Interview
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Hotel Adlon
Berlin, Germany
November 9, 2009


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in some ways, is it a more dangerous world now than it was 20 years ago? We had two superpowers talking to each other. They both had nuclear weapons, but they were constantly in touch and Gorbachev was in the Soviet Union. Now, we have rogue states with nuclear weapons; no one in those states wants to talk to us. And we have terrorist organizations that are stateless. In 20 years, have we gone backward rather than forward?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Tom, as we always do with history, we’ve moved into a different era. The threat that the Cold War posed – and I remember it very well, I’m a child of the Cold War and I remember being told to get under my desk and put my head up against the locker, depending upon who the teacher was and how she thought we could be safe from a nuclear catastrophe. So we lived with a great deal of fear.

Looking back, it appears like it was more orderly, that there were these two superpowers in this bipolar world and we were at a kind of standoff when it came to nuclear deterrent. Now, we are in a world where there are more different kinds of dangers, the terrain is more complex, and we’re called upon to navigate it and navigate through it the way that a prior generation did the Cold War.

QUESTION: Is the Middle East the new Berlin, the crossroads of the confrontation?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that, unfortunately, there are many Berlins. I think that’s one of the problems that we face. We have the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, we have Iran, we have the Middle East, we have other conflicts that can easily get out of control. We have, as you’ve said, stateless terrorists and networks that are pursuing their own objectives. So when you look at the map, there’s not one place you can put your finger and say this is where it’s possible that we would have another confrontation. You look and you say this could get out of hand here and that could be a problem there.

But I am fundamentally optimistic. I think that despite the challenges we confront, we are focused on them. We understand the threats that are posed and we’re trying to get the world to be not a multi-polar world so much as a multi-partner world.

QUESTION: Last night, you described Germany as our partner in Afghanistan. But almost everyone who’s looked at Germany’s performance there believes that both politically and militarily Germany is a reluctant partner at best. Shouldn’t we expect more from the Germans in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that the Germans have done a lot in Afghanistan. Everyone can look at everyone else and say, well, you weren’t ready for this and you didn’t perform to the utmost here. But I think it’s in part because this is a very different kind of challenge that we’re confronting together, and we’re learning as we go. I think we are resolved to handle the threat posed by terrorism and this syndicate of terror that al-Qaida and their extremist allies are part of.

And certainly on many different levels, the Germans have been resolute. They have put in 4,000 troops. They have been willing to take responsibility for large parts of the territory in the north. They have worked to train and prepare the police and the security forces. But I think it’s fair to say that it’s only been for the last couple of years that the United States has understood how better to confront the challenge that is posed by organized terrorist groups, and we’re working closely with our NATO allies and other allies around the world and we’re getting better at it. But we didn’t start off that well. Right before the first Iraq war, we thought we knew what warfare was, and the first Iraq war turned out to be pretty much in line with what people thought. Well, the second Iraq was a whole different challenge. So I think we’ve evolved our military and our political strategy and understanding, and it’s a learning experience and I think we’re getting better at it.

QUESTION: Given all of that, all the military analysts that I talk to across the board say the Canadians are helping us a lot, the British are helping us a lot, the Poles are doing a great job, but the Germans are kind of sitting on their hands. They don’t want to leave their bases because there is not much will here in Berlin in the political leadership.

SECRETARY CLINTON: But to be fair, Tom, after World War II nobody wanted to see German troops anywhere. Think about it. And the German people themselves wanted to rein in their military capacity and certainly their military ambitions. Having an out-of-territory conflict like what we’re seeing in Afghanistan has really pushed the Germans, and it’s been remarkable that they have responded with as much commitment and sacrifice as they’ve shown.

So I think it’s easy to stand back and say, well, the Germans this, the Germans that. I’m very impressed that the Germans have made a political decision that has put them in harm’s way, that has moved troops out of Europe to a battlefield far from home, because this has been a very difficult political decision for them given their understandable allergy to being looked at as though they were once again a military power.

QUESTION: So as Secretary of State, you think they’re doing as well as can be expected?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that they have done very well under the circumstances. I think that, like us, they are learning all the time. And like us, they’ve taken casualties and they’ve put their men and women in harm’s way, and they have been willing to join us. But we’re all in this together.

QUESTION: As Secretary of State, would you rather see a Mikhail Gorbachev back in charge of Russia than Vladimir Putin?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I kind of like President Medvedev myself. (Laughter.) I am very impressed with him and what he’s trying to do. He is clearly speaking out on issues ranging from democracy and human rights and the need to modernize the Russian economy that need to be discussed in Russia. So I don’t pretend to understand how the balance of power actually works inside of Russia, but I think he’s a modern man with a clear and compelling understanding of what he wants to see his country achieve.

QUESTION: I talked to Mikhail Gorbachev here, and he said the United States made a mistake in ignoring Russia for too long, and Russia struck back in its own manner. Are we about to enter a new phase with Russia and a more cooperative arrangement?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m very pleased at what we’ve seen thus far. As we have famously said, we wanted to reset the relationship, and we wanted to work with the Russians wherever we could, narrow the areas of disagreement, stand up where we must against some of what we thought were their excessive behavior. But I think that when it comes to nuclear disarmament, we’re in the midst of complex, important negotiations over reduction of our nuclear arsenals. We work together on everything from North Korea to Armenia and Turkey. I think that they fully appreciate that we’re not always going to agree, but that at least the Obama Administration, and certainly the President and myself, are showing them the respect that they deserve to have and are looking for ways that we can work together.

QUESTION: Do you remember where you were 20 years ago tonight?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I was in Arkansas. And it was – I remember being glued to our TV sets, which in those days, as you might recall, were a lot smaller. And they were in boxes. They weren’t hung on walls. And just hanging on all of the coverage. I saw a lot of you that night, and it was extraordinary because you could give us that firsthand feeling. And I heard last night you were just – you just happened to be there. You didn’t have any inside information that tonight was the night, but there was something happening, it was kind of building, and you were there. And you said, I think, the war is over and the wall is down. And it was just one of those extraordinary historical moments. So I saw a lot of you that day – (laughter) – and a day or two later.

QUESTION: You’re a veteran of another kind of war. Do you have any advice for the President on how to get healthcare finally passed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I was thrilled that it was finally passed in the House. I called him as soon as the vote was over. I called the Speaker. This is an extraordinary accomplishment. Now we turn our attention to the Senate, try to get them to go along with their own version, because having been in the Senate for eight years, I know they won’t take the House version and just pass it. But I’m very optimistic. I think we’re going to get a bill by the end of the year.

QUESTION: How long do you think it’ll be before we see Harry and Louise on television?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know what, I think Harry and Louise have thought better of what they said 16 years ago. (Laughter.) So I don’t think you’ll see Harry and Louise. You see the tea parties and interrupted town halls, but most Americans over the course of the last 16 years have really understood more about what was at stake in this healthcare debate. It’s not just about those who don’t have insurance. It’s about the quality of your insurance and the cost of your insurance. And for a while, people thought, well, we’ll haggle it through the insurance system itself. But that didn’t work. And so now there’s a readiness that we saw enacted in that close vote in the House, and I think that the senators heard that message.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks, Tom.

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PRN: 2009/T15-6

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With Tom Brokaw of NBC]