problem. I thought it was a regional problem. I could not have predicted, however, the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq and trying to erase boundaries to create an Islamic state.
That's why it's a wicked problem. If—you know, Dave Petraeus and I came forward with a proposal, because it was supposed to be—or we thought it should better be run by the CIA than by the military, to avoid the whole boots-on-the-ground and raise a lot of the concerns—and we had been effective doing things like that in other places over the last 40, 50 years. We did a very good job supporting Colombia in their fight against the drug cartels and the FARC insurgency. But it was a much different environment. And it was—it was so unclear exactly who was going to be there and whether or not they would be influenced by extremists. So now the wicked problem has gotten even wickeder.
HAASS: Speaking of another wicked problem, you also suggest in the book your discomfort with the president's decision to couple the Afghan surge with a timeline then for drawing down. And now, in a sense, he's done something similar. He's linked keeping a residual force in Afghanistan until the end of 2016 to that deadline.
And given what's going on in Iraq, the unraveling of Iraq, where there is no residual American force, are you comfortable or uncomfortable with a calendar rather than a conditions-based approach to what we're now going to do in Afghanistan?
CLINTON: Well, first, let me say on Iraq, because it's in the news and it's a dreadful deteriorating situation, the deadline on Iraq was set—was set by the prior administration, that if there were not a status-of-forces agreement, which is the agreement under which American military forces can be positioned in a country to provide services that are agreed to or asked for by the host country, there was not a SOFA, there would not be American troops.
And when President Obama came in, he was obviously not an enthusiast about the Iraq war from the very beginning, very strong critic of it, both its initiation and its handling, there was a lot of effort to work through with the Maliki government what such a status-of-forces agreement would look like. At the end of the day, the Maliki government would not agree. So the decision was made, in effect. There could not be American troops left without such an agreement.
We have a different situation in Afghanistan. I was even negotiating at the end of my tenure with Karzai over the bilateral security agreement, which would embody a SOFA, and then much to everyone's surprise, including mine, he said he wouldn't sign it. Both the two remaining presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, have said they will sign it, so there will be legal support for America staying in Afghanistan.
And although there has been a trajectory set for withdrawing combat troops, moving toward a training, support mission, I believe that if one of those two men elected as president of Afghanistan were to come with a well-thought-through plan about what was needed—because it's not only the United States which has agreed to continue to support, it's also NATO, which has agreed to an enduring presence—I believe that would be very seriously considered.
So it's a different situation. Now, I do think that a lot of the leadership in Afghanistan are watching what's happening in Iraq. But on the side of setting a timeline, which is important, I think that the signal that was sent to various audiences, to the American public, to our allies and their publics, and to the Afghans was very clear. We're willing to help you. We're willing to continue making the sacrifices necessary, but you have to step up to it.
And the Afghan security forces have been, you know, well trained and they're getting better all the time, and we think that they, you know, do have the right stuff to be able to defend, but that's what we're going to find out in the next couple of years.
HAASS: So just to be—just want to make sure we understand—so—but if the new president, whether it's Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani, were to ask the United States to extend and you—on a plan, you'd be open to considering that, to supporting that?
CLINTON: I would. You know, it depends upon conditions on the ground and what was being asked for.
HAASS: Yeah, I'm just going to ask a few more, and then we'll open it up. One thing I read in the book was that you suggested to the president that he take another look at the Cuba embargo...
HAASS: ... that you didn't think this was serving American interests.
CLINTON: Right. Right, and I don't. And I write in the book about, you know, the conclusion that I certainly have reached, that the embargo is Castro's best friend. It provides Castro an excuse for everything. Why do we still have to be harassing, you know, the mothers of the imprisoned? Well, because America's behind it. Why do we have to, you know, prevent the kind of relationships that we would like to see Cuba engage in in opening up and being more forward looking? Well, because we can't—you know, America is embargoing us.
It would also help our relationships throughout Latin America, because it's also used as an excuse there. Every conversation at every Summit of the Americas starts with a conversation about Cuba. I would like to see that excuse removed.
And I do believe, however, that shifting the onus onto the Castros will not end the embargo until after they're gone. I mean, I honestly believe that. Every time we've tried—my husband tried, and, remember, there were talks going on. There was behind-the-scenes. We were looking at everything from immigration to, you know, lessening up on state sponsor of terrorism, all the rest of it, the Brothers to the Rescue plane shot down, ensuring there would be a reaction in the Congress that would make it very difficult for any president to lift the embargo alone.
Fast-forward—I'm not telling tales out of school—the Obama administration having the same conversations with Cuban counterparts and with leaders of countries in the region so that the Cubans could hear an echo. What do they do? They arrest Alan Gross, a development professional, throw him in jail, refuse under any negotiations to let him loose unless we return five convicted Cuban spies, who are slowly being let out of prison because their time is up, not because of a trade.
So I think we should—we should advocate for the end of the embargo. We should advocate for normalizing relations and see what they do. See how they respond. And then go back to a lot of our friends in the region and say, "The United States is ready to move. What about your buddies in Havana? What are they going to do now?"
And so I would like to change the psychology of this issue. We've been in a corner for too long. We need to get out of the corner. As I say in the book, probably the most important long-term commitment this country can make is to a much closer, more constructive relationship within our own hemisphere. And if we do that, we will be much better positioned to deal with all else that goes on in the world. It will be difficult to get it to the point I would like to see it unless we clear away the accusations against the United States over the embargo.
HAASS: How big of a problem was the WikiLeaks outbreak? Did foreigners literally stop confiding in you and your colleagues in meetings? And did people stop putting things down on paper?
CLINTON: Yes. What happened was leaders said they would meet only with me, no note-takers, and would clear the room. You know, that's a little challenging.
I got a good memory, but not that good a memory. And so it was—it was complicated. But there were other consequences.
A lot of the WikiLeaks cables, to just quickly explain, in the Bush administration, the military wanted more real-time analysis about various countries, and the decision was made to share a lot of State Department cables, and it went into the military system. As you know, a low-level intelligence officer decided to turn over hundreds of thousands of those to the WikiLeaks.
One thing that happened is there were names of people who were vulnerable, both because they were in governments who were providing information to American diplomats, because they disagreed with their governments, or they were human rights activists or dissidents who were contacting and working with our embassy to promote greater openness and to, you know, ask for help that we would try to give to get people out of jail, get them out of the country.
There were also some very specific instances. The former ambassador to Libya, when WikiLeaks came out with all of what he'd been writing about Gadhafi, was under personal threat. There were a couple of thugs who, you know, pushed him around a little. I had to withdraw him. And we saw—we saw the role that confidential cabling can play in providing good information, and we also found out that a lot of our diplomats were really good writers, very colorful writers.
They were doing their jobs very well, I have to add. So we had to hustle hard to get it back in the box as much as we could to protect people, to move people where necessary. And then I went on an apology tour, starting with multitudes of phone calls and some personal meetings with leaders who were particularly aggrieved by what had been reported.
HAASS: You're one of the 20 or so people in American history who has served both in the United States Senate and as secretary of state, so, therefore, you've now been on both sides of the table.
HAASS: You've given the testimony, and you've heard it. I want to ask what you prefer; I have a hunch. What do you, though, see as the proper division of labor between the executive branch when it comes to foreign policy and the legislative?
CLINTON: Ah, an age-old difficult question, but one that I struggled with. I was on the other side of the table for eight years in the Senate and served on the Armed Services Committee, so had lots of interaction with the defense side of our executive branch, and then as secretary of state, I took it as a personal obligation to be as responsive to Congress as I possibly could be.
What's missing in this debate is very fundamentally the understanding of what the roles are and should be. Every president wants more authority than every Congress wants to give him, but every president has to accept more responsibility than any Congress is willing to accept.
So it's a constant dance, you know, where you—you know—and having been there, I know—where people in Congress are saying, "Just do it, and then I will blast you, but get it done," where the meetings in the executive branch are, "You know, look, we've informed them, but they act like we never told them. So what's the point of informing them?"
We almost need a new code of conduct about how to conduct foreign policy between the two branches. And now, of course, we've got the courts, at least the FISA courts, intervening from time to time.
But, seriously, for me, the biggest problem was the erosion of consensus about the conduct of foreign policy and how much to trust each other. And that's going to take time to repair. Some of it started with the Iraq war decision. You know, as I write in the book, I gave my vote to the authorization and was regretful about the way it was used and then even more so about how that war unfolded. And it turned out to be a mistake. And I say that plain and simple. So there is a lot of residue of that.
Then the Obama administration comes in, and President Obama is very clear—end that war in Iraq, get those prisoners out of Guantanamo, you know, quit using military force as the only way to respond, and here's how we're going to do that, and you then have a reaction on the other side of the aisle, like, wait a minute, you know, why are you doing that?
So somehow we need to rebuild that consensus. And I write in the book about the first secretary of state I ever met was Dean Acheson. That's because I went to college with his granddaughter. And so I met him on the Graduation Day. She introduced me to him, and he had just finished "Present at the Creation." He also scared me. He was very tall and imposing.
And his granddaughter said, "Oh, Grandfather, this is Hillary Rodham. She's going to give the student speech at commencement tomorrow." And he looked down at me and goes, "Well, I will be listening very carefully."
I mean, it was like, "Oh, no."
So I rushed back to the dorm and pulled my last all-nighter in college trying to figure out what to say. But if you look at the way that we created a consensus because of the threat of communism and the dangers posed by the Soviet Union, post-World War II, going forward until certainly the collapse of the Soviet Union—there were disagreements. Don't get me wrong. There were a lot of disagreements, but there was a core consensus. And we need to rebuild that. That's one of our problems right now.
HAASS: Yes, let's open it up to questions from our members. Please keep them short, and wait for a microphone. Sure, Susan?
QUESTION: Hi, Susan Levine. Well, we know you in so many different ways, as first lady, as senator, as secretary of state, and now, again, we're hoping as presidential candidate, and I think many of us are hoping to see that happen again. But yesterday, we saw something quite dramatic in American politics, the defeat of Eric Cantor. Everybody didn't expect this—his internal pollsters, the leadership.
HAASS: There's a question here somewhere.
QUESTION: I'm curious what you think the implications of this loss are for the—you know, for the future of American politics?
CLINTON: Well, Susan, I'm not sure we totally know. I mean, it's been very recent that it happened. I think it shows the continuing conflict within the Republican Party over its direction, and that will be a challenge. It may not affect necessarily the outcome of the elections in November. We'll see. But it will certainly have long-term implications for 2016 and maybe beyond.
I think the contrast between Senator Graham's rather easy re-nomination compared to Congressman Cantor's loss on the issue of immigration is telling. And I think, from what I read in the papers, what Graham said is, you know, when you're for something, you need to be all-in and not try to be half in, half out.
But I don't know that we really can draw conclusions yet, other than it's going to be an interesting leadership struggle within the Republican Party.
QUESTION: Jamie Metzl, and thank you so much for being here. One of the many foreign policy successes of your tenure—this is a good introduction for a nice supportive question...
CLINTON: Yeah, I like that. Keep going.
QUESTION: ... was the—the opening in—the opening to and transition in Burma, in Myanmar.
QUESTION: I'm just back from North Korea, which is, obviously, a very tragic place. In your view, are there any lessons from Burma that might be applied to finding opportunities for engaging with North Korea?
CLINTON: Well, I will return the favor and say that's a great question, because...
... we thought a lot about that, Jamie. With respect to Burma, when I came in, very early in my tenure, because as senator I had been wondering if there were a different approach we could take toward Burma. And in—and making my rounds before confirmation, I met, as I write in the book, with Mitch McConnell, and he had been a leader in the efforts to sanction Burma and he'd been a staunch supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi.
So just sitting there, before we'd even gotten the administration sworn in, I asked him if he would support me in trying a different approach. He was very skeptical, but he basically said he would stand back and watch. And as we're walking out the door, he points to a handwritten note from Aung San Suu Kyi, and he said, you know, unless she's out, unless she can fully participate, you will not have my support. If you can figure out how to move things or support those who are moving things in that direction, OK.
So we began very quietly. I started sending diplomats. I sent my excellent assistant secretary of state, Kurt Campbell. He met with Aung San Suu Kyi, and he met with some of the generals who were transitioning.
Fast-forward, there were a number of factors at work, including the openness that the generals began to exhibit because they traveled enough in the region that they saw what was happening in Thailand and in Indonesia, even in Cambodia. And they would come home and, you know, the currency was non-exchangeable. There were no cellphones. It was just such a stark difference from what had been one of the most vibrant places in the early 20th century.
So there was an internal calculation that the generals began going through. And when they took office, we immediately began to work with them and to see whether we could support them in making even greater changes. And when I finally went and met with Suu Kyi, she was very clear that she was going to participate. She was not just going to be satisfied with the ending of house arrest; she was going to go into politics. And I said, "Good luck."
Moving from, you know, in her case, an icon to a politician is a big personal transformation. And we've had lots of conversations since.
In North Korea, we started with the same mindset. You know, we sent signals. We sent messages. That's when the father, as opposed to the son, were in charge. We worked hard with the Chinese to see if there couldn't be some kind of tradeoff. Open up your economy. There's no reason you can't do better. You can be part of the economic miracle of Northeast Asia.
Whether or not—and when my—when my husband went, when we asked my husband to go bring back the two journalists who had been captured, he came back with his antenna vibrating, and he said, you know, I think there's some potential here. You know, there were a lot of questions he was asked by Kim Jong-il and some of the leading advisers. And he thought maybe there was something that was possible.
Then, Kim Jong-un comes in and you know the rest of the story. And this really requires the Chinese to be very active participants, but he, the young leader, is suspicious of them, too. So we don't have a lot of interlocutors who can influence this or can open it up. But it still is a very good question, and it's a good long-term project.
HAASS: Sure. OK, well, try...
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, good morning. Henry Breed from the U.N. Cross-border issue that I know is of some interest of you—to you, the question of poaching and particularly the question of ivory.
QUESTION: Could you share with us some of your thoughts?
CLINTON: Well, amen. And thank you for asking, because this is a much bigger security and strategic issue than had earlier been recognized. And my daughter is with me, and I give her credit, because one of her NBC reports really crystallized my thinking. She went to Kenya and she reported about a lot of the poaching and rescuing baby elephants. And it piqued my curiosity to, you know, really look hard at this.
And so as secretary of state, before I left, I announced a policy that we were going to do more to support anti-poaching, not just for conservation reasons—as important as that is—but because terrorists and insurgent groups of all kinds were using elephant poaching—rhinoceros, as well, but principally elephant poaching—to make money, to buy better arms, to be able to be more deadly in their efforts, al-Shabaab, Lord's Resistance Army, the Sudanese, the Janjaweed.
So we began to track what these groups were doing, and they were now the heavy-duty poachers. They have the automatic weapons and the night-vision goggles. They were killing more than 1,000 rangers up until this date. And so I began talking to President Obama about this, and the African countries were really at a loss, because they would increase rangers and somewhere else would be poached. They would move rangers and the rangers in the first place would be murdered. It was just a terrible security issue for them, and there was lot of ungoverned territory that was being invaded by the poachers.
So the president, at my request, raised it with Xi Jinping, because it's obviously both a supply and a demand issue. Chelsea and I worked through the Clinton Global Initiative to bring the major conservation groups, primarily American, but also international, together to come up with a unified plan, because some groups were more active in one country than another and we needed to get everybody pulling in the same direction.
And I'm pleased that, although we have not turned the tide—there are still 35,000 elephants being killed, murdered for their tusks—we're beginning to see on both the supply and the demand side some actions being taken. So this is a security issue, as well as a conservation issue, and I appreciate the work that CITES and the U.N. and various instruments of the international community are doing to help.
HAASS: Mort Zuckerman?
QUESTION: I'm delighted to be here, and I'm going to ask you an easy question, which is...
CLINTON: Never. Never, I know.
QUESTION: ... how do you assess the merger the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, in terms of their role in dealing with any possible negotiated outcome between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
CLINTON: Well, Mort, as you know better than I—and most—this is an unfortunate development. And whether it can be turned into some potential opportunity or not, it's too soon to tell. With the collapse of the—the recent efforts—and I went down the same path. I was able to manage to get the leaders together three times. The president had them together an additional time. And we went through all of that, and I write about it in the book in some detail about, you know, Netanyahu's announcement, which I called unprecedented—because it was—of a settlement freeze in the West Bank, the pressure Abbas was under that was making it very difficult for him to enter into negotiations, we went through all of that.
In my time, we were constantly speaking out against the Fatah-Hamas merger to create some kind of unified government. We were aided in that, first, by Mubarak and then even, to some extent, by Morsi, because they were unsure of what that would mean, and so nothing came of it. Now there is this announcement of a technocratic government.
I'd make three quick points. One, I think for the time being, serious negotiations are understandably put off. And that's partly because they collapsed, but it's also partly because Israel, the U.S., and others have to assess what this merger really means.
Secondly, if they hold elections, which they say they're going to—I'm not sure they will—but if they hold elections, I sure hope Fatah understands the rules of the election, because the last time, in the Bush administration, the elections were pushed—I was against them, quietly. I said, I don't think this is a good idea. But it was part of our, you know, promoting democracy efforts.
But then the election was designed in such a way that everybody on Fatah ran, and sometimes there were two candidates in one slot, and there was one Hamas candidate. So although they did not win a majority of the votes, they won a majority of the elected legislators. And, of course, you know, that was not the outcome anybody wanted, and Fatah was surprised, because they thought votes meant elected leaders and they didn't understand the way it was set up.
Thirdly, I don't know what's going to happen in Gaza. I think that Fatah has been—has continued to pay thousands of workers in Gaza. A lot of the economy of Gaza, such as it is, has been supported by Fatah, which by indirection is Israel, because of the passing on of the tax revenues in part. If those workers, those thousands of workers in Gaza are not paid because Israel cuts off the passing of the revenues, I think that will create an even worse situation than potentially what we're going to see anyway.
So there are a lot of hard choices, to coin a phrase...
HAASS: Coin a phrase, yeah.
CLINTON: ... yes—in this, but I hope that we follow it closely and make no big decisions right now until we figure out better what's actually happening on the ground.
HAASS: Yes, ma'am?
QUESTION: Thank you. Maria McFarland from Human Rights Watch. I appreciate what you said about the need for a new rules-based order and the need to move away from the abuses committed in the war on terror. But there are still 150 men in Guantanamo. Even the Senate report on torture hasn't been made public yet. How do we move forward on this?
CLINTON: Well, on those two points specifically, I know that there is continuing pressure to release the Senate report. I am hopeful it will get released. Now, I assume there will be redactions, but there's a fight over how much will be redacted.
But I think it is important—I was not one of those who thought it was necessarily wise to ignore everything that had happened. I thought we needed more transparency. I didn't want people to be criminally prosecuted, people who were doing what they were told to do, that there were legal opinions supporting what they were told to do, but I wanted transparency. And that's what Dianne Feinstein is trying to provide with that 6,000-page report. And I think the American people deserve to see it.
On Guantanamo, you're well aware of the difficulty. I mean, the president came into office determined to close Guantanamo. I know the White House worked very hard. We worked in the State Department to find places to send prisoners that nobody thought were dangerous. You might remember there was a late-night flight to Bermuda with some of the Uighurs who are still, I think, working at a golf course.
And then there were five other Uighurs taken to Palau, who are trying to get, you know, some onward destination. So we did move people out, as the Bush administration moved people out. The Congress continued to tighten the rules. Now, that's part of the big debate about Bergdahl, that you have to tell us, you have to sign off on, you know, you can't move anybody. I think that infringes on the president's constitutional authority, but this is a big debate, and I know the president is committed to trying to move those who can be moved out under appropriate conditions, which is what they say has been negotiated with Qatar, and find places for others, but then some will have to be moved to maximum security.
We do a pretty good job—we do a really good job with maximum security imprisonment. We have a bunch of terrorists in maximum security facilities around the country. So we know how to do this, but there's all kinds of reasons why members of Congress don't want that to happen. So I think the president is pursuing it, doing all that he thinks he can do.
HAASS: We've only got a minute or two left, so I'm going to squeeze in one or two last questions. You note in the book that there's no Obama doctrine for American foreign policy. Is there a Clinton doctrine?
CLINTON: Well, there are—there are certainly principles that I tried to follow. One I mentioned, trying to renew and modernize a rules-based order, which is very much in our interest and I think needs much greater attention than we've given it, on both the economic and the political front.
Secondly, we have to do a better job mobilizing for common action, and that requires those relationship-building efforts that I was referring to. The United States can't act as though we are a unilateral power, even though we are by far stronger in economic terms still today and certainly in military terms, but we have to be constantly looking for more partners, and as much as possible, having them participate and take responsibility.
And then, thirdly, what I tried to do was to rebalance foreign policy. Defense, diplomacy, and development was not a slogan. It was a mission. We had to do development better. We made some advances, not enough, in my view. And on diplomacy, we had to modernize it. When I got there, most members of the State Department were not issued, you know, cellphones, BlackBerries. They were considered security risks.
I'm laughing at Judith McHale, who was my undersecretary for public diplomacy, just to be able to equip our diplomats with modern tools so that they could go out and do the work that was necessary and to look at these trend lines. We had a couple of very successful programs. I give President Bush credit in the book for PEPFAR, you know, the program that made it possible to both treat many more millions of people on AIDS and prevent transmission, and he's very popular in sub-Saharan Africa because people believe that he cared about them. That is a strategic advantage.
So, yes, I got into some trouble when I made a speech in Africa saying, you know, think carefully about what kind of help you want. If the only offer from a foreign power, whether it's a former colonial power or Asian power or South American power, is to, you know, take your resources away from you, think hard about that. But if the offer is to help save mothers and babies and prevent the transmission of AIDS, that's about helping the people be empowered so they can make better decisions for themselves.
Our development agenda is a great diplomatic tool, and we need to use it more, so we started a program called Feed the Future, because we're going to have food challenges. We're going to have a lot of food insecurity. Climate change, which I also write about at some length, is going to make it harder to grow crops and to maintain their viability by getting them to a market in time.
Well, the United States has the biggest feeding program in the world. We don't do much to talk about that. It doesn't make headlines. We've got 3 million people we are influencing with Feed the Future, farmers who are doing a better job. That's part of the American story.
And what happens when I, as secretary of state, travel around, I go to these countries, and leaders often say to me, "You know, you're not doing very much for us." And I say, "Well, what do you mean?" They say, "Well, you know, the Chinese built this parliament building, and the Japanese built this soccer field." I said, "We spend more money than them combined and we keep your women alive, we keep your babies surviving, we stamp out disease, we feed you in earthquakes and storms. What do you mean we're not doing anything?"
But unless that story is repeated over and over again, the big shiny ball is seen by people, and people then say to themselves, "What is America doing for us? You know, we know what others are doing for us," and we spend far more money trying to help.
So I was convinced that leading with our values, being very candid that, yes, the United States has interests and security paramount and we're going to pursue those, but we also have values that we are determined to exemplify and to embed.
So I think it—whether it adds up a fancy, you know, doctrine or whether it's a sort of practical, principled approach, it's what guided me for four years.
HAASS: Last question. What is it you would then say to Americans—that's the message you would send to the world—what is it you tell to Americans that they ought to pay attention to the world? Because it's quite possible the next president will inherit an incredibly difficult, challenging, messy world at a time the American people want very little part of it.
HAASS: What is—how do you persuade Americans not to turn their backs on the world?
CLINTON: I think you—you have to start from a very simple premise, that America matters to the world and the world matters to America, that in an interconnected, interdependent world like the one in which we all live in, our jobs, our economic growth, investment opportunities are very much connected with what goes on in the rest of the world.
Making sure we do have that rules-based order, so that companies that are trying to do business have as level a playing field as we can possibly help them to obtain. Creating an argument for Americans who are incredibly generous, that by helping others we demonstrate our values, which in turn comes home to help us.
And the argument on the other side of the coin, by retreating from the world, we will find ourselves once more with danger and peril at our doorstep, or certainly at the doorsteps of our friends and allies, and I think the argument has to be made, even though there is a growing narrative against American involvement, but I think it's primarily American military involvement, and I think the president has read the American public well. That may not always lead to the consequences one wishes, but he understands that Americans really don't want to be sending our young men and women into combat where the outcome is uncertain, the cost is really high, and where we get no credit for having sacrificed to help other people.
I mean, it's—it's a—it's a totally understandable posture for Americans to be in, but leadership requires standing up and saying, you know what, we don't want to do that, but occasionally we will have to. We can't be uninvolved, because that, too, can cause us problems that we then pay the price for.
It's got to be a conversation, Richard, an ongoing conversation with the American people. And you can't shy from the conversation. And you also have to be prepared to answer the tough questions about, what's it going to cost and what do we get out of it?
HAASS: Hillary Clinton, good luck with the book and all else.
CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you so much.