Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
October 16, 2009

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thanks very much for taking out the time to talk with us. Afghanistan, let’s talk about that. Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission is coming out with its report. The Afghan ambassador says that that commission is likely to order a runoff election. Should President Obama wait for the results of that runoff election before he makes his decision on troops for Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, first let me say we’re not positive what the election commission will recommend. But clearly, whatever their recommendation is, I believe should be followed. And if that requires a second round, that is what should happen. I think that the President is well aware of all the permutations of what can happen in the election. It is likely that they will find that President Karzai got very close to the 50+1 percent. So I think one can conclude that the likelihood of him winning a second round is probably pretty high. But I think the ballots have been printed, and certainly the military, through NATO and through our own troops, is looking at how you would secure such a second round.

But I think that we have taken into account every possible outcome as we have engaged in our strategic analysis. And I think the President is expecting to make a decision on his own timetable when he is absolutely comfortable with what he believes is in the best interest of the United States.

QUESTION: Could that runoff election be carried out, do you think, if it happens within a month? And what if it stretched on into the spring? Could Afghanistan survive without a legitimate government until then?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. First of all, I think it could be carried out, since, as I said, the ballots are printed and certainly some planning has been done. It could absolutely be carried out within the next few weeks before the snows come. We have problems in the south, as you know, because of the intimidation from the Taliban and al-Qaida at every turn, trying to prevent people from participating. But I think it could be, but we won’t know. We have to wait until the decision is made, because certainly I don’t want to prejudge or preempt whatever the election commission itself is going to determine. But I also think that the decision that the President has to make is looking at how we can have a different and more effective relationship with the Afghan Government, whoever is the final victor, but not only with the government in Kabul, but with governors throughout the country with what they call sub-national, regional, local leaders. And there has been a lot of thought given as to how we would do that.

QUESTION: But the decisions in the Administration right now, looking at President Karzai, there are numerous allegations of corruption, fraud, et cetera. Is he really damaged goods? Because, after all, the Administration says they need a reliable partner, that the whole strategy is pinned on having a reliable partner. Is he a reliable partner?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that – let’s wait and see how this election turns out. Let’s determine what the winner – assuming it is President Karzai – commits to do, and the measures of accountability that can be put into place to more effectively guarantee the outcomes that we’re seeking. I think, unfortunately, over the last eight years, there wasn’t the kind of expectation that should have been set for what the United States and the international community expected to be delivered, but we’re going to change that. And we are in the process of working through the best ways to do that.

But let me just put this into a context, because I certainly am concerned about fraud and irregularities anytime they occur, in any election, anywhere. But this is one of the most carefully vetted elections, the fact that there is this check and balance through the election commission process is unlike what we see in most countries where elections are held, results are announced, we all roll our eyes, the ruling party gets 98 percent. And everybody knows that that’s either because they have effectively limited or eliminated their opposition or because they have committed fraud.

We had a real election. Now, were there irregularities? Yes. And has there been an accounting of those irregularities? Yes. But the fact that an election was held in a conflict as terrible as this one is in many parts of the country, that it was a real election with rallies and platforms. And a number of people did quite well. The two predominant winners – we know, President Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah – I think should be also recognized. So we’re trying to be realistic here and not blow too hot or too cold. In fact, I think that the prior administration was too unrealistic in the way that they treated both our involvement and the number of troops that we put in to achieve our goals and the relationship they built with certain leaders in Afghanistan. So we’re trying to recalibrate this, and I think we’re well on the way to do that.

QUESTION: The deliberations that the President is having about Afghan policy, troops, et cetera, you’ve been in, obviously, on all of them. You were on one when we were coming back from Moscow on the plane.


QUESTION: And yet, you said in an interview this week that you haven’t given him your – offered your best advice to the President. Why not? Why not yet? When are you going to do it and what are you going to tell him?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the process that we’ve pursued, which I really believe has been not only useful but quite informative to all of us, is leading up to where we will give our best advice. But it would have been premature because we wanted to examine every assumption. There were no questions or topics off limits. Everybody came to the table with all of their concerns that were laid out. I think we’ve done a thorough job of analysis, and now we’re moving into the decision phase, and I’m sure that the President’s going to be asking all of us what is our advice to him, and then when he makes a decision, what is it we are all going to contribute to actually executing his decision.

QUESTION: So give us a little peek into those meetings. Is he actually saying let’s discuss this, what’s the information, and not asking for your advice? Is it all going toward him?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, yes, and it’s been very – I think we’ve all learned a lot. I think the President has been extremely skillful in probing and asking all the hard questions. We’ve had the benefit of not only our military commanders – some at the table like Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus – but some by DVIDS like General McChrystal, plus our two exemplary ambassadors, Ambassador Eikenberry in Afghanistan, Ambassador Anne Patterson in Pakistan.

We’ve had just the most thorough scrubbing and here in the State Department, we are mostly responsible for the civilian, the political, the diplomatic development side of this. And we’ve spent intense times – Richard Holbrooke’s team, Deputy Secretary Jack Lew have really put together our presentations and been on the front lines answering the questions from everybody.

This is the way government should work, but given the political and the media environment in which we live, it’s understandable people want us to walk out of a meeting where we may have focused on the military side or we may have focused on the governmental side and say, okay, fine, what have you guys decided?

And I just think that it’s to the President’s credit that he has had the patience and the persistence to really force the process without responding prematurely, so that when he comes out – remember, this was really foreshadowed back in the spring, because when he got into office, there was a pending troop request. And he asked for a report about how we should think about what we were doing. It was quite remarkable that the report came in with two big ideas that had not, in my view, been fully either explored or certainly implemented in the prior eight years.

One was you’ve got to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together. Now, that may sound self-evident, but that wasn’t what was being done previously. And you have to have a much greater integration of the civilian and the military efforts. And the President said at that time, okay, we’re going to send these additional troops. Afghanistan has been under-resourced from the beginning. I have said that since 2003 when I first went to Afghanistan and an American soldier met me by saying welcome to the forgotten front lines in the war against terrorism.

And I took that very personally because having been a senator from New York, that is where the attack against us was planned. The attention was shifted to Iraq; everybody knows that. We’ve never had the kind of military or civilian commitment that our mission had been really needing. So the President is doing what he said he would do, and we’re going to proceed on his timetable.

QUESTION: Have you personally made up your mind – and especially about this part that is so important – in order to have the State Department put people, USAID out in the field, they need protection. Can you actually carry out the mission, the State Department mission, without adding extra troops?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, I’m certainly going to give the President my best advice. I’m not going to do it before and I’m not going to do it in public. I think he’s owed our best advice. But I take very seriously the safety and security of our troops and our civilian employees. It’s dangerous for either the military or an aid worker, but the military at least has the capacity to defend itself. They get to carry guns. Our agronomists or our economic advisors are pretty much out there dependent upon the security environment that can be created by the military.

QUESTION: Just a few months ago in Pakistan, just a few months ago, you said that Pakistan is in danger of falling to the terrorists. Now we’re having attacks every single day. Are you sure that that government is able to really keep control over the country?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m very impressed with the commitment that the Pakistani Government – both the civilian leadership and the military – have made. When I said what I said some months ago, there was not the full commitment of going after those who were threatening territory and authority inside Pakistan. There is now. And I think the military in Pakistan has proven its effectiveness in going into Swat.

From what I read in the paper, they’re very much focused on also going into the heartland of where the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida are located and where these plots and these attacks are planned and directed. So I think that they understand that there is a direct threat to them, which they are addressing, which I think is all to the good.

QUESTION: We don’t have a lot of time, so I want to ask you a question about healthcare reform. I covered the White House back when you were carrying out your plan on healthcare reform. It’s very dear to your heart. As you look at the debate going on right now, don’t you wish you could kind of jump into it and express your viewpoints?

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, I care deeply about this issue, as you know, and have for many years. And I’ve been asked for my viewpoint by some of the leading participants in this debate and I have freely offered it. But I have a different role now, and I’m going to cheer from the sidelines, as an American citizen, with the hope that finally we’re going to get this done.

I’m very encouraged by the action that’s going on in the Senate, but I think I probably, better than anyone, know how difficult this is. But we’ve made a lot of progress in the last nine months, and I am very optimistic we’re going to get a healthcare plan that will really improve the lives of the American people.

QUESTION: Just looking at this Gallop poll that just came out, you are more popular than the President; President Obama 56 percent, Clinton 62. Why do you think that is?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I have no idea. (Laughter.) I see the polls, they go up or they go down about me, about others. But I think that in general, the people in our country approve of what the President is doing in his leadership. But it’s hard. I mean, look, being president is hard. I know that from having watched it closely.

And certainly, the change in tone that we’re trying to bring to foreign policy – we are very pragmatic about this. I mean, this is a clear-eyed approach at trying to engender greater support for the decisions we think are in the best interests of the United States and, apparently, the people in our country think we’re on the right track.

QUESTION: And you had talked this week – there have been a couple of questions coming to you about your next mission after the State Department, how long you would stay. Do you want to stay – let’s say that the President is reelected, would you stay, do you think, for another term? And also retirement, I mean, after this trip, I guess, to Moscow, I’m thinking about that and -- (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you and I have been around a long time, Jill. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I know. I was just about to say that, and so I think it’s time to start thinking about this. What do you think? What does retirement look for – look like for Hillary Clinton? What would you want to do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have no idea, because I’ve never had the opportunity to do that. But I love my job. I love representing our country. I’m very pleased by the relationship I have with the President, the Vice President, the White House, national security team.

So it’s a great joy, but it’s also extremely demanding. And – I mean, I’ve been on a very fast track for most of my life, but particularly for the last 17 years. So at some point, I think it would be time to maybe have a little more space to reflect and write and relax and – but I have no idea when that will be.

QUESTION: Just one last question. In Moscow, you were asked what book had influenced you the most, and you were talking about the Brothers Karamazov and the fact that some people – the most dangerous thing, I guess you were saying, is people who really think that they know it all --


QUESTION: -- that they are right.


QUESTION: Is there something, since you’ve begun this job, where you were suddenly forced to look at in a completely different fashion, that perhaps you had been wrong about it? Is there something that changed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s a really interesting question. I mean, what I was talking about, of course, at Moscow State was the need to be open, to be more humble in our own opinions and our own views of the world to try to see how others see it.

And it is an important message, particularly for Russia and for Russia’s young people, because I know that there are still those in Russia, just like there are in our country, who have these Cold War mentalities and this enormous amount of distrust. That doesn’t mean we’re going to agree with Russia all the time. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to go along with us or we with them. But I think we’ll go further together if we just look more openly and realistically about where we stand, and not get burdened by ideology.

Well, similarly, you can see people who have strong religious beliefs, who think that they have the only truth that exists. And so I’m always asking myself: Well, how do other people see that? And Americans – we get impatient with people who are tied to the past. We think, oh, come on, let’s move on. Because we’re such a nation of tomorrow, we’re always planning and looking toward the future.

And I said, in Northern Ireland, leadership requires us not to have an allegiance to a past we cannot change, but a commitment to a future we can shape. So I’m always asking myself what can I do to kind of make sure that I’m not carrying attitudes from the past that will interfere with getting to a better future for my country. And I care about the rest of the world as well, but my obligation is to make sure that I do the best job I can for the United States.

QUESTION: Well, thank you very much, Secretary Clinton.


QUESTION: I appreciate the time with you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good to see you.

PRN: 2009/1028