Interview With Andrea Mitchell of NBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. Important moment as you leave this office. Are you thinking about your legacy? Henry Kissinger negotiated peace with Vietnam; Jim Baker had Middle East accords; of course, there was the Marshall Plan with George Marshall. What do you want your legacy to be?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andrea, I think given the inheritance we had when we came into office in this Administration, we had an overwhelming imperative to restore American leadership. It was in question, and it was in part because of political decisions that had been made prior to the Obama Administration, but also because of the economic crisis, and the feeling that somehow, America had caused this.
And so part of the responsibility I had was to go out, fly the flag, restore that confidence, make it clear that our leadership was intact, to set the table for the pivot to Asia, to dealing with the Arab revolution, to restoring really close relationships with our partners in Europe, looking to enhance the neighborhood in Latin America. And on so many issues, whether it was putting together international coalitions with Iran and North Korea, figuring out what to do with Libya that would bring an unprecedented coalition between NATO and Arab countries, or whether it was just looking down the road at how we were doing diplomacy and introducing new tools into that mix, it was a very different time than 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago.
I’ve kidded our mutual friend, Henry Kissinger; think of how impossible it would have been for him to sneak off to China in an age of cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, everything else. It is a time that is testing us. I think we are passing the test, and quite comfortably, but the whole world scene is one now that is so quickly changing and challenging us that the traditional mode of doing diplomacy is not enough for what we face.
QUESTION: What do you think didn’t go well? What went wrong?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Benghazi went wrong. That was a terrible example of trying to get the right balance between being in a threatening place or not being there, looking after American interests, which meant keeping an eye on the militants and extremists who we knew were reconstituting themselves in eastern Libya, trying to track down MANPADS that could get into the wrong hands, and unfortunately, many have.
So you are constantly making a calculus how you balance all of this off. And because there is no part of the world that is irrelevant to the United States anymore – I mean, how – when I came into office, did we worry about governments changing in North Africa and the Middle East? Did we worry about a place called Mali becoming a potential safe haven for terrorists? Did we think that we could get an opening in Burma that would begin to change the configuration of Southeast Asia? And I could go on and on.
There are things that you know you always have to deal with – the threat of nuclear weapons and their spread, the threat of extremism and its incredible dangers, and on and on. Those are the challenges. But then you have to also respond to the crises of the moment, do everything you can to manage them, and then you have to take a longer view at what are the trend lines, what is technology going to do to us, what is climate change going to do to us, what are we going to do to enhance the roles and rights of women and girls, because that will provide more stability. And so it’s a fascinating time to have this job.
QUESTION: When you took responsibility and you told the Senate and the House that you took responsibility for Benghazi, and you said you get more than a million cables to the State Department a year – they’re all addressed to you – but in retrospect, shouldn’t a cable warning of a security threat from an ambassador in a conflict zone – shouldn’t that get the highest possible attention immediately?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s what we’re hoping to make sure does happen in the future. The security professionals get it right far more than they get it wrong. We have a long list of attacks averted, assassination plots broken up, and so much. So I have a great deal of confidence in them.
But it’s an institution of human beings, nearly 70,000 of them. And as the Accountability Review Board said, there were some wrong decisions made, and unfortunately, we suffered grievous losses.
QUESTION: I was with you in 1995 in Beijing when you said famously that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Is that a big part of your legacy here, the first ambassador, and now institutionalizing that? But do you have concerns also, I should add, that as we withdraw from Afghanistan, for instance, that the Taliban will force a serious erosion, if not a complete erosion, of women’s rights?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, on the first point, I do value it as part of my legacy because I think it’s common sense. I think if we don’t pay attention to the lives and roles of women, we will pay a price. And it’s not just a political price or a security threat that we have to contend with; it’s economic. I mean, the World Bank and so many other research organizations have made it abundantly clear the world economy would be recovering faster if barriers to women’s participation were torn down.
When it comes to Afghanistan, I worry constantly about what happens there for everyone, but in particular for women and girls. We’ve made a lot of advances. A far greater number of girls are going to school. Women are running businesses, practicing their professions. But there is a very large group of women who mostly are in the countryside or in settings where the theories and practices of including women are not accepted.
And I worry particularly about extremist groups, fanatics, who shoot teenage girls because they want to go to school. That is just beyond my comprehension, but I know it happens because I deal with it every day. We have a long way to go – and it’s not only in Afghanistan – in many parts of the world. The deprivation women face, the discrimination, the abuse, rape as a tool of war, sexual violence as a means of keeping women in their place – we have a lot of work to do, and I’m determined to continue that when I leave.
QUESTION: Do you think in retrospect, that in the Middle East, the Administration took too hard a line on the settlements with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the first year, then recalibrated, but by then, the atmosphere was bad? And there has been not as much progress as many would like in the Middle East Israeli-Palestinian track.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. Well, I think this is unfinished work and it must continue, and I know John Kerry wants to work on this area.
But I want to just step back for a minute. Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze. It wasn’t everything, but it was unprecedented. I flew to Jerusalem, stood on a stage with him late at night, and really gave him credit for taking a step no prior prime minister ever had. We thought – the Israelis and we – that this would open the door to serious negotiations with our Palestinian counterparts. That didn’t happen until literally the last month of the settlement freeze.
And it just shows how difficult it is for both sides to really act at the same time. And it’s something that I have thought a lot about because, of course, I lived through it when my husband tried at Camp David. We have seen other administrations, particularly going back to the Carter Administration, make some progress with Egypt, or what my husband did with Jordan, getting peace treaties with states.
But when it comes to this very difficult situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there is an enormous amount of work to do. And I try to make the point that the Palestinians deserve their state. Their aspirations should be recognized. Under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, they’ve made a lot of progress in the West Bank. But they have to make some compromises. That’s how you get agreements. And with the Israelis, they deserve to have a secure state that has borders that are respected, and they don’t have to worry about rockets that are fired at them all day every day. But they too have to figure out how to work that out with a partner who is still committed to a two-state solution.
So there have been decades of missed opportunities, of disappointments, but I come from the school that believes you have to keep trying. You get up every day no matter how difficult it is, because the alternative is a vacuum which is not good for Israel and not good for those Palestinians who still believe in a two-state solution.
QUESTION: And arguably, it’s a lot harder because of the Arab Spring and all the other events that happened. In retrospect, was there a lot of disagreement in the team about how to handle Mubarak? And do you think that it sent a signal to other allies – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain – that we’re not going to be there for them? Did it unsettle other parts of the world?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that it was an inevitable force of history that when Egyptian people were rising up in such large numbers asking for what we believe in – freedom and opportunity, a chance to chart their own democratic future – the United States cannot and should not be on the side of those who deny that. At the same time, I think there was a tremendous effort made to try to work with, send messages to President Mubarak and those around him to handle the situation in a fashion that would create some openings for real reform going forward, but that turned out not to be possible.
QUESTION: Now, that brings to mind the 2008 campaign commercial: “When that phone call rings at 3 o’clock in the morning, who should – who’s best prepared to answer it,” in 2016?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that is to be decided by the American people, but one thing I’ve learned is that the phone rings day and night. (Laughter.) There’s not one hour.
QUESTION: It’s not just 3 o’clock in the morning.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Particularly because it is 3 o’clock in the morning somewhere every day somewhere else when you’re sitting here. So I think that the American people have to decide what will be our posture, the form of our leadership, what is the amount of involvement, militarily, diplomatically. And that’s a long way off.
QUESTION: What factors will go into making your decision? How much will health – your own personal health – you ran a hundred miles an hour for all of these years, and in some way perhaps that contributed to what happened. How does your feeling about your health care – we know that you’ve had at least two clots – how does that factor into a decision about whether to run for president and all the flying that that entails?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it doesn’t factor in at all. I mean, that – I have no doubt that I’m healthy enough and my stamina is great enough and I’ll be fully recovered to do whatever I choose to do. But I don’t have any decisions made. I have no real plans to make any such decisions. I’m looking forward to some very quiet time, catching up on everything from sleep to reading to walking with my family. I think it’s hard to imagine, for me, what it’ll be like next week when I wake up, I have nowhere to go, and maybe I’ll go back to sleep for a change. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Are you convinced that the original fall that led to the concussion – are you convinced that that fall was caused by dehydration? Have your doctors ruled out any vascular --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, yeah, it was a virus. I had a vicious viral attack that caused all of the unpleasant things that viruses can cause these days. And on top of being dehydrated, I fell and had a concussion. But that happens, unfortunately, all too often to people, and I’ve certainly gained a great deal of knowledge and sympathy for people who go through that, whether it’s on the athletic field or the battlefield or in your bathroom, as it was for me.
QUESTION: In 2012, in December, you told my friend, Barbara Walters, that you had no intention of running for president.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: That brought to mind – it sounded familiar, so we looked it up. In December of 2001, you told Tim Russert you had no intention of running for president. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: And I didn’t. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So things change. But do you feel that Joe Biden, as the Vice President, has the right of first refusal, as it were, within the party? Or is it an open competition if you decide to run?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, American politics is always an open competition. But I have no position on any of this. I have no opinion about it. I’m still Secretary of State. I can’t really engage in politics. And for the foreseeable future, I don’t think that I will be at all political because there’s just so much else I need to do. I need to determine my philanthropic activities, I’m probably going to write and speak, and that’s going to keep me more than occupied.
QUESTION: Now, there are two PACs already, though, actively engaged.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I just learned that.
QUESTION: And we also just learned that supporters of President Obama’s helped retire your campaign debt and left you, in fact, with a quarter-of-a-million-dollar surplus. So is that another thank-you from --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well --
QUESTION: Does that signal how close you’ve become despite the past campaign?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the President said it very well. I mean, we’ve not only been great partners and colleagues, but friends. And I am so grateful for that because it’s been an extraordinary experience working with him, being in his Cabinet, thinking through a lot of these very difficult decisions, some of them truly unprecedented, unpredicted that we’ve had to contend with. So I’m grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to helping him in whatever way I can as I leave this office.
QUESTION: And when he and you both acknowledge that your staffs and your spouses took a little bit longer to heal, what was the breakthrough, the turning point for President Clinton and President Obama, do you think?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that Bill certainly worked very hard for the President in the ’08 general election. He also consulted with the White House on some of the economic issues and was very committed to being as good a supporter as he possibly could and they just got to know each other more than they ever had before. I don’t think that there had been an opportunity for them to do that before this last four years.
QUESTION: Well, it’s been virtually a million miles and 112 countries, and a lot of years and shared fun and travail.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: And we congratulate you, and we thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Andrea.