Secretary Clinton Interview With Kim Ghattas of BBC
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
July 14, 2011
QUESTION: I know it’s a strange question, but may I ask you to start by introducing yourself to BBC listeners?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am Hillary Rodham Clinton. I’m the 67th Secretary of State for the United States of America, serving in the Administration of President Barack Obama.
QUESTION: Okay. We’re in Dubai because we had a little problem with your plane.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: Now, what does that say – (laughter) – about American power, because it’s not the first time your plane breaks down?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it says that we prioritize. So the President’s plane, Air Force One, is absolutely impeccable. Our fighter jets are the best in the world. Others of our Air Force are first-rate. But I think there’s a long line ahead of the plane that I’m in, which I share with the Vice President and other high officials. So we’ve had our ups and downs, as you might say, with this airplane.
QUESTION: On the other hand, you actually have an airplane that you can commandeer to go wherever you want when needed.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s exactly right. So I have no complaints. And if we were to just chart the hundreds of thousands of miles that I have traveled, the mechanical problems, or in the case of volcanic ash clouds or rocks on runways, have been relatively few.
QUESTION: Does the plane feel like a home away from home, an office with wings?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It feels like an office, not a home, because it is an office. It has secure communications, it has a very able civilian and military team, we get a lot of work done on the plane, but it’s a little challenging jet lag-wise, mileage, dehydration, all of the problems that come with spending a lot of time in the air. So I am always happy to be home once we finally land.
QUESTION: How do you handle jet lag? I mean, I travel with – I’ve traveled with you quite a bit, and at the end of the trips, I’m exhausted and I take a few days off. You go back to the office the next day. How do you do it? Do you do yoga, a special diet, what’s the secret?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I sleep a lot on the plane. I know that some people think you should stay up for a certain period of time and not sleep on certain legs, but since I am perpetually tired, I figure make up for the lost hours of sleep while flying. Also, I know very simple things – drink a lot of water, deep breathing, try to get a little bit of sunshine if you can every day. But I don’t know that there’s any magic formula. Because I, too, often am tired; there’s no doubt about it. But I’m exhilarated at the same time. I love what we’re doing, I’m honored to represent our country everywhere we go, and I feel like we are making a difference. So that is enough to keep me going.
QUESTION: I want to take you back to our stop in Shannon when we were on our way here. You took me outside to talk to those two Irish guys. Tell me about them. You seemed to have a very nice conversation with them. Are they always there to welcome you when you land?
SECRETARY CLINTON: They work at the airport, so they and a few others are usually always there. They’re combination security and welcoming, and I have gotten to talk with them over the years, stopping, going from Shannon. And I love Ireland, so it was great because we were there while it was still light out, and actually, I had slept till about five minutes before we were going to take off again. So I wanted to get a little air and a little bit of sun, and they kindly accommodated me.
QUESTION: When we travel with you, we are in what is known apparently as the bubble. How would you describe the bubble?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t think of it so much as a bubble. I think of it as more of a caravan going from place to place, and sometimes the dogs bark, but we still move on. And it is for me a moveable adventure. No day is the same, in part because the places, the issues, the leaders, the people, the food are enough different still in our increasingly interconnected world that there’s always something new to see or hear about or discover. But it is true that when we’re traveling, we are focused on where we have been, are, and intend to go. So a lot of what happens back in the United States has to take second priority to what we are actually focused on. But there is no escaping the constant stream of paper, which is never ending. And I keep up with that on the road. So I don’t feel like I’m cut off in any way. I assume it would have been quite challenging, but such different times you would not maybe have noticed, 50 or 100 years ago when travel was much slower, communication was either so slow or nonexistent. So we live in this 24/7 media environment. So I’m always kept up to date, but I try to keep my attention on what we’re doing.
QUESTION: But do you ever wish you could break free of the caravan and go explore on your own? Where would you go?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I do wish that, and I’ve been fortunate because I’ve traveled before this current job where I had the opportunity to explore, wander, walk anonymously, and even in –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Anonymously in those days. (Laughter.) That was a long time ago. So I would have felt very sad if I hadn’t had that experience before I – before my husband was president, certainly before I was a first lady, a senator, or a secretary. I went to a lot of places, and that gave me a familiarity. But even on these trips in the last two and a half years or so, every once in a while I will go for a walk and just get away. I remember when we were in Wellington, New Zealand and we were on the water, and there was a great walkway. I walked for probably an hour, and it’s just so rejuvenating to me. It’s my favorite thing to do. So I don’t get enough time to do that, but I try to fit it in.
QUESTION: If I’m not mistaken, your Secret Service code when you were first lady was Evergreen, and it’s stayed. And in hindsight, it’s quite a fitting name – (laughter) – because you’ve renewed yourself, reinvented yourself so often and so well.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Apparently – well, apparently so. I had no choice. I was just given the name. My husband was Eagle. My daughter was Energy. And I think those are all fitting code names. But I have been lucky. I’ve been so fortunate to have been given these opportunities in my life over the course of a long time now. And I never take it for granted. I’m never complacent about it. I’m always energized by it because I think it’s important. I think the work that we’re trying to do, especially in this time of such tumultuous change, is going to set the template for the rest of this century.
QUESTION: It is a very tumultuous time in the Arab world and in many other places, and you have to meet a lot of leaders around the world. Some of them you like; some of them perhaps you like a little bit less. What is it like to have to shake hands with an autocrat, with somebody whose values you don’t really share? It can’t be easy to smile for the cameras all the time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It isn’t, and I have had to do it quite a bit over the course of the last 20 years. But I try to remember why I’m there and why I’m doing it. The United States has relationships with every country just about. There are a few exceptions that we don’t, obviously, but we are everywhere in the world, and we have a great mission to protect our security and advance our interests and promote our values. We see that very clearly. So with some you can work on all three, and some you can work on two or one of the three, and we’re always looking for those moments. I also try to be sensitive to the historical, experiential, cultural, religious, social differences that exist that make life so intriguing on this planet we share. But there have been times when I have left a meeting or an encounter, and it’s been very difficult to smile for the cameras, as you say. But some of what you do you do because of the goal that you are trying to achieve. And you cannot get from point A to point B without working with leaders and regimes that you don’t have much in common with or, frankly, who you disagree rather significantly with.
QUESTION: When a foreign minister travels to a foreign country, they’re usually – they usually only get to meet their direct counterparts, the foreign minister of that country. When an American secretary of state travels, when you travel, you get to meet with presidents and kings. Why is that? What does it say about America?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it says a lot about America and about our great reach and the relationships that we have. I also know many of these people from my prior incarnations, so I have personal relationships with them, which I have certainly called upon in this role. So I find it very helpful to meet with, as you say, kings, presidents, and prime ministers.
QUESTION: But they also open the doors to you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, they do.
QUESTION: They wouldn’t do that for the foreign minister of another country, for example.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can’t speak to that, but I know that because of my prior relationships, which are often on a long-standing personal basis, they would see me under any circumstances. They saw me when I was a senator, they saw me when I was a First Lady, so they continue to see me in my current role, and then I do think that as Secretary of State of the United States, there is a lot of business to be done, and some of that business is not only in the foreign ministry.
QUESTION: What’s your favorite story from your time – (laughter) – as a secretary of state?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, my gosh, Kim. I have too many. I’ll probably save them for my next book if I ever get around to writing it, but there have been wonderful moments, and then there have been moments of high comedy and even some quite difficult times. But the few times when I really feel like we’re making a difference are the best times because for me it’s mostly about the work when I travel. I mean, I don’t try to think too much about what else is happening, and I haven’t had too many difficult experiences. So I’m not looking back on it and rolling my eyes or anything, but I think I’ll probably wait until I can really think that through. Certainly, the last time I was in South Africa, getting to see Nelson Mandela, which for me has always been important personally, was very gratifying because he’s an international treasure. But there’s too many stories to tell.
QUESTION: And what was your biggest challenge or your worst moment? I mean, we’ve been on some very interesting trips.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, you have. I think that first trip to Asia was maybe one of the most consequential because there was a feeling in Asia that the United States had abandoned its role as a Pacific power, and that’s why I decided to go, but we did not know what would await us. And I heard a lot from the leaders there about our economic crisis, the global recession, whether the United States was going to remain a player in the region. So that very first trip for me was a real baptism by fire, so to speak.
QUESTION: You were practically mobbed by adoring fans, and you were greeted like a rock star everywhere. Two and a half years into your job, do you think people still look at you as a rock star, a celebrity, or do they see you more as part of the Obama Administration?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a great question. I actually think it’s both. I mean, I was just walking through the mall here and had some young women come up and shout at me and tell me how much they appreciated me. And I think for young women and not so young women, there is a connection. They know that I’ve spent a lot of time working on women’s issues and they care about what I’m doing and what it might mean for them. So I still encounter that a lot. And so that’s kind of my independent role. But also as someone who ran against Barack Obama, and you’ve heard me say, ran very hard and didn’t make it, but then supported him and much to my amazement was asked to be Secretary of State. That is a very powerful story around the world.
I started telling that story on that first trip to Asia, and I could see people just nodding, little light bulbs of thinking and recognition going off about, oh yeah, that did happen there, and we have politics where basically we try to kill each other. And so people do see me connected with the Obama Administration. I often encounter very positive personal responses in the town halls, the townterviews kind of programs that we do, and then an interviewer or an audience member will mention President Obama’s name and people will break into applause. So I think there’s still a very good feeling about what the President and what this Administration are trying to do.
QUESTION: Do you ever wake up in the morning think, oh, I’m too tired to go to work today?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I really don’t. I wake up and say I’m tired so I better get up and get going. But no, every day is fascinating to me because I really don’t know what’s going to happen during the day. I am very aware of how much energy this takes because, clearly, it’s a nonstop marathon. But let me knock on wood here, I have been lucky with health, stamina, and all that goes with it. So no, I won’t lie to you. I’m tired. My friends call and email saying, “Oh, my gosh, I saw you on television. You looked so tired.” (Laughter.) Which I send back saying, “Gee, thanks a lot.” But I know, because if you work around the clock like we do, that’s just inevitable. So I do try to take some time, long weekends, take some deep breathing. I do exercise, yoga, those kinds of things. But no, I’m never tired about the work. It’s just the physical challenge.
QUESTION: You have an incredible amount of people you know around the world. You must have the biggest Rolodex in town. (Laughter.) How many contacts do you have in your Blackberry that you can just call up like that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, thousands. Really, thousands. And it’s the right kind of contacts, because they are people who have some connection with me.
QUESTION: Somebody’s calling you right now. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Somebody’s calling me right now, so if somebody else will, I hope, answer it and see what they want. But that – you timed that question. Is that one of your colleagues calling and saying, “Oh, my goodness”?
I’m lucky. I know a lot of people. Now, they’re not close friends, but I have become friends with a number of the leaders with whom I do work. And I have found over this 20 years of high-wire American and international activity, people do not end up in the positions they hold by accident. There is a reason. Even in authoritarian, dictatorial systems, there is something that has set them apart. And it’s always fascinating for me to figure it out. Because from afar, you can say how did that person end up as prime minister, president, whatever? But then you work with them and you – and there’s an intelligence there, there’s a savvyness, there’s a sense of survival. It’s really, for me, not just diplomatic. It’s political, psychological.
I remember very well when – on my first trip to Africa and I went to Kenya, and it was shortly after they’d had this terrible violence after their prior election, and I delivered a really tough message. And they were taken aback by it, but I felt strongly that here was a country that had so much going for it. And we slowly saw some changes. I had very open, honest conversations with some of the leaders there. The President followed up because, of course, his deep interest in Kenya, with his father. And then two years later, we were at a democracy conference in Poland, and Kenya had been invited. They had taken some rather significant steps, including reforming their constitution. And the spokesman who came from the government started off by saying to me – I was in the audience – that you came and you really spoke very truthfully to us, and we have tried very hard to change. And that’s worth it to me. That’s worth all the travel.
I have no illusions about how hard this is to create strong democracies, to build free market economies, to stand against a culture of corruption, and all of the things that I talk about endlessly. But when I see progress being made against the odds, I say okay, this is really worth it, because we’ve been at independence for 235 years this year. We’ve had our own ups and downs and our own difficulties, including a civil war and so much else. But it’s the intention and it’s the direction. And when I see positive intentions matched with a commitment to a path that could lead in a positive direction, I just am going to stand up and say hooray, and the United States will be with you, we’ll support you, we’ll do everything we can to help you.
QUESTION: You are still very popular, both in the United States and abroad. In fact, I think you’re skyrocketing in polls. But some of your critics say that they can’t quite put their finger on what it is that you are trying to achieve as a Secretary of State. What is the issue that you are trying to get your hands on and bring to fruition? Is it Middle East peace? Is it Afghanistan? Is it Pakistan? What is – what do you want to be remembered for as Secretary of State?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t see it that way, especially at this time. I think there are so many converging challenges that are interconnected in ways that we could not have imagined 25, 50 years ago, that what we’re trying to do is restore America’s leadership in the world, because I fervently believe American leadership is essential for the promotion of human rights and dignity, freedom, economic opportunity.
And I am well aware that for the years prior to this Administration, there were a lot of questions about what we were doing. And of course, there are those who say, well, history will look back and see Iraq as a great success, and I hope that’s the case. But I think much of what we did was because we were attacked on 9/11, and I think we made fiscal and budgetary decisions that undermined America’s strength at home and abroad.
So what we’re trying to do, and what I am personally am committed to doing, is moving on a very steady path toward restoring America’s influence and leadership. That’s why going to Asia was important. That’s why continuing to pay attention to Latin America and Africa, working with regional institutions that can espouse the same values that we think are the best way to live and for societies to flourish.
Now, when I took this job, people said, well, you can either try to do that or you can pick one or two or three things. I don’t think this is a time to pick one or two or three things. And I’m well aware of – others might well choose a different perspective, but that’s how I see what I’m doing.
QUESTION: Do you think you are on the right track in terms of restoring American leadership? Some people argue that, in the Middle East, America is becoming irrelevant.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I just don’t believe that for a minute. I think that it’s nothing we can take for granted. We can’t be complacent and we certainly can’t walk away. I have fought hard within the Administration for a significant economic program for both Egypt and Tunisia, because I think that the revolution of expectations in both countries was as much economic as political, because it wasn’t only the freedom to vote or the freedom to speak, but the freedom to work and to increase your standard of living and to see your life improve.
And I think that we are still looked to, sometimes begrudgingly and critically, but there is no doubt in my mind that people still care very much what the United States says and does. And what I worry about is the contrary, that it’s not what people around the world think about our role, but at home people who rightly are concerned about our own domestic economic situation, our own federal budget deficit, who are saying enough with the foreign involvements; let’s just do nothing but stay right here and tend to our own garden. That would be, in my view, a great mistake.
So part of what I’m trying to do is speak and work on behalf of America’s influence and leadership in a way that my own country understands, so that people who are unemployed auto workers in Michigan or struggling small businesspeople in California can say, “Yeah, I really want the President, the government, to pay attention to me, but I get it. I know why we’re working to make sure Egypt and Tunisia turn out well. I know why we still put money into developing agriculture and fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa, and all the other things that we are working on.”
QUESTION: And a final question, to wrap up on a lighter note. Tell us something about yourself that BBC listeners don’t know. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I sometimes think I’m the best-known unknown person. I’m always amazed when people – and sometimes interviewers but sometimes just citizens around the world – will say something to me about me that I think, well, no, I didn’t do that or I didn’t say that or I don’t like that. So I’m always amused by that. But there’s – look, I don’t think anybody in the public eye can ever be totally known. That’s a misnomer, even though people are constantly in the press and therefore, you think you know them.
But I think that I am a pretty normal, average person, despite all of the hype. And I am very interested in spending time with my friends and my family and not being on the merry-go-round all the time, which is one of the reasons why I have decided that I will move on and return to private life at the end of what will be a very intense period of activity and work in the next 18 months. But I just – I believe what I say and I work to try to see life improve, particularly for women and girls, and I love what I’m doing.
QUESTION: I think one thing that people don’t know about you is that you have a great sense of humor. (Laughter.) You (inaudible) I think.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you’ve got to have a little bit of fun doing these kinds of jobs, Kim, as you know. And thank you for all of your good work.
QUESTION: Thank you.
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