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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Interview with The Atlantic: China, The Arab Spring, Mideast Peace

May 10, 2011

Here’s an excerpt:

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I stayed on in Tunisia after you left, and the next day, I was downtown, and there was a demonstration forming. And I thought, “Great, young people yelling about something.” I couldn’t figure out what it was immediately. They’re in front of the Interior Ministry, and I mix in with the crowd and I find out that they’re demonstrating against an Interior Ministry decision to ban women from wearing the hijab in their photo IDs for their national identity cards, and this was a demonstration for the hijab. And I asked — I said, “Is this something that you would compel?” And they said, “No, but in our vision of society, people would know the role of men and the role of women.” And I thought to myself at this moment, “Man, I wish Hillary Clinton was here so I could ask her what she thinks of this.” THESE revolutions are moving in some ways that are pleasing to the American mind and some ways that aren’t pleasing.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I have spoken to this on other occasions, because what I want to see is the freedom to choose for women and men in responsible ways that are protected by the laws of their society so that — my model, of course, would be our own country — women are able to dress as they choose in accordance with their own personal desires. And I would like to see that available to women everywhere so that there’s no compulsion, there’s no government coercion. It is a choice, and —

JG: So the red line is compulsion or anything —

HRC: Absolutely.

JG: — on the continuum of compulsion.

HRC: Absolutely, anything on the continuum of compulsion. Now, I think there are security issues with, like, the burka, but if you’re talking about the hijab, which is the head scarf, for me, that is not a red line. Now, when people start to say, “Oh, but there are certain things women should not be permitted to do and the only way we can stop them from doing them is by passing laws against them,” like you can’t drive in Saudi Arabia or you can’t vote. They just had a riot in Bangladesh because the government wants women to inherit equally. That’s a red line, and that infringes on the rights of women, and therefore, I am against it and I think any society in the 21st century that is looking toward modernization, and certainly if they are claiming to be democratic, needs to protect the right to make those choices.

JG: Should we fear the Muslim Brotherhood?

HRC: Well, I think we don’t know enough yet to understand exactly what they’re morphing into. For me, the jury is out. There are some Islamist elements that are coming to the surface in Egypt that I think on just the face of it are —

JG: Coming out of jails, in fact.

HRC: Coming out of jails, coming out of the shadows, and they are inimical to a democracy, to the kind of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience that was the aspiration in Tahrir Square.

JG: Is there a situation in which a woman can find herself in a country where it’s not necessarily the law that you have to wear the hijab, but that a culture is created by the government that would cause you to raise a flag?

HRC: Of course, but that’s true in any society. You can go into neighborhoods in the United States where people dress a certain way because they don’t want to be out of touch, where boys wear pants down to their knees, which nobody has compelled them to do but they pick up the cultural norms, or where girls are improperly dressed by my eyes, but that’s what they see in the media.

So certainly, there are cultural norms and there are family expectations and there are even religious admonitions. But so long as there is not the coercion of the state, then I’m not going to be pointing fingers at people who make certain choices that I would not make, but within a democracy should be protected. But when it comes to political decision-making, then I think you have to be very careful that the people who are in those positions are understanding of their obligation to protect decisions that they do not necessarily agree with.

It’s almost impossible to imagine in today’s world, but there might be a family in our country that doesn’t want their children to learn to drive because they think it’s against their religion. Well, that’s very different than the family that says we don’t want our children to get medical assistance. And our courts step in and say, “That’s too far even for parental authority.” And similarly, in societies, you do not want so-called political decision makers, political parties, or political leaders to be making decisions that are going to infringe on the range of opportunities that should be available to both women and men.

JG: Should the U.S. now be using the bully pulpit to go to countries and say, “You know what, we have a system, liberal democracy, that works really well, and since you’re in this very fluid moment, you should look into this.” In other words, engage in the battle of ideas —

HRC: Absolutely.

JG: — with Islamist parties.

HRC: Well, with everybody. The Islamist parties are the ones that, obviously, we look at with most worry. But there are remnants of old regimes that are also trying to prevent progress and keep people economically denied opportunity and politically denied their rights.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. AaronBrock permalink
    May 10, 2011 11:32 am

    I just read the whole interview. It’s not bad considering it’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

    I love how she rationalizes putting no pressure on Israel. Do you think it’s a requirement that whenever a govt official mentions Israel they have to immediately profess their undying love for the country and their eternal commitment to Israel’s security? I think it is. I guess the Palestinians just get the sloppy seconds.

    I don’t blame her btw, it’s just the way it’s always been with our foreign policy and it’s not like this admin is about to change anything on that front. Who knows, maybe she really believes that American foreign policy is actually consistent and there is no hypocrisy involved in trying to toss out Gaddafi and constantly ripping into Iran while ignoring Bahrain’s torture and oppression so we can keep the Naval Fifth Fleet docked there. Life is complicated isn’t it?

    It’s a good thing for Obama Hillary is his Secy of State because he does a terrible job when it comes to foreign policy messaging and these are tough issues to sell.

    • stacyx permalink*
      May 10, 2011 12:05 pm

      It’s a good interview and it’s pretty long. It’s the cover story for the Atlantic, which I don’t think has hit newsstands yet.

      Jeffrey Goldberg wasn’t obnoxious nor was he as biased as he usually is so he must have been on his best behavior. I think the strategy that has been used against this admin. by people like Goldberg, the political right, the lobby etc. is to try to spread the lie that this admin. has been hard on Israel or that there is some rupture in the “special relationship”- he alludes to this at the end of the interview. While Obama and Bibi probably don’t care much for each other for political reasons, there is no rupture in the special relationship and as Hillary points out, this admin. has given them more money, more military toys, more diplomatic cover (she doesn’t mention that) than any admin. in history.

      The reason the Lobby and the neocons (Goldberg represents both of those groups) spread this myth is to put the Obama admin. on the defensive so that they won’t be tempted down the line to really put pressure on Israel, but rather continue to reward Israel for its intransigence and so far that has worked.

      I do agree with Aaron that the part of the interview about the claim that the only way to get Israel to make concessions is by essentially coddling them and rewarding them, is nonsense. That’s what the Lobby and members of Congress, including Senator Clinton, wanted everyone to believe so they wouldn’t feel pressure to lean Israel, ever. But it certainly wasn’t just Senator Clinton that held that view- it was about %99.9 of Congress and its part of the reason there will be no Mideast peace breakthrough anytime soon.

  2. Thain permalink
    May 10, 2011 1:18 pm

    I think it’s a good interview.

  3. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    May 10, 2011 7:07 pm

    There was an interesting exchange towards the end of the interview where Goldberg asks her if she believes it’s still the case — as she suggested when she was in the Senate — that Netanyahu will be more committed to peace negotiations if he feels the US has Israel’s back (I’m paraphrasing), or does she think he’s just not invested in the peace process, period. She said it’s still true that Netanyahu needs to be reassured that Israel’s security is one of our gov’t’s foremost concerns — and then catalogued everything the Obama adminstration has done to promote Israel’s security (implying Netanyahu hasn’t given Obana enough credit for the support his administration has provided). But then she added something else, interesting if a bit ambiguous, to the effect that Netanyahu also has concerns about his own “political position.” I’m not totally sure what she meant by that but wondered if she was trying to say, between the lines, that Netanyahu may be more committed to peace than his public posturing suggests — and certainly more than his own party wishes.
    Diplomacy is such a complicated game…

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      May 10, 2011 7:09 pm

      I’m saying, I think her response was a lot more nuanced that just reaffirming how much we love Israel, no matter what.

  4. stacyx permalink*
    May 10, 2011 7:27 pm

    @Carolyn – I took her to mean Bibi’s right wing coalition is making things difficult.

    Obviously I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes but bibi has never done one single thing to promote 2 states- he’s spent his entire career undermining it. He was PM once before and bragged about undermining the peace process under Bill Clinton

    I am done rationalizing this admin’s pandering to Israel. Israel lives in an unsafe neighborhood and faces real threats but they seem disinterested in peace, preferring conquest instead. Had they accepted the Arab peace initiative or even part of it they could have peace treaties with atleast some on the region. But with the US coddling it and enabling the occupation and arming them to the teeth, they have no reason to compromise and Hillary knows it.

    I will be so damn glad when the fog lifts and we can have an honest debate about Israel rather than making excuses and looking at everything from the perspective if what Israel wants and needs. We need an honest debate about WHY the lobby controls this debate and we need to stop pretending we are an honest broker in Mideast peace- we are not and the whole Arab world hates us for it.

    Sorry for the typos

  5. Seamus permalink
    May 10, 2011 8:53 pm

    I love Hills but I don’t see a lot of nuance there. You all have elections coming up which means Bibi knows Obama & Co. have no choice but to kiss his arse. Of course, you all seem to have elections of one sort or another quite frequently so I guess there’s no good time to stand up to Israel.

    With all due respect, Bibi doesn’t need the help of US leaders in making excuses for why he can’t make peace- he comes up w/ more than enough on his own.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to hear Bibi give a speech where he actually is positive about something rather than just fear mongering and playing the victim. The guy never smiles or has anything nice to say. He’s even better than my old Irish mother at playing the guilt card.

  6. stacyx permalink*
    May 10, 2011 9:10 pm

    @Carolyn- with respect to something you mentioned above- isn’t it a bit disingenuous for Bibi or Hillary or anyone else to claim israel’s need for CONSTANT reassurance about our dedication to their security is justified given our entire Mideast policy is based in their wants and needs even if it undermines our own security, given we’ve ensured they have the mist advanced military in the region, given our providing total diplomatic cover for everything they do even if it undermines our own principles and credibility in the region and given we give more money to Israel than any nation on earth?

    Based on the above, the notion that we have to constantly reassure Israel is a ridiculous mind game.

    As for Israel’s security being our top priority- shouldn’t OUR security be our top priority and focus? I would argue our unquestioning, blind support of Israel, right or wrong, actually undermines both our security. And if Israel isn’t interested in peace and wants to violate international law, shouldn’t that be on them? Why does it become our responsibility?

  7. stacyx permalink*
    May 10, 2011 9:19 pm

    @carolyn-Btw, I realize when paraphrasing the part of the interview about Israel you mentioned Israel’s security being one of out top concerns (I’m paraphrasing) but my point in my comment still stands.

    Another clarification- i wasn’t inferring your comment was an expression of your views necessarily but rather you were getting to the gist of what Hillary was saying in the interview. My response above wasn’t a criticism of your view or what you said but more of a general criticism of US policy.

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      May 11, 2011 12:16 am

      No offense taken! I actually agree with everything you said.

      But you’re sweet to clarify that.

      I think Seamus correctly picked up that I was looking for some sort of hidden meanings in Hillary’s communications that might suggest there’s some sort of smart power behind the all the public cowtowing to Israel’s every demand…but I guess that’s wishful thinking.

  8. Steve permalink
    May 10, 2011 9:37 pm

    Remember Bibi/Israel is such a great ally that right after Sept. 11th when asked for his reaction he said the terror attacks against the US were good for Israel. Was there any shock or disgust from the I- Lobby or J community? Of COURSE NOT.

    That pretty much sums up how Israel views the US. If Bibi drives Israel over a cliff he’s going to bring the US with him.

  9. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    May 11, 2011 12:20 am

    Off-topic, there’s a lengthy article about Hillary in the June issue of Vanity Fair, written by Jonathan Alter — kind of gossipy but interesting and generally very positive.

    • Thain permalink
      May 11, 2011 7:17 am

      I read that.

      Did you notice Alter says that Obama botched the relationship with Israel? Classic media bias. As Stacy said above in her comments that is total BS and is a media perpetuated myth. By claiming Obama screwed Israel the media and the lobby are sending a clear message that Obama better be careful dealing with Israel in the future- in other words he better kiss their ass. Hillary should do less “soothing” of Bibi and more holding accountable for violations of international law which undermines the peace process. This strategy of fellating Israel whenever they whine and complain hasn’t brought us any closer to peace in the Middle East but it has brought us about half a million settlers, largely on Palestinian land. Did it ever occur to Hillary and the foreign policy think tanks that maybe they should try something different? Oh, but we don’t want to disrupt the cozy status quo that benefits Israel, we want to win elections and ensure the Jewish vote for 2012. Nevermind.

    • May 11, 2011 11:19 am

      @Carolyn- thanks for the heads up, I’ll put up a link and excerpt

  10. Thain permalink
    May 11, 2011 9:42 am

    I love how these diplomats are running around with their hair on fire screaming warnings about the Muslim Brotherhood under the guise of being so VERY concerned about those poor Egyptian people- you know, the people we’ve watched Mubarak imprison, torture and steal from for decades? What a joke! Ginsberg and others can barely disguise their real concern- democracy in the region is bad for ISRAEL because there may be some come-uppance for violating international law and keeping their boot on the neck of the Palestinians. Ginsberg and his fellow Zionbots at the State Dept., NSC and WH should just come out and say it outright rather than feigning interest in ordinary men and women struggling to make a living in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc. Everything is about Israel, always has been, always will be.

    In addition to Israel standing behind Mubarak until the bitter end they are now lobbying their minions in Congress to take action and intercede if the Saudi regime becomes unstable and to not turn against Syria, because despite all the talk, Israel actually has been able to work with the Assad regime at times. So, Israel has made it clear they stand with undemocratic, repressive regimes so when democracy comes around, how do you think the people in those countries are going to feel about Israel? And what will Israel’s response be? “Oh poor us, everyone hates us because they are anti-Semites”- yeah, because it has nothing to do with Israel’s policies, right? Maybe Israel should actually publicly support the youth marching in the streets for human rights. After all, one of Israel’s many excuses for not creating a Palestinian state is that they are surrounded by corrupt dictatorships, with them (Israele) being a democratic beacon of justice in a sea of hostility. Funny, then, that they don’t support the democratization of the region.

    Oh, but remember, those Iranians are so repressive and evil! We gotta do something about them!

    • Steve permalink
      May 11, 2011 10:01 am

      Ginsberg is very transparent Thain, I agree with you on that.

      But honestly, that’s the litmus test these days- if you want a career in diplomacy, foreign service, at State etc. you better have the stamp of approval of the I-Lobby or even better, be part of the lobby. While it’s politically incorrect to say this I’ll say it anyway- why do you think there are so few, if any, Arab-Americans in high positions or in policy-making positions at State, say, as Assistant Secretaries of State? I looked back on Wikipedia and noticed that almost every Ambassador to a Muslim country is Jewish, the Ambassador to Israel always is Jewish, the Ambassador to Ireland is always Irish. Am I supposed to believe Presidents really can’t find a qualified Arab American? Can you imagine the outrage if an Arab American was appointed Ambassador to Israel? Hahaha. And yet we think nothing of rarely if ever having Arab Americans serve as Ambassadors to Arab states. Some will come along and say “it doesn’t matter what religion or ethnicity the Ambassadors are” and my response is “that’s naive, of course it matters.” As I said, it would matter a whole lot of the Ambassador to Israel was Arab. I ran that past my Israelei wife and she just laughed at the prospect and she said “you know who picks the American Ambassadors to Israel- Israel does.”

      Look what happened to Chas Freeman- the Lobby killed his nomination very quickly and Obama wouldn’t fight to defend him because it meant going up against the Lobby. I can’t stand how thuggish and McCarthyite we’ve become. The Arabists were cleansed from State in the 90’s and with disastrous foreign policy results.

  11. May 11, 2011 12:38 pm

    More flagrant violations of the human rights of Palestinians:

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/erekat-israel-s-cancelation-of-palestinian-residency-is-a-war-crime-1.361079

    I’m really glad Hillary loves Israel and wants to constantly reaffirm our undying love for them under all circumstances, but to sit back silently and do nothing is to become complicit in these crimes. Same goes for Obama, Congress etc. to say nothing of the Jewish community.

  12. Steve permalink
    May 11, 2011 12:51 pm

    Oh, the irony.

    I’m sure the NYT’ Ethan Bronner will be covering that shortly…KIDDING! He’s busy getting ready for the big AIPAC summit and deciding which Israeli govt press release he’s going to turn into an article. I hope the NYT doesn’t pay Bronner much because his so-called reporting is a joke. Sadly, I bet he gets paid a great deal. But hey, his home probably didn’t cost much since it was stolen from a Palestinian family! Go Ethan!

  13. January 25, 2013 8:19 pm

    Love this interview.

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