ROSE: She is a former first lady, a former senator from New York and a former United States secretary of state. Now Hillary Clinton is running for president. The Democratic frontrunner sat down with me for a wide-ranging conversation at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. She talked about her plans to fight ISIS and remove Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the challenges of dealing with Russia, with China and with the problem of climate change and this—the role of the United States in a rapidly changing world.
From a balcony overlooking the White House, she told me how she hoped fix the dysfunction in Washington and what being president is all about.
ROSE: There is the seat of power in America, the White House—Pennsylvania Avenue down the road. They seem to be in conflict. There seems to be gridlock. Can Hillary Clinton make a difference? Because Barack Obama thought he could.
CLINTON: Right. Right.
ROSE: And he didn’t.
ROSE: I know. It’s not personal with him.
CLINTON: Yes. Right no because—
ROSE: Because it takes two to tango.
CLINTON: He got a lot done, too, despite. Look—
ROSE: How is he going to do it, though? People want to say to you, how can you stop this conflict?
CLINTON: I’m going to get up every day and work at it.
ROSE: That’s not enough.
CLINTON: No, it is true.
ROSE: It’s not enough.
CLINTON: It starts with that—Charlie.
CLINTON: It starts with that and it starts with once again, sort of nurturing relationships. You know, when I was first lady, when I was a senator and when I was secretary of state, I worked across the aisle all the time and sometimes there was only one thing that I could find to work with somebody on because everything else we were at odds over.
ROSE: So you say to those Republicans and you say to the new Speaker of the House—
ROSE:?—Hillary Clinton will be somebody you can deal with?
CLINTON: 100 percent.
ROSE: I’m prepared to reach out to you, I’ll be down there.
CLINTON: Yes. Right. And I will do anything to find common ground but I will also stand my ground. There are some things that are not good for the country. I will not give in on those, but there is a lot of room here to find that common ground and we have to do it.
ROSE: Yes. But you know a lot of people think the biggest problem for America is Washington. That’s the problem. And that’s partly reflected in some of the politics that we’re seeing.
CLINTON: Yes, that’s true. But look at the way our founders set it up. They set up the separation of powers—
ROSE: Three branches of government.
CLINTON: And they made it really difficult to get things done, and some years it’s really hard, and we’re in one of these periods where we have a minority within the other party that doesn’t believe in compromise, doesn’t believe in reaching consensus—
ROSE: But there you go attacking them. That’s not the way to do it.
CLINTON: No, no. No—because part of what you have to do is make it clear to everyone else who is in that party that there is room for negotiation. And those who do not even believe in the legislative process because they think that they arrived with all the answers and there is nothing that they can learn, maybe there is some ground.
I worked with Tom DeLay for heaven’s sakes on reforming the adoption and foster care system because even though he and I were politically opposites, he cared a lot about foster kids and he and his wife had taken them in. I knew that. I cared about them. So we found that common ground.
That is just a 24/7 effort and I will put whatever it takes into doing it.
ROSE: Waiting for the plane to come down from New York, a very nice lady said to me, where are you going? I said, I’m going to talk to Hillary Clinton. She said ask her this one question for me. What can I do to make a difference? That was what she said.
CLINTON: That’s a great question.
ROSE: And you must be finding that as you go.
CLINTON: I do.
ROSE: I would think running for president, and you’ve done this before. As tough as it is, as sleepless as it is, you get a sense to touch base with the width and breadth of this country. And you get a sense from young to old, you know, how they aspire for a better life.
CLINTON: Right. And, you know, there is something so intimate and personal about the encounters you have when you’re running for office. I did when I was running for the Senate. I do now running for president. Sometimes just 30, 60 seconds people will look into your eyes and they’ll say, “I need help”, you know. “My son is a drug addict and I’m taking care of his daughter, we have to have more help.’
Or the young man I meet who says “I’m taking care of my mother with Alzheimer’s. I can’t quit my job but I can’t afford a caregiver so I take her to work.” And I hear these intimate, personal stories. And it gives, you know, not only real texture to what I’m thinking about and what I’m proposing, but it makes it all real, you know, that there are real people out there doing the best they can.
And what can she do? Well, maybe there is somebody she can help, you know. Maybe there is a child she can tutor. Maybe there’s a project to raise funds to send kids to college. Maybe there is just something she can do to contribute to the life that will be better for somebody else.
I say in my speeches, and I know it sometimes sounds a little corny, I say, you know, you don’t expect the presidential candidate to say we need more love and kindness in America, but I’m saying it because I believe it. We’ve got to stop demonizing each other. We’ve got to stop with all of the anger and the terrible sense of alienation and division that is stalking our country.
We need to be kinder to one another. We need to put ourselves in each other’s shoes and walk in them, if you can. So, yes, I mean being president is running the executive branch, doing foreign policy, working with the Congress, but it’s also being a catalyst for people to feel that they can be their best selves and that we need them—
ROSE: And we’re in this together.
CLINTON:?—and that’s what I want to do. We’re in this together. Absolutely.
[ROSE: This was the first major interview Secretary Clinton has granted since the terror attacks in Paris. We began our conversation with that tragedy and with her strategy to defeat the terror group ISIS.]
ROSE: Thank you for doing this. It’s so great to see you.
CLINTON: Great to see you. Thanks—Charlie.
ROSE: This is the first conversation interview you’ve had since Paris. What’s new? What did Paris change for all of us?
CLINTON: I think it forced a conversation that is taking place not only in our country and in Europe but in many places across the world about what are the opportunities and the dangers in this very complex time that we’re living in. and specifically with respect to ISIS I think it has really accelerated a discussion about thousand world is going to deal with not only ISIS—how to deny it territory—but also with the whole network radical Jihadism which has taken advantage of that arc of instability from North Africa to South Asia.
And then I think finally how are we going to protect ourselves, our friends, our partners in a way that is in keeping with our openness, our values? And so I think it’s really pushed all of these discussions that you have in the situation room, that you have in lots of places; but now it’s pushed into the open and it’s a matter of personal and political debate.
ROSE: OK. So with respect to the new urgency, what should the United States do and what would you recommend we do?
CLINTON: Well, I gave a speech about this.
ROSE: You did it at the Council on Foreign Relations.
CLINTON: Council on Foreign Relations because I think it’s important that we look at it from a broader perspective. Number one, we have to deny them territory with a multi-pronged, multi-national effort, and the United States must lead that effort.
ROSE: What does that mean—lead?
CLINTON: Well, what it means is that we have to do the heavy lifting to get people to make the contributions that they have to make, whether it be aircraft to fly airstrikes against ISIS territory to go after leadership and economic infrastructure. Or putting together the troops on the ground, how we get more equipment and support to the Kurds who have been bearing the brunt of the fighting; how we do everything we can to get the Iraqis not only stand up their army but begin to work with the Sunni tribal leaders as was done successfully back in ’07.
ROSE: And what incentive would you offer to the Sunni leaders to get them engaged on the ground so with the addition of American airstrikes you might wage an effective campaign both in Iraq and Syria?
CLINTON: Well nothing beats what was tried last time which was cash. Let’s not turn our nose up at it.
ROSE: That’s General Petraeus.
CLINTON: That’s General Petraeus whom you recently talked with and was very straightforward and said, “Look, we basically paid the tribal sheiks in Anbar” and now we would probably continue that across the border into Syria to pull together a fighting force, and it works. And it worked, in part, because of revulsion against the predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, the treatment of everybody at their hands, but it also worked because they were promised that they would have the autonomy and authority to make a lot of decisions within Iraq on their own behalf.
And unfortunately, Maliki and his views toward sectarianism slowly but surely undermined all of that. And now you’ve got the Sunni sheiks, the fighters on the sidelines or, even worse, some of them making common cause with ISIS.
ROSE:?—which raises an interesting question. Did we lose influence with the Baghdad government because we didn’t have any remaining troops there? Would that have made a difference in terms of the behavior so that the Sunnis would not be so turned off by Baghdad?
CLINTON: Well, I certainly thought we should keep troops there. I advocated for that. The real problem was Maliki. He would not give us what’s called a status of forces agreement that would provide the protections for American troops that we have to expect anywhere in the world.
And despite our best efforts, despite trying to negotiate and bargain with him, other members of his government, even the parliament, we were not able to reach that agreement. And the prior administration, the Bush administration had set a date certain for us to withdraw.
So in the absence of an agreement with Maliki, we had to withdraw. Now, that is what he wanted. I mean he made all kinds of promises to the administration which he did not fulfill.
ROSE: Was the absence of American troops, did it help lead to the strengthening of ISIS?
CLINTON: I wouldn’t go that far. I think it was the collapse of the internal agreements. Our understanding was that we had help them build up a force that would respect Sunnis, that they would have a place in the Iraqi army, that there was going to be a national guard that would be created, that would, in effect, protect the Sunnis and give them some sense of, you know, autonomy, enabling them to protect themselves. And then, of course, the Kurds, with their ongoing arguments with Baghdad over oil distribution and autonomy.
So what Maliki did, and he was the driving force, was to begin to purge the army of Sunni officers, begin to take a hard line against the Kurds and their desire for more autonomy. And so, I really place the blame, such as it can be placed, at Maliki’s feet.
ROSE: What should be the limits of our involvement?
CLINTON: Well, I think we have to look at this from several different perspectives. Number one, if we are going to lead a multi-national coalition, we’re going to still have to take the lead in the air. That is our highest and best use. And even with France picking up at airstrikes, we’re still, you know, carrying out the vast majority of them.
We also need to get those Special Forces that the President has authorized into the arena as soon as possible because they will be able to tell us what more is needed. And, in particular, how do we have better targeting on the ground. We want to go after the ISIS leadership, we want to go after their economic infrastructure—how do we really know what we’re targeting?
ROSE: But General Petraeus, as you mentioned the interview, said to me that we should be embedding at the battalion level and not just Special Forces.
CLINTON: Well, we don’t really have—I couldn’t tell whether he was meaning the Iraqi army, if we ever get it stood up again. That’s something we could look at. We have over 3,000 American troops in Iraq trying to do just that, working to essentially undo the damage that Maliki did to the army, try to return it to what it was when American troops left.
And I think that, you know, their main missions are train, assist and enable and if, down the road, it appears that we do get them up and willing to take the fight to Mosul and Ramadi and the areas that have to be taken back from ISIS inside Iraq, then there will be a role for Americans to perhaps be a part of advising those army units.
We’re a long way from that. We don’t—and from what I’m told—even yet have confidence that we could put them back into the fight. And at the same time, let’s not forget what we were talking about earlier. We need to be building up a Sunni force, and that will have to operate on a parallel track to the army.
ROSE: But many people say we have been talking about this for a while, how do we get the Sunnis involved. There is a new urgency now—
ROSE:?—and a new emergency now.
ROSE: I mean tell me how serious the threat of ISIS is and at what level do we decide we’ll do anything we have to do to stop them?
CLINTON: I think we have to have as our objective their defeat, so what is it you have to do to defeat them? And I think you have to fight them in the air, you have to fight them on the ground and you have to fight them in cyberspace. Now it seems to me there are people both currently serving and retired like General Petraeus who know a lot of the players. And we should be utilizing anyone who has that kind of personal contact because it’s all relationship based.
We need people to go over there and look into the eyes of some of those tribal sheiks who will say you betrayed us, and we’ll say, no, we didn’t. When we left we had promises about continuing to pay the Sunni troops and continuing to have an integrated army. And we had promises. They were systematically broken.
So let’s do this again right. You stood against al Qaeda in Iraq because you saw the damage they were doing to your way of life, to your people—the oppressive, violent approach that they took. Now you’re facing an even more barbaric enemy which has more money and now controls territory. We need to get back in the game and we need to help you do that.
ROSE: Do we need to make coalition with Russia to do this?
CLINTON: Well, I think we need, first of all, to build a coalition of Europeans and Arab states. We have to work with—
ROSE: Don’t we have that now?
CLINTON: Well, we have it, but I would say—
ROSE: And don’t we see more participation by the British in terms of proposals to their parliament and the French are clearly energized.
CLINTON: Well, the French are energized. The Brits are still waiting to see whether they can be. We do have a number of our European allies who are flying sorties. The Arabs have kind of pulled back and we need to get them reengaged.
But with respect to Russia, I am not yet sure what exactly Putin’s objectives are. We know that he has been bombing a lot of the opposition to Assad. We have to operate on two tracks at one time in a lot of what we’re doing, as I just was saying in another regard.
When it comes to Russia, they have to understand that we are going to go forward with our multi-national, multi-pronged approach. I still believe a no-fly zone is important to try to provide some safe haven on the ground, taking back the Syrian-Turkish border is going to require Turkish help. It’s going to require the Russians to be at least respectful of our efforts.
So we need to be engaged. We are engaged on a military to military—
ROSE: There is some communication between—
ROSE:?—the defense minister and the secretary of defense.
CLINTON: Yes. And we have de-conflicted the airspace that we both are in, so we are not making the mistakes. But what they did invading whether intentionally or unintentionally Turkish airspace after having been warned repeatedly by the Turks—
ROSE: So what do you think?
CLINTON: Well, what I think is that they did.
ROSE: They invaded on purpose?
CLINTON: Well, no, I don’t know—I said intentionally or unintentionally. But they were on notice to stay back. You know it’s not—you can make a mistake, but they got so close that a mistake was possible or they just didn’t care.
ROSE: so why did they do that? What is Putin trying to say to the world?
CLINTON: Yes, well, I think this probably was not something that came down from the Kremlin. You know, they want to go after those forces that are threatening Assad, some of whom are near the Turkish border. But by invading the airspace—and this is not the first time that they came close to doing it. NATO has issued a warning, the Turks have issued warnings.
It showed a disregard for the perspective of others, most particularly the Turks, that it’s troubling. Now, I think they have been pushed back, and I think that we’ll be able to have a more realistic conversation with them, which I would urge.
ROSE: But isn’t Putin’s interest pretty clear? He wants to be relevant. He wants to be a player. He wants to be part of the decision-making that takes place about Syria and he wants to say to the world Russia is important in the Middle East again—
ROSE:?—and he’s accomplished that.
CLINTON: Well, he has certainly staked a claim to it. But whether he’s accomplished or not is not clear. Because here’s what also what has to happen—another one of these dual tracks there, Charlie. We need to get over the false choice between either going after Assad or going after ISIS.
ROSE: Yes. Help us understand that because everybody is talking about that.
ROSE: How do you do both? Well, I think you do both by making it clear and bringing the Russians in. You know, The Russians have now paid a big price because of the bomb in their jet coming from Sharm el-Sheikh. So they’ve lost people to ISIS—right.
I think you say, look, we need, your if not your active help, your acquiescence in what we’re going to do going after ISIS. So that means you’re going to have to pull back from this area while we go after their leadership and their economic infrastructure.
But if you want to be part of that, we would welcome you. You have a dog in this hunt now because you’re worried about what’s happening in the Caucasus. You’re worried about ISIS spreading its ideology.
At the same time we have to accelerate the political and diplomatic efforts and this is what Secretary Kerry is trying to do—in Vienna and everywhere.
CLINTON:?—in Vienna and everywhere and there has to be more willingness on the part of Russia and Iran to take a hard look at how we prioritize. Right now we’re not going to see a military defeat of Assad. That’s not going to happen. It might have been possible a few years ago. It’s not going to happen now.
You’re going to continue to see Russia from the air, Iran from the ground where Iranian soldiers are dying on behalf of Assad. You’re going to see them continue to try to hold the territory they have and push back against the opposition.
So part of what we have to do is say, look, you’ve got to help us get to a political and diplomatic solution and you’ve got to either get out of the way or come on board with respect to ISIS, and we have to be very clear about that. And this should be a full-throated effort.
ROSE: And you have to convince Assad, who’s your client almost, that your time is limited.
CLINTON: And that there will be a transition.
CLINTON: Now, knowing the Russians and the Iranians who have a lot invested in Assad, this is a long process. It’s not going to won’t happen overnight. But if they will in their own mind, say quit bombing the people who are helping us fight ISIS, go ahead and put a cordon around the area that Assad still controls, protect him there while we do the diplomatic and political work.
ROSE: Someone people would like to ask you this question. I mean we had the 3:00 phone call during a previous campaign—what would you do. And so the question becomes, if there is a no-fly zone, which you’re advocating, and the Russians invade that no-fly zone, would President Clinton say shoot it down if you give it warning?
CLINTON: Charlie—that would not happen because we’re going to put up a no-fly zone where the Russians are clearly kept informed. I want them at the table. They don’t have to participate in it but I want them to understand that there have to be safe areas on the ground.
If we can stop hundreds of thousands of more Syrians leaving Syria because they get to a place where they can get medical aid and food and the like, that’s good for Russia. Why does Russia want this incredible burden that is going to be coming up through Europe and, yes, maybe they are happy to see Europe suffering like this but, in the end, it makes no sense for them and makes no sense for all of us.
And so I think you’ve got to have that conversation. Look, it’s never easy with the Russians and particularly hard with Putin, but if you say, as I think you should and as I think the conversation needs to get to an operational level. And then, at the same time, a conversation with Putin about what our options truly are, I think you can say to him, we’re going to put up this no fly zone. You will know very well where it is because it’s going to be the same people who are working now to de-conflict airspace—
CLINTON: The same Americans you’re dealing with on a mill to mill level but we have got to figure out how to keep more Syrians in Syria and frankly it’s good for the fight against ISIS if we’ve got population that then can be a locus for that.
ROSE: A no-fly zone is one way—one place where you and the President disagree on policy with respect to Syria.
ROSE: Are there others in which there is a difference? We saw what you said at the Council on Foreign Relations. We saw the interview he did in Turkey. You seemed to be similarly responding to what the situation is. Where else do you differ in addition to no-fly zones?
CLINTON: Well, look, I think the President has said that perhaps we should have taken some additional steps earlier. But the real question is—
ROSE: That goes back to the point when you and Petraeus and others were recommending more in 2011.
CLINTON: Right, yes.
But now the important issue is what do we do now? And I think I’m arguing for perhaps a greater, quicker intensification of the work that I think needs to be done. I agree with the President’s point that we’re not putting American combat troops back into Syria or Iraq. We are not going to do that.
ROSE: Under no circumstances would you not do that?
CLINTON: Well, at this point, I cannot conceive of any circumstances where I would agree to do that because I think the best way to defeat ISIS is, as I’ve said, from the air which we lead; on the ground which we enable, empower, train, equip; and in cyberspace where, don’t forget, they are a formidable adversary online.
So what I want to say is, look, we don’t know yet how many Special Forces might be needed, how many trainers and surveillance and enablers might be needed, but in terms of thousands of combat troops like some on the Republican side are recommending, I think that should be a non-starter.
And it should be a non-starter both because I don’t think it’s the smartest way to go after ISIS. I think it gives ISIS a new recruitment tool if we get back in the fight. Whereas if we are equipping and supporting the Kurds, if we get the Sunni tribes back in the fight, then we can do a lot to make sure that works.
ROSE: Let me take you to another time—Libya.
You were a strong if not the strongest proponent of the U.S. and the French and others going to protect Benghazi at a time that it faced almost certain attack by Gadhafi leading to, as he said, massacre in the streets.
Was that a mistake when you look at what has happened since in Libya?
CLINTON: First of all, it’s important to remember that the Libyans themselves held two successful free and fair elections. You know how hard that is after conflict, after 42 years when every institution has been hollowed out? The Libyan people rose to the occasion. They voted for moderates. Then, unfortunately, there was a lot going on in the region that was not necessarily in the control of anybody but which had a big impact on Libya.
ROSE: So I have two questions about that. First question is I think you were going to—I mean is there some lesson we need to learn and that may be applicable to Syria, don’t get rid of a strong man until you have somebody that can come in there because you do not want chaos and you do not want the kind of circumstance in Libya because what you have in Libya now is an increasing force of ISIS.
CLINTON: Well, in one part of Libya. Yes, let me address that because it’s a totally fair question.
Gadhafi had American blood on his hands. Gadhafi was a threat to the broader region. Our European and Arab friends certainly saw him as that and as you say he was promising to track down his own people and kill them like cockroaches.
My point was that with his demise, there was a coalition that rose up. They did hold elections. They were prepared to begin forming a government and there was a lot of pressure coming at them from extremists in all directions. And some of the old attitudes like the split between Tripoli and Benghazi; between, you know, east and west began to assert themselves.
I believe that right now there is an ongoing effort by the U.N. and others the U.S. is supporting to try to form a unity government, to try to get people once again to get back to working together. The problem, is we see advances by ISIS—they’re not the only terrorist group—
CLINTON:?—but ISIS now claims that they have really taken control of Sirte, which happens to be Gadhafi’s hometown. I think one of the ways we need to approach this is continue the discussions about national unity but, as a pre-condition, say we need to join together right now before they get a stronghold and work to eliminate ISIS in Sirte, and it is something that is going to require a lot of cooperation.
There are armed groups that are fighting for power within Libya that are not in any way identified with or allied with ISIS. They need to form even a loose confederation to try to push ISIS literally into the sea before they get a stronghold. There are a lot of other bad actors, don’t get me wrong, bad actors who have taken up—
ROSE: But could this also be part of the way the President thinks about things now? I mean we go in with great intentions, we help participate in the Arab Spring. It was their revolt, not ours. And we end up with where it’s not successful, democracy does not emerge and you end up with, in some cases, failed states or states that seem to be on the verge of becoming failed states. And, so, it’s just not a place for America to be.
CLINTON: Again, I think it’s dangerous to make these sweeping generalizations. Look at how valiantly the Tunisians are struggling.
ROSE: They’re the big exception.
CLINTON: They’re the big exception because they’re a relatively small country and they’ve worked really hard to get everybody under a tent, so to speak, and get them organized.
Libya has pockets of functioning government, but they are not united, and it may well be very difficult to unite them because there has been historical rivalry between them. But we’re talking about four years. You know we have a very quick time table—
ROSE: I know. We didn’t create democracy overnight.
CLINTON: We did not, no. And nobody that I know relay has. That’s not to say there is not dangers. And I do think if we could turn the clock back, if there had been a way, and we tried, to convince the Libyans to take more help, not just from Americans but from Europeans with whom they had preexisting relationships or even others that might have come to support them—the Scandinavians, for example—help them do more. They were so proud and they were so resistant to having security forces on their territory. They were even resistant to having foreigners come and help them figure out how better to run their oil industry.
They had a lot of really smart people who had been expats for decades, they came home and they wanted to do it themselves. If there had been a way that we could have better partnered with them, supported them, maybe it would have made a difference. But this is a long-term prospect that you have to be looking at.
ROSE: Speak to this. I mean we’re looking at a world that’s changing rapidly. I mean you’ve got China soon to become the biggest economy in the world and whatever their ambitions are. You have the Middle East which is close to exploding in some cases, some would suggest you have the Russians involved, you’ve got others involved.
How do we make our way in a sort of New World order and what is our role to do that?
CLINTON: Well, I think our role is to lead. You know, the absence of American leadership is not somebody else’s leadership.
ROSE: But they say—let me interrupt —
ROSE: OK. But some argue that there has been a vacuum—that America has not been leading.
CLINTON: Well, then we should get about the business of leading. If that is a perception, we need to rid the perception.
ROSE: Who knows better than that than you? I mean there is a perception that we were not prepared to lead.
CLINTON: Well, look, I think it is a very—
ROSE: And a vacuum was created.
CLINTON: Well, I think it’s a very complex set of circumstances, and it’s important to look short-term, medium-term, long-term, right? I remember in some of the arguments I had in the White House over Mubarak. And you know, there was a lot of excitement about Mubarak falling. I was one of the skeptics, right, because what was going to replace him? Yes, had he been a heavy-handed authoritarian? He had. But what was the alternative? And I remember saying, you know, this may look great in 25 years, but between now and then, there is a lot of trouble for the Egyptians, the region and us.
And so I think you have to be constantly balancing what is the best decision you can make today, how do you think about what comes next, what are the consequences you’re either trying to promote or prevent, and then what are the long-term challenges and how do we get prepared for those? I mean it sounds easy to say. It’s very difficult to do.
And I think, look, when I became Secretary of State, Osama bin laden was alive and with his lieutenants plotting against us. Iran was on a fast track to a nuclear weapon. We had hundreds of thousands of American troops in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and our alliances were incredibly frayed, Charlie. You know, it’s important to remember that, in 2009, our big challenges were seemingly as difficult as the ones we’re talking about now.
So all these years later—
ROSE: Compounded by economic problems.
CLINTON:?—compounded by a terrible great recession that could have become a great depression. And so we worked our way out of that. I don’t think President Obama gets the credit he deserves for literally saving the economy from a much worse fate.
Bin laden is dead. Al Qaeda is still alive. It’s on, you know, maybe life support, but it’s still alive. It’s still kicking. It still is inspirational. We have to keep our eye on it. We can’t just focus on ISIS. We have to be aware of al Qaeda’s continue maneuvering.
We did reach an agreement that put a lid on Iran’s nuclear weapon program which could have led to a conflagration in the Persian Gulf. Not maybe started by us but in which we might very well have—
ROSE: OK, but that did not speak to Iranian behavior.
CLINTON: No but—it wasn’t meant to.
ROSE: I understand that. I understood that. I am not suggesting it should have been.
CLINTON: Yes, right.
ROSE: I am suggesting that Iranian behavior is going to be an issue for the next president.
CLINTON: Absolutely. And I’ve been saying this—again, I gave a big speech about what I will do as president and to deal with enforcing the agreement, because there are a lot of important details, and the Iranians have to know right from the beginning that they will pay a price, that there will be consequences for any misbehavior or breaches. And that we have to now turn our attention to dealing with their other bad behavior—still exporting terrorism, destabilizing other regimes.
So, yes, there is a bucket of problems that we have to deal with that the Iranians are posing.
ROSE: But how do we deal with those problems because they are part of—
CLINTON: Charlie, I would rather deal with those with the nuclear program.
ROSE: I’m not arguing about the nuclear—
CLINTON: No, but this is a big deal because what the nuclear program literally under lid, so to speak—
CLINTON: Now, it’s not so, you know, important that we stay as focused. We have to enforce the agreement but we’re not spending all our time and effort dealing with their nuclear program which they really got under fast track when Bush was president and we had to deal with it.
Now we have to look at all their other bad behavior and we have to have the same kind of patient, strategic planning that went in to the agreement. You know, I started putting together the coalition to impose the sanctions within the first month of being in the secretary of state’s office. It takes time.
I had to convince the Russians and the Chinese. I had to convince the Europeans, especially the southern Europeans to give up oil and gas from Iran.
This was a long struggle, basically, but it was diplomacy that was day by day which reached results. Now we’ve got to take a look and say, OK, what is it we have to do? Well, clearly, we’ve got to keep forces in the Persian Gulf. We’ve got to do a better job dealing with our Gulf partners who I think are very short-sighted in failing to cooperate with one another, to deal with some of the threats.
ROSE: Yes, but I mean for many of our gulf partners, Iran is the biggest enemy there is. I mean it’s part of the Sunni-Shia split in the region.
CLINTON: Of course it is. Of course it is.
ROSE: And that’s why they want to get rid of Assad who is supported by the Iranians as you know.
CLINTON: And he’s an Alawites which is, you know, an off shoot of Shiism. Yes, we get all of that. But the good news out of the Iran agreement, as far as we know, they are not pursuing their own nuclear weapons right now. And that was a very real threat.
They understood that the agreement was better than they thought it would be, so they, too, can turn their attention to the rest of this bad behavior because what our big fear was, not only that we’d get a war over trying to prevent Iran from going forward with this program even if it was only two or three years, but that we would see a wicked race to proliferation in the Gulf.
ROSE: And this deal should stop that?
CLINTON: At least for the years that it’s in effect, as long as we enforce it.
ROSE: This conversation part is about American leadership.
ROSE: You suggested over the weekend I think that America should lead at the climate conference in Paris.
ROSE: How should America lead there and what are your expectations?
CLINTON: Well, I give kudos to the President. I think given the hand he was dealt by this congress and the difficulty in trying to come up with a credible plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our own country, he has played that hand very well. I mean a lot of the EPA moves, a lot of the Department of Transportation on greater mileage from cars and trucks and vehicles, I think he goes to Paris in a strong position to be able to say, look, we all have to come and agree.
CLINTON: He also comes with a commitment for the United States to do more on innovation and moving more quickly toward clean energy, and he comes with the great philanthropic commitment of Bill Gates.
ROSE: Do you think he’ll be successful? Yes, $100 million.
CLINTON: Yes, yes.
ROSE: You think so. You think we’ll find some progress because there is a sense of almost the urgency that we are talking about with respect to the Middle East?
CLINTON: Well, in many ways, Charlie, I mean the Middle East is a terrible, complex human problem. And it drives you crazy because you keep saying to yourself, if these people would only stop this, they could build economies, they could have so much to contribute to the world. So you rack your brain about this.
Climate change is such a consequential crisis to everybody in the world. And it is a great shame to the entire human race, but particularly to the advanced economies such as ours, that we haven’t made common cause to try to reverse or at least stabilize the temperature increase. And I’m really hoping that we get a good result out of Paris, and I think what the Chinese have done is really smart. You know, when President Obama and I crashed into their meeting in ’09 in Copenhagen, they were not happy to see us.
ROSE: Where are the Chinese?? Where are the Chinese?
CLINTON: Yes. But they did agree to begin voluntary recording and accountability. Now they’ve come with I think a 900-page report and they’ve said look, we have a lot of work to do, because they can’t breathe the air, their water is polluted. Their land is polluted. They have said, OK, we’re going to deal with this.
But you know what the real trick here is? They’re going to be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.
CLINTON: Unless we get there first or unless we are partners.
ROSE: It takes money as well does it not?
CLINTON: It takes money but they’re going to—they’re going to make big investments—
ROSE: Innovation and creativity.
CLINTON:?—in solar, in wind, and everything else. And then they’re going to be exporting and they’re going to be controlling that market unless we understand there is a huge economic opportunity that goes hand in hand with climate change.
ROSE: Let me ask you about trade, too.
ROSE: I mean how important—we have a vote coming up in Congress.
ROSE: Would you encourage—I mean trade is an important aspect. You were very strongly in favor of the trade agreement.
CLINTON: Well, I was in favor of the high hopes and standards for it. Right.
ROSE: That’s fair enough.
You understand the importance of trade.
CLINTON: Yes, of course I do. We’re 5 percent of the world’s population. If we’re going to grow, we have to sell to the other 95 percent. I absolutely understand that.
But here are two problems. One, I’ve had the same criteria for judging trade agreements for years. I voted for some and I voted against a big multi-national one when I was in the senate.
ROSE: But you were really in favor of this one?
CLINTON: No. It hadn’t even been negotiated.
ROSE: That’s the impression though as you know.
CLINTON: Well, I can’t help what impressions are. What I said from the beginning is it has to produce more good paying jobs for Americans. It has to raise Americans’ wages and it has to be in furtherance of our national security. So when it came out, you know, none of us saw the details until it was actually produced some few months ago.
In my opinion, it didn’t meet those standards. And so I said I’m against it. Now, I’m not against all trade, but I am against certain provisions of this, including the failure to integrate currency manipulation into the enforceable body of the agreement.
But there is another point I just want to quickly make which is, you know, the Republicans are always for every trade agreement. Trade if it’s going to be successful for the American worker, the American business, has to be more than just special deals for giant multi-national corporations who have some linkage to America.
And the Republicans have blocked every effort to raise the minimum wage, better training, apprenticeship programs, make education more affordable. They have blocked every effort to try to make sure American workers were as prepared as possible to compete and win in the global economy.
So, for me, the trade agreement on the merits is not one I can support and the failure to kind of make the other side of the equation fair so that more Americans will get the skills they need to be able to compete, you know, just makes it a decision that I’m not ready to take now.
ROSE: Would you encourage Democratic members of the Congress to vote against it?
CLINTON: I have stated my position, you know. If anybody wants to talk to me, they’re welcome to call me but I have stated my position and I will let the Congress work its will.
ROSE: You announced a significant idea about infrastructure.
ROSE: Why has it taken this country so long to deal with infrastructure? What’s the problem?
CLINTON: Well, the problem Charlie is that the Republicans don’t want to pay for anything. You know, when I was in the Senate, I was on the committee that was responsible for writing the bill, the Highway Transportation Bill. It was hard because we had a lot of back and forth, but we came out with a bill, we got it done.
There has not been a bill that has actually come out for years now. And, so the congress is in the middle of arguing about whether or not they can get a highway bill. But they don’t want anybody to pay anything for it. And so, they don’t want to use user fees. They don’t want any kind of fee that could be construed as a tax, OK.
CLINTON: At some point, you know, we are crumbling. I mean every independent assessment says the same thing. We have a failing grade or maybe at the most a D-minus—
ROSE: And putting our citizens at risk.
CLINTON: Well, and costing the money. You know, in a lot of places in this country, people pay a lot to fix axles and wheels and other things that are damaged by potted and deteriorating roads. We have a lot of bridges that if you had a choice you wouldn’t cross because they’re not in good shape.
Our airports—we don’t have a single airport in the top 20 airports in the entire world. The closest we get is Cincinnati at 30. I mean we have watched over deterioration, to say nothing of what you can’t see. Under the ground, you know, in New York we have water mains and sewer mains and gas lines—some of them are blowing up and some of them are cracking.
ROSE: So did we miss an opportunity during the first four years of the Obama administration to do more?
CLINTON: Well, we did as much as the Congress would let the administration do. The Recovery Act had “Build America” bonds. They had money going in to all kinds of construction. We could have done a lot more and we would be better off if we had.
ROSE: This campaign is about middle class economic future.
CLINTON: Right, right.
ROSE: Do you recommend cutting middle class taxes?
CLINTON: Well, not raising them, certainly.
ROSE: No, but didn’t you say you’re in favor of cutting them?
CLINTON: Well, I’m in favor of giving specific tax credits and breaks so that middle class families can meet some of their obligations. So for example, you know, more help on childcare, more help on care giving like taking care of an elderly relative with Alzheimer’s. Making sure we keep tax credits for education.
So in effect those are cutting taxes—not an across-the-board cut. They are tied to certain activities, you know, activities or services that middle class people need.
ROSE: But do you also urge raising income taxes on wealthy individuals?
CLINTON: On you and me? Yes.
ROSE: Yes. You and I’m included. True
ROSE: And I’m willing.
CLINTON: Yes. No, really.
I mean it is—the tax system truly is stacked for those on the top, and it is something that breeds so much resentment and grievance on the part of small businesses, on the part of hard-working people and, you know, the wealthy pay too little and middle class people pay too much and we’ve got to get a better balance.
We do need revenues. I’m not somebody who says we don’t. I just want to start with the people who actually can contribute more and make the tax system fair in the process.
ROSE: And what about corporate tax?
CLINTON: We’re going to have to take a hard look at it because right now we have a very high rate but the effective rate hardly ever reaches that.
ROSE: I know. There is over 35 percent. At the same time, I think the average is about 18 or 20 percent.
CLINTON: Yes. And some get away with nothing.
CLINTON: And so—look, I don’t want to stifle American entrepreneurialism. I don’t want to stifle American business, but I want to change the incentives. That’s why when I rolled out my economic plans I said, look, I want strong growth, fair growth and long-term growth. And the long-term growth may be the most important piece.
I’ll tell you just a very quick story. There was a survey done where CEOs of major American corporations were asked this question. If you knew an investment you could make today would pay off down the road by investing in plant and equipment, research and experimentation or worker training, but it would knock a penny off your share price, would you do it? And to a person, they said, no, we can’t, we can’t do it.
I actually called up someone we both know to say, seriously? Absolutely. It makes me sick to say was the response, but, no, we can’t, we will get hammered, we will be putting a big target on our chest for the activist shareholders. We can’t do it. Now, we must change those incentives. We need more patient capital. We need more investments at home.
ROSE: How about payroll tax.
CLINTON: Well, you know, the payroll taxes—
ROSE: I don’t know—what?
CLINTON: I don’t think it’s that big a deal.
ROSE: Is that right?
CLINTON: No because, you know, President Obama suspended it, nobody even noticed because we have to fund social security. That’s a different issue.
ROSE: Wouldn’t that put money in the pockets right away of the middle class?
CLINTON: It did but it wasn’t—it was not something that people really valued if you—from what I—
ROSE: Politically or economically?
CLINTON: Apparently both from the research that I’ve seen.
ROSE: Speaking of corporations.
Pfizer, Allergan—merger, move to Ireland, reduce your tax rate.
CLINTON: Right. Right.
ROSE: They say, meaning they will be able to have more money to spend because they’re not paying big taxes to develop new drugs. They say it’s in the interest of the public.
CLINTON: I never know what to make of these kinds of comments. Personally, I was deeply distressed by the Pfizer decision. And I know, for instance, that drug companies spend more money on advertising than they do on research in our country. And so when they say, oh, we’re going to be able to spend more money on research, I would love to know the numbers. I find that hard to buy.
I think there is a certain gamesmanship associated with it which I find really regrettable, you know. It’s, like, OK, if we can beat the system—and Ireland has had this big welcome sign, you know, we’re going to go down as low as we can—
CLINTON:?—I mean the rest of Europe is annoyed, the United States is annoyed, but I don’t think inversions should be legal and I know that the Justice Department and Treasury Department have looked at those. I don’t think they should be.
ROSE: The President said they’re unpatriotic.
CLINTON: Well, they are. I mean truly, when you think about it, I mean Pfizer is a New York company. That’s where its roots have been. And obviously, as time went by, it employed fewer people but it’s always been an American flagship company.
And for them to say, you know, this is just really a game—because if you listen to it, you know, how many executives are actually going to move to Dublin? No, they’re going to move virtually. They’re going to move, you know, the button you press on your computer to say this is where intellectual property now lives, you know, apparently in a castle outside of Dublin.
ROSE: They’re not going to pick up their factories and go—
CLINTON: Well no. They don’t have that many left and I’m sure they have a global reach on that. But it’s really a kick in the teeth. I mean this country has done more to inspire this kind of innovation than any place in the world.
ROSE: OK. But you have a lot of companies like Apple, for example, have a lot of money overseas.
ROSE: And they say, you know, make it more—give us some amnesty, do something, and we’ll bring that money home. What would you say?
CLINTON: We’ll have to look at all of that. I mean yes. But let me tell you—we did repatriate when I was in the Senate, OK, under George W. Bush. We repatriated, they said the same thing to us. And I know I had a parade of people coming in—CEOs and CFOs saying we really need to do this and when we get the money back, we’re going to do x, y, z. And what did they do? They bought back shares. They increased the dividends—
ROSE: And stock price—stock prices were up.
CLINTON:?—and they put more money into CEO pay and bonus. George W. Bush is on record as saying he would never have supported at the end because they all lied us to. So if we’re going to do a repatriation, it’s going to have to be rock solid and very clear about where that money goes and what it’s used for.
Now, I think we have to look at the entire corporate code. I don’t want to preside over an exodus of American companies. I want people coming here to invest. I want people, you know, building the next generation of whatever it is—clean energy, technology, you name it.
So I want to be a good president for business, but I also want to be a good president for everybody in America, not just for, you know, CEOs and activist shareholders.
ROSE: Have you suffered from the fact that they say you’re too close to Wall Street? Has that hurt your image, in your judgment, running for president?
CLINTON: I don’t think so. I mean look—
ROSE: Not in favor of corporate regulations as she should be, says Elizabeth Warren.
CLINTON: Well, all I know is that it was in 2007 that I called out Wall Street on the use of securities to, you know, play the mortgage market and called them out on the hedge fund loophole for carried interest.
I have been very outspoken on this. And I have stood for a lot of regulation on big banks and on the financial services sector. I also represented New York and represented everybody from the dairy farmers, you know, to the fishermen.
ROSE: From Wall Street to the dairy farmers.
CLINTON: Yes—everybody. And so yes, do I know people and did I help rebuild after 9/11? Yes, I did but —
ROSE: And did you take money from them, they would say.
CLINTON: Yes, but that has nothing to do with my position. Anybody who thinks that they can influence me on that ground doesn’t know me very well. And these guys know me and they, you know—
ROSE: Would you say the same thing when you see these reports about the foundation and money from the foundation while you were secretary of state, people were coming in to your—
CLINTON: It’s ludicrous. I mean it’s ludicrous. I mean there’s no there, there but the fact is I saw a lot of people when I was secretary of state and I worked really hard to increase exports from American businesses. I saw a lot of business people, I saw a lot of union leaders. I saw as many people as I could fit in the day who needed something from their government.
You know, somebody would—Fred Smith would call me up from FedEx and say the Chinese government is taking away our permits. We have been in China for decades doing Federal Express. Or Corning, a company that I knew well from my time in the senate—they’re trying to put a tariff on us that is going to drive us out of business. You know, I worked really hard to get more jobs for Americans, and that meant representing big business and small business and everybody in between.
ROSE: Do we need to regulate Wall Street more than—
CLINTON: We do. That’s why I have probably the toughest, most comprehensive plan and it goes way beyond Glass-Steagall. It is much broader than that. It looks at shadow banking. It looks at all of the parts of the financial markets that influenced what happened in ’08 but are not big banks like AIG, like Lehman Brothers. And Paul Krugman says I have the best plan. And Sherrod Brown who is a very tough—
ROSE: Senator from Ohio.
CLINTON:?—critic of the banks thinks I have the best plan.
ROSE: Right, OK.
Why do you want to be president? I mean you have had a remarkable life.
CLINTON: Yes, I have.
ROSE: You have been in the White House. There it is over there.
CLINTON: There it is, right.
Well, I’m not doing it to move back in, although it’s a wonderful place.
ROSE: So why are you doing it? I mean you know—is it about history? Is it about the first woman?
CLINTON: No, no. I mean that would all be an extra added part of it. But for me, I really love this country and I think this will be one of those watershed elections where we’re either going to get the economy to work for everybody or we are going to see increasing inequality and unfairness in a way that we haven’t seen since, you know, the 1920s.
We’re either going to figure out how to live together despite all of our differences, show respect for people, enforce human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights or we’re going to really have the balance shift dramatically against the kind of democracy that I believe in that I think works best for America and we’re either going to lead around the world or we’re going to take a back seat and pay a big price for it.
So there is a lot at stake in this election and, you know, the Republicans are certainly spurring me on because of what they say and how they say it and their values which are so negative and really mean-spirited in lots of ways.
So I believe that we’ve got to wage and win an election about the future and the kind of country we want to have for, you know, my grandchild.
ROSE: How is she doing?
CLINTON: She’s great. We had Thanksgiving with her. It was marvelous.
ROSE: Thank you for coming.
CLINTON: Thank you.
ROSE: Pleasure to see you.
CLINTON: Good to talk to you.