Clinton Sought 'Tougher Deal,' But Won't Second-Guess Bergdahl Swap
Below are excerpts from Hillary Clinton's interview Monday with NPR's Renee Montagne. Clinton's new book, Hard Choices, will be published Tuesday.
Portions of this interview will air on Morning Edition.
On running for president in 2016
HILLARY CLINTON: I have made some hard choices, and I face some hard choices. And, as I say in the book, I have not made a decision yet. ...
RENEE MONTAGNE: This is, may I say, a classic campaign book. ...
CLINTON: Oh, I have to disagree. [Laughter] I think it's a very, um, clear and fair depiction of some of the major issues that I was involved in. Not just the headlines — what we can read about whether it's Iran, or Syria, or Libya — but the trend lines, what's happening in the world, and what I think about that. So, it's not meant to be anything other than a narrative of the experiences I had, how that both influenced and even shaped my view of America's role, and I hope it is accessible to Americans and really anybody who wants to make that journey with me. It doesn't point in any direction about what I will or won't do. ...
On whether the exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five senior Taliban fighters could have been done in a less controversial way, and an earlier attempt she made to make a Bergdahl deal
CLINTON: We don't leave anybody behind. That is an operating principle. And once President Obama announced that we were going to be ending our combat mission and transitioning to a training and support presence, the clock was ticking on whether we would get Bergdahl back. You're right that during the time I was there, we were trying to put together a much bigger deal, a deal that would get the Afghan government talking face-to-face with the Taliban, to try to resolve some of the points of controversy that exists between them. ...
What I wanted was to broker a deal that would get them at the negotiating table with their Afghan governmental counterparts. It was a tougher deal, and it was a very difficult preliminary discussion about what it would take to bring that about.
All through the calculations we were going about making, was "we had to get Bergdahl back." I mean, that was something that was a, an absolute condition for us. Of course, they're not just going to sit there and say, 'Oh, OK, we'll do all of this.' They wanted their five prisoners back from Guantanamo, and we had a lot of conditions that we wanted met before we could ever approach that. ...
I'm not going to second-guess the decision that was made, and as I understand it, it was a decision backed by the State Department, the Defense Department and the intelligence community.
CLINTON: Pakistan has to make some hard choices. ... When I say Pakistan, let me qualify it by saying the political, business and military elite of Pakistan have never decided to rid their country of the extremists, the jihadists, the Pakistani Taliban and other related groups. ...
The bottom line is, will you control your territory or not? Are you a sovereign government that will hold accountable people who bomb markets, and attack airports, and engage in terrible behavior including the killing of thousands of civilians and military personnel in Pakistan? It is still, to this day, unclear to me, that the Pakistani elite has decided that that's what they must do.
They have used terrorists for their purposes against India, they have tried to make deals with the Pakistani Taliban that were quickly unraveled, because those were not enforceable deals, they have been uncertain about how they want to deal with Afghanistan — their boundary, as you know, has never been fully settled — so they have all of these competing priorities. I don't think there's a higher priority than providing security and safety to people who live within your borders, and they have allowed this metastasizing cancer of extremism to take root in their country. And there are many reasons for it: cultural, religious, political, strategic, economic — there are all kinds of reasons. But the bottom line for me is, unless the Pakistanis truly confront the threat of terrorism, they cannot control their own country and they continue to pose a threat, because of their failure to do so, to Afghanistan. And it is a very dangerous situation that we have to be carefully monitoring, but we cannot do it for them.
CLINTON: These are terrible situations. ... We have to keep learning. What can we do to protect Americans? And from my perspective, particularly our diplomats and our development experts, they don't go armed into these places that are dangerous. They don't have a military contingent to back them up. They are there representing the United States. And some have said, "Well, we shouldn't be in dangerous places." Well, there are so many dangerous places in the world right now that that would eliminate a lot of the important work that America needs to be doing. And it's just not in our DNA. We're not in the kind of place that retreats in the face of danger. We need to be prudent and reasonable and take necessary precautions, but we need to be present.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene in Washington.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne in New York. Hillary Clinton comes out with a new book today.
GREENE: It's getting a lot of attention, even though it's not about what's on a lot of minds, the 2016 presidential election.
MONTAGNE: Rather, the book is a personal tour of her four years as America's top diplomat under President Obama.
GREENE: The former Secretary of State takes readers along on a journey of a million miles and over 100 countries.
MONTAGNE: But one place she doesn't go, is will she be a candidate again? As she writes, I haven't made up my mind. Hillary Clinton joined me at NPR's New York studio, welcome.
HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Renee. I'm delighted to be here.
MONTAGNE: Well, the book is called "Hard Choices." And certainly the hardest personal choice, you will have to make in the future, is whether or not to run for president in 2016. But this is, may I say, a classic campaign book.
CLINTON: Oh, I have to disagree. (Laughter) I think it's a very clear and fair depiction of some of the major issues that I was involved in. Not just the headlines, whether it's Iran or Syria or Libya, but the trend lines. What's happening in the world. And what I think about that. And I'm experienced enough to know that political campaigns are about the future, not the past. But my intention was to try to turn back the clock and the curtains opened enough, so that people could be involved in the decision making that I was part of.
MONTAGNE: Of the hard choices that you wrote about, one involves Bowe Berghdahl. In 2011 and 2012, as Secretary of State, you were personally involved in an earlier deal, involving a prisoner swap. Sounds like a tougher deal than what we've just seen these - this past week or so. I just want to say, it seems like Americans all know that our troops don't leave anyone on the field. And they bring home those who are captured in war. And the situation surrounding Bowe Berghdahl's capture by the Taliban has always been known to be murky. The administration knew that. I mean, he walked off the base. But could this deal to free the only POW in 13 years of war in Afghanistan, this young soldier, could this have been done in a less controversial way? Could it have been done so it didn't turn so ugly?
CLINTON: Well, I think you're absolutely right that we don't leave anybody behind. That is an operating principle. And during the time I was there, we were trying to put together a much better deal. A deal that would get the Afghan government talking face-to-face with the Taliban. It was a tougher deal. And it was a very difficult preliminary discussion about what it would take to bring that about. All through the calculations, we were going about to making - was we had to get Berghdahl back. They wanted their five prisoners back from Guantanamo. And we had a lot of conditions that we wanted met, before we could even approach that. I left. And, you know, I'm not going to second-guess the decision that was made. And, as I understand it, it was a decision backed by the State Department, the Defense Department and the Intelligence Community.
MONTAGNE: You have a reputation as being more of a hawk than most of President Obama's cabinet. You spoke early in favor of intervention in Syria. You backed intervention in Libya. And it was an appealing idea, getting rid of Muammar Gaddafi. A dictator that seemed like this was a country, where the Arab Spring was going to prevail. And it actually - it did in a way. But Libya was a country with no institutions, virtually, no civil society, virtually. So toppling this dictator ended up unleashing unintended consequences.
CLINTON: Libya's a classic case of a hard choice. Our friends in NATO had been extraordinary supporters of the United States after 9/11. They have been with us in Afghanistan, fighting and dying with our men and women. The Europeans looked at Libya, right across the Mediterranean, as a place that could be a danger, a continuing threat. So when the European said to us, we can't let Gaddafi crush this fomenting rebellion against his brutal rule without having a lot of consequences that will come to roost with us. We need your help, the United States. So after surveying what the potential alternatives were, we said we would support the intervention. But we would not lead it.
Now, once Gaddafi fell, if you look at those immediate weeks afterwards and the first election, that was held, it was quite impressive. The election came off well. And surprisingly, the people who were voted for were considered moderates. But you did have a country that had no institutions. So there was no security. It had to be hobbled together. And it still is being hobbled together, from militias, from tribes. I think it sometimes shows American impatience that, OK, you got rid of this dictator, who destroyed institutions. Why aren't you behaving like a mature democracy? That doesn't happen overnight.
MONTAGNE: Sec. Clinton, Benghazi and the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, your friend - if you do choose to run for president, do you think of all the issues that you faced in all your time as Secretary of State, do you think Benghazi will continue to haunt you?
CLINTON: Well, I don't want to put in any kind of political context. I am just very sad and personally grief-stricken about the losses there, to Benghazi during the revolution. And as I'm sure the Secretary of State Shultz felt about the loss of 250 Americans in Beirut in 1983, when our Marine Barracks and our embassy were attacked. And I know how Marilyn Albright felt when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked.
And 12 Americans and hundreds of Africans were lost. These are terrible situations. And we have to keep learning. What can we do to protect Americans? And some might say, well, we shouldn't be in dangerous places. Well, there are so many dangerous places in the world, right now, that that would eliminate a lot of the important work that America needs to be doing. So I'm the wrong person to ask him as to whether or not America should just abandon places that are dangerous because I don't think we can afford to do that.
MONTAGNE: In your book, you talk about a new way of being a Secretary of State. And it has more to do with - as you describe it, it's more like a relay race. And you carry the baton for just so far. Pick it up, you also hand it off. So if we're not talking about big strokes, like Sec. George C. Marshall's plan to build Europe or Henry Kissinger getting Nixon to China. Is there a single issue that in your time, as Secretary of State, you feel you owned? Just owned it?
CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. But the most important thing I did was to help restore America's leadership around the world. And I think that was a very important accomplishment. We were flat on our back, when I walked in there the first time. We were viewed as being untrustworthy, as violating our moral rules and values.
MONTAGNE: This is because of Iraq? The Iraq war?
CLINTON: Because of the eight years that preceded us. It was the economic collapse. It was two wars. It was the war on terror that led to some very unfortunate un-American actions being taken. And that was my biggest challenge. You know, Henry Kissinger is a friend of mine. And we laugh about it. It would be impossible for him to sneak from Pakistan to China today, where cell phones are ubiquitous to do some sort of secret negotiation.
That world doesn't exist anymore. So we have to be living in the times in which we find ourselves. Iran, bringing them to the table by the kind of sanctions and pressure, that was so challenging because we had to convince the rest of the world to go along with this plan. And then I had to go around and convince countries not to buy Iranian oil, even though they desperately needed it. So this is hard work. And it's painstaking work. It's building those relationships. It's garnering that trust. It's mobilizing people to help solve problems together. And I think we laid a very strong foundation.
MONTAGNE: Sec. Clinton, thank you.
CLINTON: Great to talk to you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Hillary Clinton's new book is called "Hard Choices." It's about her years as Secretary of State. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.