Interview With David Gregory of NBC's Meet The Press
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, welcome back to Meet the Press. I want to start with Iraq and the President’s decision about withdrawal. As you know, Republicans have already piled on, suggesting that the prospect of sectarian violence once U.S. troops leave is real, among them Mitt Romney saying that it unnecessarily endangers the success that the United States has had in Iraq by withdrawing all the forces by the end of the year. How much of a concern is it to you that we face a prospect of civil war once U.S. troops come out?
SECRETARY CLINTON: David, I think that Iraq is a very new democracy, of course, but it has made tremendous strides in taking care of its own security. And let’s put this into some context here. President Obama has said from the beginning that combat troops would leave by the end of this year. That should not surprise anyone. But it’s equally important to remember that this deadline was set by the Bush Administration, so it’s been a bipartisan commitment, but it was on President Obama’s watch to show the leadership to be able to fulfill that commitment.
So we are now going to have a security relationship with Iraq for training and support of their military, similar to what we have around the world from Jordan to Colombia. We will have military trainers and support personnel on the ground at Embassy Baghdad. We will be training Iraqis on using the military equipment that they are buying from the United States. And we think that this is the kind of mature relationship that is very common. So I believe that we are looking to fulfill what it is that the Iraqis requested and that we’re prepared to provide.
QUESTION: But Secretary Clinton, the question is whether you think this criticism is well-founded or not. Do we not endanger recent success in Iraq by not having any residual force? Is there not a legitimate prospect of civil war, which many people fear?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, honestly, I think that they should have raised those issues when President Bush agreed to the agreement to withdraw troops by the end of this year. I feel like this is a debate that is looking backwards instead of forwards.
Now, are the Iraqis all going to get along with each other for the foreseeable future? Well, let’s find out. We know that there will be continuing stresses and threats, as we see in many of the countries that we work. We had a support-and-training mission in Colombia over many years when they were facing tremendous threats from insurgent groups. We know that the violence is not going to automatically end.
But President Obama has shown great leadership in navigating to this point, fulfilling his promise, meeting the obligations that were entered into before he ever came into office. We are providing a support-and-training mission. We will be there on the ground, working with the Iraqis. And I just want to add, David, that no one should miscalculate America’s resolve and commitment to helping support the Iraqi democracy. We have paid too high a price to give the Iraqis this chance, and I hope that Iran and no one else miscalculates that.
QUESTION: Well, and I want to just underline that. There’s a feeling that Iran could try to push Iraq around, particularly in the Shia part of the southern part of Iraq. Are you suggesting that if Iran were to try to take advantage of this moment the U.S. would still have a military commitment, the message to Iran being what?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think Iran should look at the region. We may not be leaving military bases in Iraq, but we have bases elsewhere. We have support and training assets elsewhere. We have a NATO ally in Turkey. The United States is very present in the region.
But let’s also admit that Iran has influence in Iraq; always has, always will. But the Iraqis themselves are a very proud people. They are proud of their nation, they’re proud of their own future prospects. So I don’t think anyone should be mistaken about America’s commitment to the new democracy in Iraq that we have sacrificed so much to help them achieve.
QUESTION: Final point on Iraq: This was cast, as the President talked about this, as a victory for the United States as we withdraw troops. Looking back now, as this war is coming to an end, do you stand by your vote authorizing military force in Iraq as a senator?
SECRETARY CLINTON: David, I honestly don’t think this is a time to be looking back. I think it’s a time to be looking forward. I will leave it to history to debate and argue over the merits and demerits of what the United States did over the last decade. But the fact is that Iraq is now a sovereign nation with democratically elected leadership, with a government that reflects the interests of different groups of Iraqis, and it is very much in America’s interests going forward to make sure that this new democracy flourishes. And we will do everything we can to help make that a fact.
QUESTION: Was the war worth it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re going to have to wait a long time for the Iraqis themselves to answer that question. Freedom, democracy, the opportunities that people now have that were never available under the dictatorships of tyrants like Saddam Hussein or Qadhafi is certainly a new world that everyone finds themselves in. But I’m proud that the United States has stood on the side of those fundamental freedoms that we hold dear.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about the new world in Libya. What would you like to know about the exact circumstances of how Qadhafi was killed?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would strongly support both a UN investigation that has been called for, and the investigation that the Transitional National Council has said they will conduct. I think it’s important that this new government, this effort to have a democratic Libya, start with the rule of law, start with accountability, stand for unity and reconciliation, make it absolutely clear that everyone who stood with the old regime, as long as they don’t have blood on their hands, should be safe and included in a new Libya.
So I view the investigation on its own merits as important, but also as part of a process that will give Libya the best possible chance to navigate toward a stable, secure, democratic future.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, this is a very important that you made as part of a U.S. delegation. You sent an unmistakable message, which is that anyone in Pakistan who allows terrorists to operate in safe havens in that country will pay a heavy price. What are the consequences to this already fragile relationship if, in fact, the United States launches another counterterror operation inside Pakistan with U.S. boots on the ground?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, David, first, we did have a very intense, frank, candid, open discussion between the high-level delegation I led with General Dempsey, Director Petraeus, and others, and our counterparts on the Pakistani side. And we stressed two points: Number one, we both have to work to eliminate the threats from safe havens – we on the Afghan side, and we’re upping the tempo of our efforts, and the Pakistanis on their side. And secondly, that we have to stand behind a reconciliation and peace process led by the Afghans.
It’s very important to stress that Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Americans are already facing consequences from the attacks that cross borders and kill innocent people, but the consequences could become even more dire if we do not redouble our efforts to try to increase our security cooperation. We’ve done it in the past by focusing on al-Qaida, and I’m very appreciative of the cooperation that has been given to us by the Pakistanis. Now we have to bring the same high-level security cooperation on these terrorist networks in order to remove them as a threat.
QUESTION: Final question, Secretary Clinton: When you ran for president you posed a fundamental question to against your opponent at the time, now President Obama, which is who’s going to answer that 3:00 a.m. phone call when there’s an international crisis. And as you hear these Republican presidential debates and all the talk about foreign policy, do you think that there’s a threshold that they’re going to have to pass to show a certain amount of competence? And do you think that foreign policy, from what you’ve heard will be a disadvantage for this group of Republican candidates for president?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me begin by saying that President Obama has passed with flying colors every leadership challenge. I mean, look at what he has done, I mean, just to name a few things. I mean, we were looking for bin Ladin for 10 years. It was under President Obama’s leadership that he was finally eliminated. Libya, with the kind of smart leadership that the President showed, demonstrating that American leadership was essential, but it was important to try to bring others also into a coalition of efforts, and the objective was achieved, keeping the promise to withdraw from Iraq but not leave Iraq by having a robust security and training mission accompanied by a very large diplomatic presence.
I could go on and on. I think this President has demonstrated that, in a still very dangerous world, it’s important to have someone at the helm of our country who understands how to manage what is an incredibly complex world now. Yes, we have a lot of threats, but we also have opportunities, and I think President Obama has grasped that and has performed extraordinarily well.
So I don't know what the other side will do. I’m out of politics, as you know, David. I don’t comment on it. But I think Americans are going to want to know that they have a steady, experienced, smart hand on the tiller of the ship of State, and there’s no doubt that that’s Barack Obama.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.