Foreign Policy Highlights from the HRC Interview

August 11, 2014

Jeffrey Goldberg recently interviewed Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and US Senator and likely future presidential candidate. The interview revealed some of her most overt foreign policy disagreements with President Obama to date and her most substantive foreign policy remarks since leaving Foggy Bottom. Here are the highlights:

 

Foreign Policy Vision

“I think we’ve learned about the limits of our power to spread freedom and democracy. That’s one of the big lessons out of Iraq. But we’ve also learned about the importance of our power, our influence, and our values appropriately deployed and explained…. My passion is, let’s do some after-action reviews, let’s learn these lessons, let’s figure out how we’re going to have different and better responses going forward.”

“You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward.”

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

“Now the big mistake was thinking that, okay, the end of history has come upon us, after the fall of the Soviet Union. That was never true, history never stops and nationalisms were going to assert themselves, and then other variations on ideologies were going to claim their space. Obviously, jihadi Islam is the prime example, but not the only example—the effort by Putin to restore his vision of Russian greatness is another. In the world in which we are living right now, vacuums get filled by some pretty unsavory players.”

“People assume that we’re going to have to do what we do so long as it’s not stupid, but what people want us to focus on are problems here at home. If you were to scratch below the surface on that—and I haven’t looked at the research or the polling—but I think people would say, first things first. Let’s make sure we are taking care of our people and we’re doing it in a way that will bring rewards to those of us who work hard, play by the rules, and yeah, we don’t see the world go to hell in a handbasket, and they don’t want to see a resurgence of aggression by anybody.”

Egypt

“I think [deposed Egyptian President Dr. Mohammad] Morsi was naïve. I’m just talking about Morsi, not necessarily anyone else in the Muslim Brotherhood. I think he genuinely believed that with the legitimacy of an elected Islamist government, that the jihadists would see that there was a different route to power and influence and would be part of the political process.”

“The Muslim Brotherhood had the most extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate the potential for an Islamist movement to take responsibility for governance, and they were ill-prepared and unable to make the transition from movement to responsibility…. The jury is out as to whether they morph into a violent jihadist resistance group.”

Iran

“I’ve always been in the camp that held that [the Iranians] did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.”

Intervention in Syria and Libya

“So you can go back and argue either, we should we have helped the people of Libya try to overthrow a dictator who, remember, killed Americans and did a lot of other bad stuff, or we should have been on the sidelines. In this case we helped, but that didn’t make the road any easier in Syria, where we said, ‘It’s messy, it’s complicated, we’re not sure what the outcome will be.’”

“I can’t sit here today and say that if we had done what I recommended [in Syria], and what Robert Ford recommended, that we’d be in a demonstrably different place…. I know that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”

Israel-Palestine

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict and wanted to do so in order to leverage its position, having been shut out by the Egyptians post-Morsi, having been shunned by the Gulf, having been pulled into a technocratic government with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority that might have caused better governance and a greater willingness on the part of the people of Gaza to move away from tolerating Hamas in their midst. So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.”

“I had the last face-to-face negotiations between Abbas and Netanyahu. [Secretary of State John] Kerry never got there.”

Islamists

“Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’être is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.”

“Because for whatever reason, whatever combination of reasons, there hasn’t been the soil necessary to nurture the political side of the experience, for people whose primary self-definition is as Islamists.”

“I would not put Hamas in the category of people we could work with. I don’t think that is realistic because its whole reason for being is resistance against Israel, destruction of Israel, and it is married to very nasty tactics and ideologies, including virulent anti-Semitism. I do not think they should be in any way treated as a legitimate interlocutor, especially because if you do that, it redounds to the disadvantage of the Palestinian Authority, which has a lot of problems, but historically has changed its charter, moved away from the kind of guerrilla resistance movement of previous decades.”