Obama-Clinton rare joint interview: US intervention/engagement overseas makes a difference
In a very rare joint interview with America's foremost media network CBS in its '60 Minutes' prime program President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the United States' continuous foreign intervention and engagement to make a difference in the lives of others.
In the interview conducted by CBS '60 Minutes' anchor Steve Kroft Mr. Obama reiterated: "You know, there are transitions and transformations taking place all around the world. We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation. Sometimes they're going to go sideways. Sometimes, you know, there'll be unintended consequences. And our job is to, number one, look after America's security and national interest. But number two, find where are those opportunities where our intervention, our engagement can really make a difference? And to be opportunistic about that".
Secretary of State Clinton echoed president's sentiments: "But, you know, I remember, you know, some of the speeches of Eisenhower as a young girl, you know? You've got to be careful. You have to be thoughtful. You can't rush in, especially now, where it's more complex than it's been in decades. So yes, are there what we call wicked problems like Syria, which is the one you named? Absolutely. And we are on the side of American values. We're on the side of freedom. We're on the side of the aspirations of all people, to have a better life, have the opportunities that we are fortunate to have here. But it's not always easy to perceive exactly what must be done in order to get to that outcome. So you know, I certainly am grateful for the president's steady hand and hard questions and thoughtful analysis as to what we should and shouldn't do."
Following are some of the dialogue that went in the interview aired on CBS '60 Minutes' Sunday, 27 January.
Steve Kroft: This is very improbable. This is not an interview I ever expected to be doing. But I understand, Mr. President, this was your idea. Why did you want to do this together, a joint interview?
President Obama: Well, the main thing is I just wanted to have a chance to publicly say thank you, because I think Hillary will go down as one of the finest secretary of states we've had. It has been a great collaboration over the last four years. I'm going to miss her. Wish she was sticking around. But she has logged in so many miles, I can't begrudge her wanting to take it easy for a little bit. But I want the country to appreciate just what an extraordinary role she's played during the course of my administration and a lot of the successes we've had internationally have been because of her hard work.
Secretary Clinton: We don't have any tea. We've got some water here is the best I can tell. But you know, this has been just the most extraordinary honor. And, yes, I mean, a few years ago it would have been seen as improbable because we had that very long, hard primary campaign. But, you know, I've gone around the world on behalf of the president and our country. And one of the things that I say to people, because I think it helps them understand, I say, "Look, in politics and in democracy, sometimes you win elections, sometimes you lose elections. And I worked very hard, but I lost. And then President Obama asked me to be secretary of state and I said yes." And so this has been just an extraordinary opportunity to work with him as a partner and friend, to do our very best on behalf of this country we both love. And it's something I'm going to miss a great deal.
Steve Kroft: It's no secret that your aides cautioned you against-- actually were against you offering Secretary Clinton this job. And you were just as determined not to take it. And you avoided taking her phone calls for awhile because you were afraid she was going to say no. Why were you so insistent about wanting her to be secretary of state?
President Obama: Well, I was a big admirer of Hillary's before our primary battles and the general election. You know, her discipline, her stamina, her thoughtfulness, her ability to project, I think, and make clear issues that are important to the American people, I thought made her an extraordinary talent. She also was already a world figure. And I thought that somebody stepping into that position of secretary of state at a time when, keep in mind, we were still in Iraq. Afghanistan was still an enormous challenge. There was great uncertainty in terms of how we would reset our relations around the world, to have somebody who could serve as that effective ambassador in her own right without having to earn her stripes, so to speak, on the international stage, I thought would be hugely important.
Secretary Clinton: It did. We could never figure out what we were different on. Yeah, we worked at that pretty hard. And so I really thought I'd be going back to the Senate, where I would be supporting the president on all of the issues. And what surprised me is he said, "Well, I want you to come to Chicago." And honestly, at the time, I thought, "Well, you know, that's a very nice gesture. And maybe he wants to ask me about some people that might serve in the administration." So when I got to Chicago and he asked me if I would consider being his secretary of state, I immediately said, "Oh, Mr. President, there's so many other people. Let me give you some other names." Because it just took me by surprise. But he is pretty persuasive, I'll tell you that much. And he kept saying, "Well, I want you to think about it again. I want you to-- wait a minute, don't make-- don't give me a final answer." I'll tell you what I finally thought. I thought, "You know, if the roles had been reversed. And I had ended up winning. I would have desperately wanted him to be in my cabinet. So if I'm saying I would have wanted him to say yes to me, how am I going to justify saying no to my president?" And it was a great decision, despite my hesitancy about it.
Steve Kroft: Has she had much influence in this administration?
President Obama: I think everybody understands that Hillary's been, you know, one of the most important advisors that I've had on a whole range of issues. Hillary's capacity to travel around the world, to lay the groundwork for a new way of doing things, to establish a sense of engagement that, you know, our foreign policy was not going to be defined solely by Iraq, that we were going to be vigilant about terrorism, but we were going to make sure that we deployed all elements of American power, diplomacy, our economic and cultural and social capital, in order to bring about the kinds of international solutions that we wanted to see. I had confidence that Hillary could do that. And, you know, one of the things that I will always be grateful for is-- yeah, it wasn't just that she and I had to integrate. I mean, we had Bob Gates, who was a holdover from the Bush administration. You know Leon Panetta to take over the CIA. And so we had a lot of very strong personalities around the table. And, you know, I think one of the things that Hillary did was establish a standard in terms of professionalism and teamwork in our cabinet, in our foreign policy making that said, "We're going to have an open discussion. We're going to push each other hard. There are going to be times where we have some vigorous disagreements. Once the president makes a decision though we're going to go out there and execute.
Hillary Clinton's final days as secretary of state included one of her most difficult. On Wednesday, she spent more than five hours being grilled on Capitol Hill for the security failures in Benghazi that led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans; the biggest diplomatic disaster of this administration. The Accountability Review led by Admiral Mike Mullen and Ambassador Thomas Pickering found, among many failures, that Stevens' repeated requests for better security never made it to Clinton's desk. And representatives and senators pressed her on whether the administration covered up the nature of the terrorist attack.
Steve Kroft: You said during the hearings, I mean, you've accepted responsibility. You've accepted the very critical findings of Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering.
As the New York Times put it, you accepted responsibility, but not blame. Do you feel guilty in any way, in-- at a personal level? Do you blame yourself that you didn't know or that you should have known?
Secretary Clinton: Well, Steve, obviously, I deeply regret what happened, as I've said many times. I knew Chris Stevens. I sent him there originally. It was a great personal loss to lose him and three other brave Americans. But I also have looked back and tried to figure out what we could do so that nobody, insofar is possible, would be in this position again. And as the Accountability Review Board pointed out, we did fix responsibility appropriately. And we're taking steps to implement that. But we also live in a dangerous world. And, you know, the people I'm proud to serve and work with in our diplomatic and development personnel ranks, they know it's a dangerous and risky world. We just have to do everything we can to try to make it as secure as possible for them.
President Obama: I think, you know, one of the things that humbles you as president, I'm sure Hillary feels the same way as secretary of state, is that you realize that all you can do every single day is to figure out a direction, make sure that you are working as hard as you can to put people in place where they can succeed, ask the right questions, shape the right strategy. But it's going to be a team that both succeeds and fails. And it's a process of constant improvement, because the world is big and it is chaotic. You know, I remember Bob Gates, you know, first thing he said to me, I think maybe first week or two that I was there and we were meeting in the Oval Office and he, obviously, been through seven presidents or something. And he says, "Mr. President, one thing I can guarantee you is that at this moment, somewhere, somehow, somebody in the federal government is screwing up." And, you know you're-- and so part of what you're trying to do is to constantly improve systems and accountability and transparency to minimize those mistakes and ensure success. It is a dangerous world. And that's part of the reason why we have to continue to get better.
Secretary Clinton: But, you know, I remember, you know, some of the speeches of Eisenhower as a young girl, you know? You've got to be careful. You have to be thoughtful. You can't rush in, especially now, where it's more complex than it's been in decades. So yes, are there what we call wicked problems like Syria, which is the one you named? Absolutely. And we are on the side of American values. We're on the side of freedom. We're on the side of the aspirations of all people, to have a better life, have the opportunities that we are fortunate to have here. But it's not always easy to perceive exactly what must be done in order to get to that outcome. So you know, I certainly am grateful for the president's steady hand and hard questions and thoughtful analysis as to what we should and shouldn't do.
President Obama: You know, there are transitions and transformations taking place all around the world. We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation. Sometimes they're going to go sideways. Sometimes, you know, there'll be unintended consequences. And our job is to, number one, look after America's security and national interest. But number two, find where are those opportunities where our intervention, our engagement can really make a difference? And to be opportunistic about that. And that's something that I think Hillary has done consistently. I think the team at the State Department's done consistently. And that's what I intend to continue to do over the next four years.
- Asian Tribune -