SOS Hillary Clinton Interview with National Geographic
QUESTION: These are very straightforward questions. As you know, we’re kind of trying to reach out to an audience that may not know a lot or focus quite a bit on foreign policy —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: — and so they can understand better how American diplomacy at the State Department works.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s great. That’s absolutely great.
QUESTION: So my first question is: If you boil it down to its purest form, what is diplomacy?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Diplomacy is the art of working with other countries on behalf of common goals. It might be to sign a peace treaty, to end a conflict. It might be to work to avoid a conflict. It might be to bring one or a hundred nations together to set some global goals such as on climate change or stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. So it’s the art of persuasion, of advocacy, and argument in the global arena on behalf of common concerns and goals.
QUESTION: How do you have to adjust your expectations? We’ve spoken with a lot of folks, Jake Sullivan and others, about this is a game that takes a lot of patience and incremental wins. Can we talk the (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That is so right. It’s rare that you get one big bang moment in diplomacy. There have been some, but usually it takes painstaking, patient deliberation where you keep looking for points of agreement where you narrow the areas of disagreement between you and another country or a group of countries. And it is not for the faint of heart because it does take so much time and energy. And we live in a very speeded-up time right now, so it’s hard to explain why you have to keep going back, over and over again, why you have to have that extra phone conversation or make that additional trip.
But human nature hasn’t changed as fast as our technology has. People still want to look you in the eye. They want to get some sense of your humanity. They want to know whether they can trust you and, therefore, trust your country. So it’s a matter of patience and perseverance.
QUESTION: How important – we’ve asked other folks this question as well – how important is that personal chemistry in the room when you’re meeting with another foreign leader?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s critically important. And there might be some who say, “Well, look, just – you put down your position; they put down their position.” That’s not the way human beings relate to one another. It may well be that you can make agreements with people who you don’t like or respect, countries that you have no real ongoing relationship with. But everything becomes more possible if you have the relationship built on a firmer foundation of human understanding and interaction.
QUESTION: It’s got to have a pretty steep learning curve even for someone with your immense background becoming Secretary of State. What have you learned about subtle clues, maybe –
QUESTION: What have you learned perhaps along the way about subtle clues, body language, any little elements that you might (inaudible) in a room with a foreign leader to put that person more at ease? How might that help contribute to your success?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not sure it’s any different than it would be in any kind of setting where people are getting to know each other. But there are often cultural clues and signals that you might not pick up. And there’s always the translation challenge, because very often we do speak in English because of the universality of our language.
But on many occasions, there has to be translation, which means you are relying on a third person to convey your thoughts, your feelings, the nuance, and it requires intense concentration to be able to match the words, the body language, the atmospherics in the room with other people. But that is part of the trade. Maybe you are better able to do it the longer that you’re at it because you have more experience to build on, but it really comes down to a foundation of just human interactions and relationships that you have to take to the international stage.
QUESTION: Now, this is kind of a broader question. How can U.S. foreign policy – how can it balance American ideals with American needs? Is that a constant challenge or just one further than the other?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is always a constant challenge to balance America’s ideals and values with our needs and interests. Sometimes you have to do business with unsavory characters who you wouldn’t want to invite over to your home, but who are heads of state of countries that have a strategic importance to you. They may produce oil. They may be in a region of the world where, if they go the wrong way, there could be a conflict that would spread. There are all kinds of variations on how you have to do this balance.
But I think it is possible to stay true to your principles, your values, and also look for those areas of agreement.
QUESTION: So if we go into the – we covered you on a Pakistan trip.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When you left, on the most (inaudible) level, what were you hoping to accomplish when you set out for Pakistan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I was hoping to begin the process of improving the attitudes and feelings of the Pakistani people toward the United States and the people of the United States toward Pakistan. There was a great deal of mistrust and miscommunication and mischaracterization that had gone on for some years. And as a result, we were constantly being stymied even though we found greater and greater common ground. The extremists who were threatening us had found safe haven in Pakistan amongst people who came to threaten the Pakistani Government. So we had a basis of a shared agenda, but there were so many years of mistrust that had grown up. And I determined that I was not going to just do the usual schedule of official meetings. They were important and I would certainly do them, but I wanted to be there for a long enough period of time that I could spend it with the Pakistani press, that I could go into different settings, I could see as many Pakistanis as possible, answer their questions, challenge their assumptions about our country.
And I was very pleased that I was given that kind of access, and it was a really honest exchange of opinions. And in the months since, I’ve heard from many Pakistanis who said no American had ever come and done that, who had really said, “Wait, I don’t agree with that” or “Yes, you’re right about that.” I think it’s that level of candid, open exchange that in today’s world gives us the best chance of breaking down barriers.
I mean, there’s too much information. People know within seconds if you’re saying something you have no intention of following up on or you’re making a promise that is impossible to keep. I mean, we were raised to believe that honesty is the best policy, but sometimes in diplomatic history, you see where people had to be much more careful with what they said and how they said it, and to perhaps not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But in today’s world, you just have to be more forthcoming. And I wanted to demonstrate that to the people of Pakistan.
QUESTION: In Lahore, it was impressive throughout, the sort of public diplomacy that you engaged in, and I know it’s personally of interest to – it’s a personal kind of agenda for you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: It assumes some risk, though. You assume some risk in a place like Lahore where people are slamming you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Why – what’s the calculus that goes into saying, “Well, you know, we’re going to assume this risk and we’re going to take it on the chin.” You answered it in part, but if you could tie that to Lahore University.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. Right. When I went to Lahore University to do a town hall, I knew going in that it was an unpredictable, unscripted setting where a lot of the mixed feelings that people in Pakistan have about the United States would certainly be given voice. But I also believed that the marketplace of ideas, the exchange of views redounds to the credit of the United States because we do have such a wide open society. Our public officials do subject themselves to not only our press, but our people. And it was important for me to just stand there and let people say whatever they wanted to say, but then to respond.
There were times during that town hall when I thought someone was saying something which was off base, and I reached out to correct what I thought was a misconception. Other times, look, we did abandon Pakistan in their views – we can argue about it – after the Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan in a partnership between the United States and Pakistan. But the fact is it was perceived by the people of Pakistan as an abandonment.
So I think you can have a different point of view, but it’s absolutely imperative in diplomacy at least to see the other person’s point of view, and to be more empathetic, more understanding – not that you may agree completely, but to make that effort to bridge that gap. And that’s what I tried to do at Lahore University.
QUESTION: And sometimes in diplomacy, being blunt as opposed to being discreet is as important. For example, I mean, you made some news there with regard to some of the statements you made about the Pakistani Government or military.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm, right. Well, I think there is an increasing appetite across the world for leaders to speak in terms that can be understood, number one; and content that is accurate and doesn’t skirt the issue or pretend it’s not there, and particularly when you’re doing public diplomacy between cultures and nations, to say, “Well, this is how we see it.” And we are not saying we’re right and you’re wrong, but we would ask the same from you – see how we see it and don’t assume that you’re right and we’re wrong.
And I think that give and take, which is what the internet is so good at doing – people go on the internet, they go into chat rooms, they go onto social networks, they exchange ideas all the time. And they should not be subjected to a political system, either in their own countries or internationally, that delegitimizes such exchange, because that’s just not the way people, particularly young people, interact today.
QUESTION: On the boat and on the plane and traveling with you guys, I think it was an exhausting pace. I know folks talk about this a lot, but beyond that – I would like you to address that. But first, I would like to just – to sort of comment on there’s 60,000 people at State. What does it take to get you on the road and what does it take to enable you to do your job?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you saw firsthand during the time that you traveled with me that this is a big operation. We have so many people with expertise and experience who are called into action when I travel to some part of the world. It’s not only here in Washington in the State Department, but in our embassies and consulates all over the world.
We have a great system that has grown up over time called the Line, where young Foreign Service officers come to be trained, where they have to think on their feet, where they’re thrown into all of these foreign settings with the Secretary of State and they have to figure out how to fulfill the mission. So I am fortunate that in this very large enterprise known as the State Department, with these more than 60,000 people, there are just – there’s just a wealth of talent – so many people who have the cultural understanding, who have the language skills, who know the history, who are ready at a moment’s notice to drop anything in order to serve.
And the Foreign Service and the Civil Service officers with whom I have worked as Secretary of State are just among the finest American public servants that we have. Very often, as the Secretary of State, you see coming down the steps of the airplane, but it’s like the duck on top of the water, where I can sort of sail along looking very calm because there’s so much activity going on underneath in order to make my trips successful.
QUESTION: With regard to the guys – people talk about pushing paper and the immense filtering process that goes on from the embassies on up until it reaches, I guess, Dan Smith or some of the folks who are in Mahogany Row here.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: How important is it for you to be – how helpful is it for you to have some – that preparation, that briefing book, and have some knowledge about the foreign leader you’re working with – how many kids he has or whatever it might be, you know, obviously, cultural and —
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is absolutely critical. I could not do my job without the information flow that comes from all of the subject matter and geographic area and linguistic experts who are part of the State Department family. There is such an enormous amount of paper, that it is filtered, as you say. I mean, I don’t by any means see all of it, although some days it feels like I’m seeing all of it.
But there are little factoids that can make a big difference because you can find a way to relate to somebody. Maybe a foreign leader has a favorite American president. Maybe they have a favorite cause that is important to them or their family. And it is like any kind of conversation where you’re looking for ways to connect with someone. So it’s not only – okay, here are the talking points on the nuclear arms reduction deal we’re working on with the Russians, but oh, by the way, here’s what else the Russians are working on, what they’re worried about, what their concerns about our positions might be, and here’s somebody’s birthday coming up or here’s some interest that this leader has that we wanted you to know about.
It’s just enormously rich in order to be able to do the job that I’m trying to do, which has become so complex with the range of responsibilities that the Secretary of State has. And one of the ironies of the sort of technological advances that we have seen over the last several years is that despite the fact you could have video conferences or you could email with someone across the world or pick up the telephone, there is a higher and higher premium on those face-to-face talks. It’s almost though – as though, yes, we could do all of that, but that’s too easy and it’s too impersonal; therefore, we must travel to each other’s capitals or to these multilateral meetings that are being held. So it is more demanding in some ways than it was 25 or 50 years ago even though we can be in touch more easily through virtual reality.
QUESTION: Well, it hasn’t kept you off the – I mean you obviously logged 267,000 – I’ve lost track.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: But Ron (ph) and I have been on a lot of – been to a lot of remote places on the planet and there were some pretty grueling shoots keeping pace with you and with your team. It was absolutely exhausting. I’m not kidding and —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, my gosh. You are – you must be kidding.
QUESTION: It really wore us out. And so maybe the question would be, how surprised would the American public perhaps be about just the grueling nature of this work and the hours that you and your –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it would be surprising, because, again, mostly what the American people see are those moments captured on film. They don’t see all of the preparatory work, the hours of travel by plane, and the getting in late at night or very early in the morning and immediately going to work. It’s just part of the pace that we have to keep up in order to cover as much ground as possible.
But I’m very lucky, because I have a team, a senior team, of people who are also traveling. They’re on the road. They’re going to places that I’m not getting to. So it’s not just me. It’s a really in-depth, extraordinarily committed group of people who are out there representing the United States every single day. And I’m very proud of them; some of them I knew before coming to the State Department, most of whom I did not. And I have worked in very close collaboration with them, sometimes in very close quarters with them. And it gives me so much support, because I could not possibly do what I do without this kind of expertise around me and people willing to go, not just the extra mile, but the extra hundred or thousand miles.
I mean, I remember being in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one of the young Foreign Service officers who had just been under – working under the most challenging circumstances was putting us on the plane to fly to Goma and our translator got sick and was nauseous and threw up on his shirt. Well, we couldn’t go without our translator. He couldn’t go as he was. This young Foreign Service officer just literally took the shirt off his back and said, “Here, you wear this. You need to be with the Secretary now. Do you feel well enough to go? We’ll give you some ginger ale and crackers. But we have to get you there.” That’s the level of dedication and creativity that goes on every single day here at the State Department.
STAFF: By the way, Steven?
QUESTION: That was Paul Moran (ph).
QUESTION: Oh, it was Paul.
QUESTION: Oh, well we’ve spent a lot of time with Paul.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, good.
QUESTION: So yeah. I want to go – on a personal level, you must reflect – it’s easy to take for granted sometimes when you’re witnessing historic events which are the day-to-day of your job, I’m sure, but you must sometimes reflect on the profound nature of your responsibility, privilege, and it must weigh heavily. Could you comment on how – does that help keep you going?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I have been blessed to have extraordinary opportunities to serve in my life, but this job is, both, a great privilege and an extraordinary challenge, because it is so serious every day. We live on the balance beam of war and peace, of terrorism and stability, of poverty and prosperity. It’s just a constant set of challenges that we try our best to manage, occasionally solve, but for me personally, it’s been extremely rewarding and exhausting. It’s been exciting and overwhelming.
I mean it’s really tested me in so many ways, on so many levels, but I am deeply honored that President Obama asked me to be the 67th Secretary of State and to have this opportunity to know that when I land in a country anywhere in the world, I get off representing the United States of America. And I am someone who believes so profoundly in our country, in our values, in our destiny. I am fully aware of our faults as any set of human beings has, but there isn’t any place like America in the world today or anytime in world history. And I bear some of the responsibility of ensuring that this great democratic experiment continues for generations far into the future.
So it is a weight, but it’s also a weight that I bear both proudly and humbly because of what I know this country means to me and to our people here in the United States and to tens of millions of people around the world who look to us as a symbol of what is best in humanity. And that gets me up and going every single day.
QUESTION: When we were landing Peshawar, did you – did that – the market bombing that preceded the arrival, did that fix your determination a little more firmly?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I despise the cowardice of random, senseless violence. These so-called terrorist, extremists, whatever label we want to put on them, to me are criminals. I mean, they are people who have no real purpose other than to terrorize and intimidate. And they don’t care where they do it, and they don’t care who the victims are. They kill women and children in a market in Peshawar, or at an Islamic university in Islamabad, or an airplane in the United States. They are nihilistic, and it is up to every civilization to stand against that. And I feel like we have made that case increasingly effectively.
The numbers of these people are relatively small, but the advances in technology, both in the way that they can move money with relative ease, with computerized transactions, to getting on airplanes and trying to blow themselves up, to, of course, the weaponry that is now available to them, means that they can wreak such destruction far in excess of their numbers. And one of the biggest threats we face is one of these networks of terrorists getting a hold of enough nuclear material to create a nuclear bomb. So I think about the threats we face every day and I work here and with my colleagues in the National Security Council, and we all do our very best to try to protect our country, protect others, but it’s a challenge since there are so many ways these people can circumvent all of the controls that we try to put into place. But we are working as hard as we can to defeat them.
QUESTION: Let’s shift to Afghanistan quickly. The military progress there – it’s not sufficient. You talk about the other two pillars, diplomacy and development. Can you comment a little bit about how imperative it is that diplomacy and development succeed in Afghanistan or else military victory will be (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what we’ve tried to do ever since the beginning of the Administration, and I’ve articulated a framework of how we need to put defense, diplomacy, and development all on the same level. They are, each of them, critical, essential pillars of America’s national security. In a conflict region like Afghanistan, you can’t do diplomacy and development unless you can provide security. But if all you do is try to provide security through military means, you’re not going to win the hearts and minds of the people and that has to be done through development, through diplomatic efforts to try to reconcile differing viewpoints within the Afghan society.
We have put an enormous amount of effort into quadrupling the number of civilians on the ground in Afghanistan. We have focused on some key areas of the Afghan society, like agriculture, which had not been given the attention it needed in the past. We have partnered with many more countries that understand they, too, have a stake in Afghanistan and we are working very hard to reform, transform, improve the functioning of the Afghan Government. This all has to go on simultaneously. When our Marines went into Marjah, they went in with other militaries from the international force, but also now troops from the Afghan army. They went in with civilians ready immediately to start setting up governments, distributing seeds and fertilizer to farmers so that they could see immediately the results of what peace could bring to them. This is a highly orchestrated, organized effort to try to keep defense, diplomacy, and development moving together, because, at some point in the future, our military gains are going to be as secure as they can be and our troops will start coming home.
But we have to continue the diplomatic and development work similarly to what we’re doing in Iraq. Our troops are withdrawing, but we’re not leaving. We have a normalized relationship with Iraq. We’re going to be there in our Embassy. We’re going to be there fulfilling the agreements that we’ve made to help them do things that they need from us, so this all has to work in tandem.
QUESTION: When we saw – we flew to Kabul with you, you attended President Karzai’s inauguration. To what extent was it also a trip maybe to say, “We’re a strong partner here,” and to encourage him to be a strong partner? Does that have to play an element in – with – when we’re thinking about candor in foreign diplomacy?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. I had a very long session with President Karzai the night before the inauguration where I talked with him about what he hoped to achieve and what we – the United States and the international community hoped from him, because, obviously, we have a big investment in Afghanistan. We’re there because we were attacked from there. Our security interests are at stake there. But we also know that there won’t be the kind of stability that we’re looking for and that the Afghan people deserve unless the Government of Afghanistan is able to deliver services and build confidence and loyalty in the people themselves. So we had one of many conversations that I’ve had with him over the years which really are part of that candid exchange. He’s one of many leaders with whom I speak.
I mean, I’ve been in settings where I’ve told leaders that we couldn’t continue to support them unless they changed direction, unless they did what they had promised, because I don’t want to be just doing what other countries want. We’re there because we have our own expectations. And when I go around our country, I want to be able to tell anyone that we’re doing our very best to be good stewards of their tax dollars. I mean every time we pay for seeds for an Afghan farmer, that comes from the tax dollars that Americans give to our government, and I want to be able to make a convincing case, that if we can get these farmers to be more prosperous, to be more committed to a peaceful future, that’s going to protect us and, over the long run, actually diminish the amount of tax dollars that have to go into defense and diplomacy and development for that particular situation.
QUESTION: So I’d asked Raj Shah about the frugality of investing in foreign aid. Americans are sometimes loathe to (inaudible) this treasure – that treasure into that – into foreign aid to send to foreign countries when here the economy’s not doing so great. But how is it maybe –what is it called, pennywise, pound foolish –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — but it’s not to put those resources towards that (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. I believe strongly that the United States has to play the leading role in the world today on behalf of peace, prosperity, and progress. We are the country that carries that burden at this point in the 21st century. And it is not just the right thing to do. It is the smart thing for us to do, to make connections, to develop countries so that they have a different future than just despair and perhaps extremism. It’s not easy and there’s no magic formula for it, but I have seen the benefits of our engagement and our investments in other countries where nations say, “We have leaders who studied in your country thanks to an American educational exchange program. We have farmers who are prosperous now thanks to an agricultural support program. We can, now, get our goods to market thanks to a road that the United States paved for us.”
When we look at the role that development aid plays, there are some situations where it’s just strictly humanitarian and moral. Our response after Haiti was just straight from the generous hearts of the American people. The people of the United States actually gave more money privately than our government gave. It was such an outpouring of support. But once the emergency is over, we have to be able to hold ourselves and our partners accountable so that when we make investments through our foreign aid budget, we can say we believe there’s a good chance we’ll be successful, success measured by alleviating suffering, poverty, but also by building relationships so that people look to the United States as a country that is going to be interested in their well-being.
Going back to our discussion about Pakistan, the last several years, our relationship with Pakistan was all about terrorism. But if you look at a map of Pakistan, much of the terrorism was confined to a relatively small part of the country. What did people in the rest of country care about? They cared about jobs, they cared about energy shortages because they lose electricity for several hours a day, they cared about water shortages, they cared about their children not having a good education, or their healthcare. So when we began to connect with the Pakistani people more publicly on what they cared about, then they were more willing to listen to us about what we cared about. I mean that’s human nature. And I think that development is both an end in itself in trying to help people, but it’s also a means to an end of broadening and deepening our relationships with the countries that are the recipients.
QUESTION: Why do the stakes for Americans and Pakistan matter?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Because Pakistan is a strategically located country whose stability is very important to regional stability and, beyond that, even global stability. It’s a country that is a democracy, but has had a difficult history in trying to maintain that democracy. We support democracies. We believe that the community of democracies around the world is good for America. And we have security interest there because of the way that bin Laden and his chief lieutenants found safe haven there after fleeing from Afghanistan. So it’s a mixture of reasons why Pakistan’s future is, whether we admit it or not, inextricably linked to our own future.
QUESTION: Turning back to the staff and to the team that you have behind you, when you’re on the road, do you – have you found that as Secretary of State, there’s kind of a greater kind of (inaudible), because you’re traveling all over the planet with this tight group of folks? Does that make for a kind of a tighter bond in a way?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it does. I think that when you work with people as hard as we work together and then you add to it the traveling and the long hours and the inadequate sleep that sometimes marks the trips we take, it does forge close bonds and I have a great team of people that literally work around the clock. They are so devoted to doing a good job, doing a good job for our country, for me, for the State Department, that it’s very exciting. And then we have another team that I see often on the ground, the people who have been working in preparation for my coming who are at the embassies. They’re the diplomats and the development experts from USAID, sometimes from other government agencies that are all housed in our embassy working on our common objective. So I always go by and thank people because they work so hard day in and day out and then they get word that somebody like me is coming and they have to work even harder.
I always kid them that they’ve earned a good, what’s called a wheels-up party when my plane takes off so I’m heading to some other country and I’m no longer their responsibility, the ambassador should throw a party for them. But it becomes a tight-knit group. I mean, oftentimes we’re in very challenging circumstances – sitting across the table, airing contentious issues, going into environments like Eastern Congo, which are so heartrending. So it does; it deepens that bond between us all.
QUESTION: When you all were heading from Pakistan, Islamabad, to Morocco, there was that sort of deviation to Abu Dhabi and then to Tel Aviv. Why did that seem like – why did you determine that this is a good time to make these contacts and to try to push this thing forward?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, one of the great things about having a plane that you control is that you can make last-minute decisions about changing your itinerary. And on that particular trip, I wanted to visit the president of the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas, and I wanted to visit Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel. So we scrambled and reconfigured our trip. I was in the area, I was going to be flying over the area; it made sense to me that I stop and see where things were and talk about some of the concerns that each had.
It makes for longer days and longer trips, but at the end, it is more efficient because when you’re nearby, you might as well check in. And that was one of the occasions where we did that.
QUESTION: And where (inaudible) really needed to kick in and do his job?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I mean, he’s the miracle worker. I mean, we say, “Oh, by the way, I think we want to go here instead of there.” And he somehow gets it done. I don’t even know all the levers that he’s pulling and everything that he is putting into motion. But he and his team are just first rate.
QUESTION: Well, not having – we haven’t covered – obviously, we don’t cover State as a newsbeat or anything, but witnessing the controversy that emerged after that with the – after the Netanyahu press conference, if you could just speak to how important it is sometimes to craft a word so carefully and – you know, you must feel like you’re kind of walking on eggshells sometimes with regard to just crafting that perfect phrase.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it is challenging. But in that case, for example, the Israeli Government had done something no Israeli government ever had done. And it was not enough for many people, but it was too much for a lot of people. It’s kind of the Goldilocks principle – not too hot, not too cold, but just right. It was unprecedented. And I used that word; I used it deliberately because, again, it wasn’t all that we would have wanted. And I knew that and made that clear, but it was movement. And then I went on to Cairo and to Morocco to make the same case.
Because what we’ve tried to do, particularly in a conflict as delicate and on hair trigger the way that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been, is to say, “Look, when one party does something that we think advances the cause of peace, we’re going to say so. And when a party does something which we think disadvantages the cause of peace, we’re going to say so.” And that was an example of my doing that.
QUESTION: But I guess if I could – I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you, but so much can turn on a single word. Not with regard to that —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: — event and across the board. I mean, isn’t that true that sometimes – are you ever surprised how much a single word can send things —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
QUESTION: — in a different direction?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it is, and that’s why you have to be very careful. And sometimes, you are put into situations where people are not going to be happy no matter what you say, and you have to find your way forward. Oftentimes, at press conferences in foreign countries – again, listening through translation – you’re never quite sure that what they’re asking and the meaning of what they’re asking is being exactly conveyed to you through the translator. So there’s just so much room for misunderstanding again.
So you do – you have to be very, very careful, but you can’t be paralyzed. I mean, you still have to keep going every single day. You have to make your case. You have to intervene where you think. You have to go out there and talk to the press and try to explain what you see happening, knowing full well that there will be criticism. I remember when I went to Mexico early in my tenure as Secretary of State and I clearly said that the drug trafficking cartel violence that they were experiencing was, in part, our responsibility because we had this huge market of demand for illegal drugs. And there were some people back here in our country who said, “What do you do – why are you saying that?” I said, “Because I think it’s not only true, but I think we’re working now very closely with our Mexican partners. I think it’s only fair that we acknowledge this is a challenge that requires shared responsibility.”
So you have many different audiences. What might work to an American ear might not work to a foreign ear and vice versa. But at the end of the day, you just have to chart the best course you can, be as clear as you can, avoid unnecessary controversy, but be unafraid to confront it when it is necessary.
QUESTION: I think people across the board are probably more attuned to – you know, they know when they’re being spun and when they’re not being spun. In some ways, folks are much more – are so much more media savvy. Publics are so much more (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: I agree with that. I agree.
QUESTION: It’s even changed – this is sort of an obscure thing, but visually, how we cut films. You can make assumptions visually now of people that you couldn’t have ever made 10 years ago.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s so interesting. Like what? Give me an example.
QUESTION: Like, you know, we would have to shoot – when I worked – I used to work at ABC News way back when, and we would have to shoot things in a very sequential manner.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Because if you jumped forward in time, it would confuse the viewer.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: Nowadays, you can get away with all of these things that won’t be visually confusing, because people are so visually sophisticated.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s interesting.
QUESTION: And certainly, they’re – content-wise, they’re (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. I agree.
QUESTION: Gosh. Well, this is a – at the end of a long trip after you’ve been on the road – well, I guess the first question would be: You have all of these hardworking, great, fantastic staffers, but you do seem to keep ahead of everyone else’s pace.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) I don’t know about that.
QUESTION: It’s hard for people to – no, everyone remarks on this.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, dear.
QUESTION: So how do you – I mean, where do you draw these vast reserves of energy to really keep ahead of everyone else? As I said, (inaudible) just come back from 30 days in Eastern Congo (inaudible) to Pakistan (inaudible) – I don’t think I could do that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, that’s because he had two hard trips back to back. (Laughter.)
Well, first of all, I’m blessed because I really have good health, thankfully, good stamina and resilience. But also because I really value what I’m doing; it gets me up in the morning, it keeps me going. I believe we can make a difference. I think that communicating the message of our country is absolutely essential to what I do. And I want to do the best job I can. But it is very exhausting. I don’t want to leave anybody with the wrong impression. So when I get back from those trips, I’m equally tired out and have to do some recovery. But it is – the time is so precious and the demands are so many that I try to do as much as I can, knowing full well that there’s just – there would be no end to it. You have to exercise a certain level of discretion and decision making to say “No, I can’t do that. I can’t keep going.” Because what I’m interested in is not just quantity of travel, but quality of travel, and results from what we do every day. So that’s really how I judge myself. It’s not on how many miles we’ve gone, but what have we accomplished, what difference have we made.
And sometimes, it’s almost imperceptible, but I can see it. I can see somebody on the other side of that table who is all of a sudden relaxing a little bit; they’re not quite so intense, they’re not maybe as negative, as pointed in their responses. And that opens the door to begin to talk more about – okay, well, what can you do now and how do we work with you. So it’s a day-by-day investment of the time it takes to try to get the results for our country.
QUESTION: When you came into the job, you certainly had a lot more public recognition than perhaps some past secretaries of state. And I couldn’t help but feeling when I was at FSI – I’ve told folks it was like the liberator had arrived – you know, Visigoths sent from the city. Does that help or hinder you, do you think, in some ways – this recognition? And clearly, there was adulation, as there was at the Kabul Embassy.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it helps a lot. I think it helps certainly with our State Department and USAID team, because I can, with my celebrity, bring more attention to what they do. They have a Secretary who not only is proud of what they do, but wants to share that with the world. And I think that’s something that means a lot to the people I work with.
I also think that it’s an advantage because I believe so strongly in public diplomacy, so I don’t want just to talk to leaders. I want to talk to people. And that gives me the opportunity to get on the television shows from Indonesia to Thailand to Latin America and every place in between that people are actually watching. I mean, most people in the world don’t watch news programs, with all due respect. I mean, I’m a junkie; I watch them. But most people don’t. But they’ll watch their favorite morning show or their favorite variety show. And to have the Secretary of State of the United States sort of sitting there, answering questions, talking about issues that are important to them because they’re asking the questions, gives a whole different approach.
I remember coming from my visit to Turkey where I went on what would be the equivalent of The View with four women journalists asking questions. I got so much feedback. I mean, one of the generals over at the Pentagon told me that a Turkish general had called to say that his mother had watched and said, “I didn’t know we had things in common with Americans.” Because we didn’t just talk about NATO; we talked about mothering. We didn’t just talk about the Middle East, we talked about relationships. I mean, it was a way of connecting with people, because in a democracy, it’s important to connect with people because they influence their leaders.
But even in nondemocratic countries, leaders are no longer able to ignore their people. There are so many ways for people to express themselves. And I just see that all over the world now. So part of what I’m able to do, because of my previous experiences, is to connect with people who have heard of me or who have seen me on TV before or have read something that I said or wrote, and then I get a wider audience to talk about what our Administration and what our country is doing.
QUESTION: We talk about this a lot at work. Making National Geographic films, you are exposed to (inaudible) cultures. And Ryan (ph) and I spent time in Oruzgan province (inaudible) base (inaudible) special forces (inaudible). And off the record, as we got to know them – it’s a little bit on the record – they started talking about – they were less than optimistic, I guess – some of the guys who were on their first tour of duty.
So the question I have is: You know, you want to think that everybody wants the same thing and everybody sees the world the same way. And sometimes, the more you travel and the more you see – on a fundamental level, love, family, of course. But you know, you wonder whether that’s true. So in a place like Afghanistan, do you – how do you retain hope in a place where maybe respect for minority rights, all of these things that we consider imperative to democracy – respect for minority rights, you know, the rule of law – a place that’s a culture of shame instead of a culture of dignity (inaudible) a culture of shame? Are there some places – and if you could relate this to Afghanistan, are you hopeful about Afghanistan or do you think some places maybe there’s just a disconnect where our needs and desires are so separate that maybe there won’t be a common (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I do believe that there are deep differences as a matter of history, culture, that separate people, even though the world has become much more interconnected. But I also believe that there are many ways of supporting the growth of democracy, of supporting the development of a society that will benefit the people living there, and by extension, create a more stable, secure country that will not be at war with its neighbors, that will not be giving safe haven and refuge to terrorists and, in any way, threatening us.
I think the new strategy that we are following in Afghanistan is very promising. I am the first to tell you it’s really hard and there’s no guarantee of success, but there are a lot more reasons why we should be hopeful. We’re not going to transform any country. That’s up to the people in the country. And too many countries are weighted down by their pasts. It’s one of the biggest problems we face. You can’t go forward if you’re looking in the rearview mirror. You just can’t do it.
Country after country after country, they have unresolved disputes with their neighbors. They have unresolved ethnic, tribal, religious problems. They have a denial of the rights of women which cripples their ability to grow and develop. I mean, I see this everywhere. I know what a terrible obstacle it is for the kind of world we would like to see. But I think you have to approach that with a big dose of humility, but with a commitment to doing what you can to create changed conditions.
And that’s really the approach we’re following in the Obama Administration. I think both President Obama and I are pretty clear-eyed about human nature and how difficult change is in anybody’s life, let alone the life of a country. But we also don’t have the luxury of leaving the world stage. Afghanistan is the perfect example. We waged a proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. We helped to create the Mujaheddin. We armed and trained and supported some of the same people who are now on the other side. So one could say, well, you succeeded. The goal was to drive the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. But then having put so many arms and weapons into that society, having worked with the Pakistanis who then also bore the brunt of the illegal drugs and the weapons and the conflicts that arose, first with warlords and then with the Taliban, you walked away, America, and you basically contributed to the terrible situation we found ourselves with. So now after 30 years of nonstop war, you’re back. And what can we expect from you now? Is this another sort of drive-by show of concern or are you really – do you really care about us?
I mean, most people want to know that they are cared about, that they matter, that they are respected, even if they have very different world views. And so we have to look at ourselves as we look at the problems we face. I mean, many of the problems we face in the world today are because of decisions made by Western powers, starting after the First World War and continuing to very recent history during much of the 20th century where countries were created, were carved out, where borders were imposed, where all kinds of decisions were made, and the people affected had no say whatsoever.
So we have to live with the world we helped to create, and we have to do a better job of trying to understand that world and respect our differences, but stand up for our principles and try to be smarter about how we inculcate a more positive view of the future in societies very different than our own.
QUESTION: I just have a couple more questions. This is fantastic. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, you’re welcome.
QUESTION: So maybe that falls under the category of incremental gains. This is – you have to be super patient to be successful as a diplomat.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am someone who believes in strategic patience. If we are moving in the right direction, I’ll take an inch because that inch you can build on to become a foot and a yard and a mile. But this does not work for everybody. A lot of people are much more impatient, more demanding that you get quick results. And we live in a time where there’s a lot of that, where – okay, well, I turned on the news; why hasn’t this been solved? And you cannot be misled by the total news cycle that you live in 24/7. Many things that are worth doing take time. And there is often so much suspicion. I mean, you don’t make peace with your friends. You’re not negotiating deals with people that you have everything in common with and you really already like. You’re negotiating deals with people who have a very different perspective, who have pent-up grievances, who distrust you and vice versa. So it just takes a lot of sitting power – (laughter) – and staying power in order to keep building a case and to keep looking for those strands of agreement that you can then weave into a positive outcome.
QUESTION: Let me throw out a couple of names at you if I could, and just give me your feedback. Jake Sullivan.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Oh, are you serious?
QUESTION: Yeah. We’ve spent a lot of time with him. I think he’s an amazing guy.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Amazing guy. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But he’s important to you getting your job done.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. He is an extraordinarily accomplished young man who contributes enormously to our work.
QUESTION: How about the (inaudible) – we spend a lot of time with the Diplomatic Security folks like Fred —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: — who are fantastic. What do they mean to your ability to get the job done?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the Diplomatic Security team is highly professional, very experienced. By the time they are traveling with me, they have served in a number of different postings around the world. You mentioned Fred. He had been in Iraq. He was responsible for security in that country during some of the toughest times. So they give me total peace of mind. I just don’t have to worry about all of the security issues that go with doing my job.
QUESTION: Is there any frustration? You must have some frustration on occasion, traveling in the bubble, just feeling like – I mean, it’s a necessity, obviously. But how sometimes might it be a little bit frustrating?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I come to it having been in this bubble for a very long time now because of being First Lady and having Secret Service protection. So the Diplomatic Security Service is familiar to me, and I know how important their job is.
Having said that, of course, you would like sometimes just to get into your own car and drive it somewhere, which I haven’t done for years, or just to be able to walk down a street with nobody following you. But I respect the job they do and know that in today’s world, unfortunately, it’s very necessary.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I think I’ve went through all my questions.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, excellent. Well, thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m exhausted hearing about how you think that our job and my travel is more exhausting than spending all that time in the Congo. (Laughter.) Good to see you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.