...During his trip [in late 2000] to Vietnam, the president pointedly did
not apologize for American involvement. What can you tell us about the
discussions about that issue...?|
Well, first of all, I think that he, as well as all of us, saw this as a
historic trip. I had been to Vietnam a couple of times as secretary of state,
and had met with the leaders, talked about an issue that is so vital to us,
which is the MIA/POW returns.... But I think that the point here was to talk
about the sacrifices made by Americans that had been a part of it, and by the
sacrifices of the Vietnamese themselves, and that it made sense to talk about
it in historical terms. And then to also make clear that we wanted to look to
the future. That it was a historical experience, obviously deeply ingrained in
our lives and in their lives, but that it was important to think about a future
relationship with the Vietnamese. ...
Given Bill Clinton's own objections to the war in Vietnam, and the fact that
this became a campaign issue in 1992 was there a particular poignancy to
Clinton himself going? Did you talk to him about that?
I think he felt that it was very important to go ... and that it was
important to close that chapter. I think he felt that it was an important trip
to take, and that it was an essential part of America's new relationship, not
only with Vietnam but with Asia, and generally his approach to new beginnings
and trying to sort out relationships for the 21st century.
Just before the trip, you were in North Korea.... Tell us a little bit
about that and explain whether there was a surreal quality to visiting the
Well, first of all, I think it's very important to put the trip into
context in our relations with North Korea. The Korean peninsula has been --
you know, we've talked about it as the most dangerous place in the world, and
the last vestige of the Cold War. And I'd been to Republic of Korea, South
Korea, any number of times, and been to the demilitarized zone, both as UN
ambassador, and then as secretary, and that was surreal. I mean, you stand on
one side and look across to this really deserted place with 37,000 American
So having a different relationship with North Korea, potentially, is one of the
last vestiges of the Cold War that have to be dealt with. I think you have to
look at it in that context, as well as ... whether the North Koreans were ready
to [have] a potentially positive relationship with us, and South Korea, and the
Japanese, or whether this was all going to deteriorate....
I had probably about 12 hours of time with Kim Jong Il himself, six in
real meetings, and other in various kinds of social occasions. [I] tried to
see whether there's something that we can do about what is considered a great
threat to us -- which is their missile potential, and their export of missile
technology to other countries, and, generally, their military power -- and what
can be done to defuse this very dangerous situation....
Do you see Clinton wanting to leave that as part of his legacy of a path
I think that we are talking about what the possibilities are, and one of
the things that President Clinton has talked about, generally, is his approach
to foreign policy. He has seen the world as interdependent. The United
States, obviously, is the superpower but very much a part of an interdependent
world. He's been the first real post-Cold War president and understands
globalization in a way that I don't think anybody else does -- frankly, in a
very vast way -- and how it affects American domestic politics and how you deal
with other people. I think that he has wanted to generally open relations with
countries. He considers it not useful to have the silent approach. He
believes that a lot can be done if you engage and you talk. So we will see how
this works out, but we are on a path that potentially could change the whole
dynamic of the Korean peninsula and of East Asia.
The other main foreign policy story near the end of 2000 was the Middle
East. More than 200 dead, 7,000 wounded in the fighting. Was there a sense in
the administration that the Camp David talks, in the summer, had failed?
...I think in the time that President Clinton has been in office, a
great deal of progress was made in getting the Palestinians and Israelis to
deal with each other, to talk with each other. You have to go back to that
incredible ceremony in September 1993 over which the president presided,
literally, by putting his arms out, and getting Prime Minister Rabin and
Chairman Arafat to sign a statement of principles, to shake hands, and to move
forward on what has come to be known as the Oslo process, the interim
We took that very far, and did the agreement at Wye that was to carry
out various steps of it. But the interim process was based on the fact that
there would be a step by step approach by the leaders of the Israelis and the
Palestinians to learn to work with each other on a set of functional issues
that would then lead to the possibilities of permanent status talks. That they
would learn to work with each other in a way that would make these existential,
very difficult permanent status talks more possible.
It was designed for Prime Minister Rabin and for Chairman Arafat, and as
we know, the huge tragedy of Prime Minister Rabin being assassinated,
complicated that process in the most incredible ways. Something that was
supposed to add lubricant to what would be a permanent status discussion
actually ended up being like sandpaper.
And we had had many, many discussions with the Israelis and the
Palestinians. And a lot of shuttle diplomacy -- Ambassador Ross and I going
back and forth, and the president, in countless phone conversations with both
Arafat and Barak, and before that, with Netanyahu, and meetings at the White
House, and all kinds of various things. And yet we were very concerned at the
beginning of the summer that those talks weren't getting anywhere and that
violence was imminent. We had to start talking about the permanent status
issues, which are refugees, territory, borders, Jerusalem. And those are
obviously issues that are of such depth and existential importance, that,
ultimately, if there's ever to be a solution to the Middle East, they're going
to have to be talked about....
What was his reaction to what happened when the violence erupted in the fall
Well, I think he considers it a huge tragedy and tries on a daily basis
to break the cycle of violence. This was something that's very much on his
mind. For instance, when we were in Brunei, he was making phone calls to the
region... He always has his mind on trying to deal with the Middle East
Give us a sense of what it was like back in July at Camp David, when the
president's up half the night shuttling between the various cabins over there.
What was it like atmospherically?
...We all worked constantly. Because the president is a night person,
and because both Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak are night people, the
whole schedule kind of got reversed, and you'd actually make an arrangement to
have a meeting at midnight, or 2:00 in the morning.
And so it was very much working through the night, and practically
working 24 hours straight. The president was so involved that it's impossible
to separate him from any part of this. We sat in his cabin for most of the
time and worked with him. Then he would call people in and [sit] at what is
their dining room table in the presidential cabin, with pieces of paper that he
himself had outlined, what he wanted to talk about, as he brought either the
Israeli team or the Palestinian team in.
We also kind of moved around. There was unfortunately, a lot of rain,
and we were on the little golf carts, buzzing around, trying not to be totally
soaked, or ruin Camp David.
But there was a lot of work. What I found very interesting -- and this
has been the pattern for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations -- is that while the
negotiating part is very tough, when we met for meals, there's great
camaraderie, and a lot of understanding. The Palestinian-Israeli negotiators
know about each other's families and about birthdays and various other aspects
of their lives. And then there are very tough negotiations.
[The] atmosphere was very intense, and the most intense moments really
were when the president -- he had a time frame, because he had to go to Japan
for the G-8, and it looked as though the thing was going to break down and --
In fact it was announced that, that the talks had broken off.
Right, and this has to do with, I think, the personal aspects that
everybody had some involvement in. We all went down to have a meal. It was
over, and both the Palestinian and the Israeli negotiators came up to each of
us Americans and said, "Well, it can't be over, you can't let this happen."
And so it was that intensity of people knowing each other, and knowing
that a failure would be disastrous, that the president ... asked them to stay
with me, and we were able to continue the discussions....
At the end of Camp David, the president went out of his way to praise Barak,
and pointedly left Arafat out of that praise. Had Clinton felt personally
betrayed by Arafat? Or was he immensely disappointed in Arafat at the end of
He wanted to point out was the following. Prime Minister Barak had been
elected on a peace platform, and had in fact been very forthcoming, even in the
lead-up to Camp David. He is the one who kept saying "I was elected to do
peace. We need to have peace. We need to keep pursuing this." He was a
driving force... The president felt that Prime Minister Barak had really put a
great deal of himself into this, and Prime Minister Barak arrived at Camp
David, having just survived a vote of no confidence, and really put himself
into it. I think that what the president wanted to do was to point [out] the
boldness of what Prime Minister Barak was doing. I think one can honestly say
that he was disappointed that Chairman Arafat was not, at that stage, able to
respond to some of the issues.
In Newsweek this week, there's a quote from Joseph Alpher, who is
working for the Israeli delegation. His quote is "In retrospect, after the
violence, [Camp David] was a colossal error."
I don't believe it was a colossal error, because we were concerned about
violence before. Nobody went in to Camp David naively. It came about as a
result of concern that nothing was happening, that there was increasing danger
of violence, that the subjects had to be talked about, and that they will,
ultimately, be the issues that have to be resolved, if there is to be peace. I
think the violence is a huge tragedy. There's no way to describe it in any
other way... But I don't think it's as a result of Camp David. On the
contrary, I think that Camp David provides a basis for future solutions.
Backing up a little bit, now, to Kosovo.... Why did you and the president,
at the beginning of the air campaign, decide to at least publicly leave a
ground war off the table?
Well, I think that what we wanted to do was to make clear there was a
way to deal with it through bombing. Frankly, I wish that we had left all the
options on the table early on, as you look upon it. But I think at the time
there was the sense that we had to deal with American public opinion, with the
Congress, and also with the Europeans. I think if one looks back -- I
personally wish that we had left that option on the table more clearly....
Did President Clinton fear that by leaving a ground war on the table early
public opinion would sink any mission in Kosovo, especially with the concerns
coming out of Congress at the time?
Well, I think if you remember there was always a lot of discussion about
what we were doing in the Balkans anyway. Why did we have forces in Bosnia?
Why did we care? And the president systematically made the argument that the
Balkans were important to what we were trying to do in Europe generally.
When the president came in he felt that it was very important to have a
Europe that was undivided and free, democratic. And a lot of the things that
we did directly were part of that and understanding what the mission of NATO
was to be in the 21st century. Enlargement of NATO is one of the really
important landmarks and credits to President Clinton, [and] dealing with the
Balkans as the missing piece of a Europe that could claim that it was undivided
and free was an essential aspect of what we were doing.
And yet there are a lot of people [who thought] why bother? Let the
Europeans do it. And it was very evident that without American leadership
nothing would have happened. But it did take a systematic education of the
American public and Congress to try to deal with the issue... I think,
frankly, we were concerned about undoing what we had been able to accomplish in
Bosnia, and it was a systematic effort to try to do it with as little as
possible American ground involvement.
As the air war wore on the administration started getting a fair amount of
criticism. There was a point at which it was called "Madeleine's War." Was
there a great personal investment on your part in this particular crisis? Did
you have a very personal interest in this?
Well the answer is yes, because I believed very much that the Balkans
were important, and that it was important for us to finish the job in Europe.
What had happened in Europe -- the division -- was the disaster of the 20th
century, and I thought that going into the 21st century, to support what the
president wanted, we should try to finish the job in the Balkans....
I believe in the goodness of American power. I believe that we have
responsibilities. And that doesn't mean that the United States has to be
everywhere, all the time, with everything, but that there are certain parts of
the world, and certain situations, including humanitarian disasters, where the
presence of the United States, in some form, makes a huge difference.
Do you recall any meetings with President Clinton at which he seemed
concerned that the air war wasn't working quickly enough?
Well, I think we all were concerned about how it was proceeding, what we
should do, and whether Milosevic would actually and ultimately understand that
he was in a no-win situation. But the other part that I think is very
important for people to know is the president saw the Balkans as a region, a
whole, that had to be dealt with in the long run to provide it economic
stability and democracy, which is something that is going on now. That comes
out of the fact that we were able to have a successful air war, that Serbia is
now a free country, and that it can be part of a stable Balkans.
There [was] one very important meeting in the spring, where we all came
into the Cabinet room, and were talking about how to prosecute the war. I had
started out by saying that we had to see this as more than just the war, the
bombing, but what really had to happen with the Balkans to make it work. And
we talked about what has now turned into the stability pact, the way that the
regional countries could work together. I remember after everybody had gone
through the various military things [the president] said, "Let's get back to
what Madeleine was talking about, about the future of the Balkans, and not just
on what is happening at this particular moment."
He saw it as something that was very much a part of the story of Europe,
whole and free. And when he met with members of Congress about it, he talked
about the importance of stopping disintegration and the effect of having
unhappy Muslim populations in the Balkans on the Middle East. So he saw it as
part of a continuum.
...Did you notice a change in how the president addressed [the Balkans]
from, from one term to the next?
Well, I think that you have to understand the continuum of foreign
policy.... I was ambassador at the United Nations [during his first
term]. There was this kind of sense, "Well, let the UN do it." The UN was
kind of on a upswing in terms of being able to do the things that people
thought it had been set out to do in 1945. There was just a general sense that
the United States didn't have to do everything alone, and it was within that
context, I think, that the first Clinton term operated doing many more things,
multilaterally. But I do think that as the president saw that the situation
could not be solved by the Europeans he then believed that a more active
American role was essential. And I think that he himself became much more
involved in various aspects of foreign policy.
Did he show personal anger at Milosevic? Was he upset about the kind of
abuses that were taking place in --
-- Kosovo? Was that part of his change in approach?
Well, I think that a lot of this has to do with when we all learned
[more] about what Milosevic was doing... The president, who is a very humane
person, was very angry, and believed that this was not the kind of thing that
should be happening at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the
21st. [He] believed that the U.S. could make a difference, and we did make a
Did you see a definite change in him as a leader by the time he dealt with
Well, I think that everybody grows in their role, and understands
issues. I think the thing that attracted me to [President Clinton] in the
first place was his ability to integrate domestic and foreign policy. You
know, there were lots of jokes about "It's the economy, stupid." And it became
very evident to him, very quickly, that it wasn't just the American economy,
stupid; it was the international economy. And he more and more understood --
and in a way that I think is unparalleled -- the integration of various parts
of foreign policy...
And what I think is so important and interesting, and I see this from a
different angle maybe than other people, is the huge respect that he is held in
internationally.... He is a figure of such huge proportion,
internationally, and so respected, that his personal involvement in things is
just called for by the others... Clearly there's kind of a biofeedback that
comes from that, and he understands, increasingly, the power of the United
States and his own personal possibilities.
Back in '98, there were some awkward foreign policy moments because they
were going on at the same time as impeachment. A decision had to be made to
bomb Iraq, which actually held back the impeachment. Tell us a little bit
about what it was like dealing with a national security crisis at a moment the
president of the United States is being impeached.
Well, you know, I actually thought it would have more of an effect than
it did. It did not. The president was in every meeting that we wanted to have
with him. He was focused. There's some people who say that he
compartmentalizes. ... He worked with us very closely, and I felt that he was
always available and always there.
The foreign leaders frankly didn't understand what was going on here and
why this was happening. If you go back when the president spoke at the [UN]
General Assembly in New York that year, he got a standing ovation. It was an
example of the outpouring of the international community for what they thought
President Clinton represented personally, and as the United States.
And so I have to say while this was obviously a very difficult period
for the United States and, obviously, for President Clinton personally, it did
not affect foreign policy.
Shortly after the grand jury testimony, there was a decision to retaliate
against Osama Bin Laden. That was a very dramatic time. The president was at
Camp David [and] had to come back to make the announcement. There were these
allegations in the press about "wag the dog." Tell us a little bit about the
tension that must have been evident at that moment.
Well, I think that we figured that despite the fact that there were
those kinds of statements going on, that we had to do what we had to do. The
national security team is a very close team, and we see each other and talk to
each other constantly, and kind of felt that we had a responsibility ... to go
forward. The president was always there and totally responsible and engaged.
I know there may be people who criticize him for his compartmentalization, but
for foreign policy, it never interfered...
Going back to January 23rd, that's the Cabinet meeting at which you and
several other Cabinet members come out in front of the White House, and suggest
that you believed the president has told you the truth on Monica Lewinsky.
When you find out that in fact you haven't been told the truth, what is your
Well, first of all, I did believe the president when he spoke to us
January 23rd. I clearly was deeply disappointed, personally. We had a meeting
in the residence of the whole Cabinet. The president explained and apologized,
which he has done to the American people... I am the senior member of the
Cabinet, and I spoke about how disappointed we were, and that we had to move
I think that it was a very personal meeting, one [in which] the president was
very open with his Cabinet. You know what I find interesting? There are
historians who are saying that the president's Cabinet, throughout the two
terms, has been the longest-lasting, and one that was more loyal than any
other. I pride myself on that, and I think the other members of the Cabinet do
Going back to January 1994, you are on a trip with the president to meet
with Vaclav Havel, you're going to Czechoslovakia. It's a very important trip
for the president. During this time the Whitewater scandal is breaking, and
the president is just peppered with questions by virtually the entire press
corps while he's over there. What do you remember about that time? I remember
scenes where the president was visibly angry at being asked about this sort of
domestic tempest while he's on this trip?
... I have to say that foreign leaders and foreign audiences never quite
understand the traveling press that is so focused on a domestic issue. While
you're having a press conference with X foreign leader, they are focused on
some minute part of an American issue, Whitewater in that case. And it's a
little bit embarrassing, more to the American press, if I might be so frank,
that looks very, kind of pedantic, and also very provincial, without
understanding, fully, the important of whatever this visit is... So I think
the president, in pushing back on the questions, is basically more embarrassed
for the picture that we present as Americans, when you're in a great historic
occasion and the press is so focused on something domestic...
You talked a little bit ago about "the economy, stupid," -- the domestic
economy being Clinton's campaign theme, especially in the first term. Some of
the people we talked to suggested that early in the presidency, he wasn't very
much interested in foreign policy.... Was that a fair
Well, I have to say, I'm not sure it's fair. I was ambassador to the UN and I
had any number of meetings with the president and... he was very involved in
foreign policy from the way that I saw it. We were dealing with Somalia. We
were dealing with Bosnia. I do think, however, that in terms of priorities he
had decided that he wanted to deal with the economy. And it turned out that it
was a very wise thing to do because our fiscal problems and our huge budget
deficits were actually affecting the international economy....
I think it was time well-spent from my perspective now as secretary of state,
because [of] his understanding of how the international economy affects our
lives, and the prosperity that it has brought. When he leaves office President
Clinton will have turned over a country which is more prosperous than ever,
with greater peace than ever before, and I think that is a very worthy thing to
have done. And the way that he divided his time, I think turns out to be
When you look back and see Bill Clinton's evolution as a statesman, what's
the most striking thing to you from early Clinton to Clinton as he left
First of all, I think that it's obvious that people grow in their jobs. I
mean, that is the way life exists, and nobody ever arrives fully formed within
the job, although I think that his credentials for dealing with foreign policy
far outweigh those of many previous presidents.
I'm very proud of the fact he went to the Georgetown School of Foreign Service,
where I taught later. I know what students were like there. People don't go
to that school unless they want to do foreign policy.... When he interviewed
me for the job for UN ambassador we had very detailed discussions, and he said
to me, "Gosh, if I weren't about to be president, I'd love to be ambassador to
the UN." So he was very inclined towards foreign policy.
But the way I think that he has changed is to fully absorb the huge personal
capacity that he has to effect change. I think it must be very hard to
understand that your personal involvement in something can really make a
difference, because even though you're president, you're still an
individual.... So he has evolved to fully understand the possibilities of the
power that he has, and has involved himself very deeply....
When you look back, what is the single largest regret about the way Clinton
handled foreign policy? If you can name one.
Well, I think that that's very hard, because he's handled it well. I think
that our main regret, all of ours, is obviously that we haven't been able to
accomplish more on the Middle East. And I think a big regret is the fact that
we haven't gotten all the support out of Congress that is necessary to carry on
a robust foreign policy. So the size of the budget for foreign policy I think
is something that he regrets. We've talked about that. That he wishes that
there were a way for us to be able to support the new democracies better, but
there's not enough money. I think that is the regret.
Madam Secretary, how do you see the president continuing his role as a
foreign policy leader once he leaves office?
I think he'll be very involved in foreign policy, and we have talked about
that. He believes that he can continue to have relationships with many of the
leaders. Many of them have talked to him, saying, "You have to continue to
stay involved."... President Jiang Zemin specifically said, "You have made a
difference in the way that China and the United States are dealing with each
I also think that he has understood that there are new foreign policy issues.
The AIDS epidemic or the environmental issues -- that a country can evolve
economically and still be environmentally sound... He [is] able to integrate
various aspects of the new foreign policy and the number of countries that are
involved in the post-Cold War world and what the 21st century ought to look
like. I think that it will be a service to the world to have Bill Clinton
continue to be involved in foreign policy....
In the fall of 2000, the country woke up one day and saw a remarkable
picture of people taking the streets in Belgrade and essentially Milosevic
being forced out. What was the president's reaction to that day?
Well, you know, part of the problem was I wasn't with him. I was on an
airplane, and I was told about this myself, and thanks to my office, I actually
taped everything that was on television. I could see the excitement of it.
But when I got back, we obviously talked about the fact that this was a truly
important victory for the Serbian people, and how we were pleased for them, and
that it was something that we'd done that had worked....
...When it became clear that Milosevic was in fact being forced out, did the
president have a sense of vindication about what you had done?
Absolutely, and I think that we felt that it was obviously very difficult to
stay focused on what had to be done in the Balkans. It still is going to be
difficult to stay focused about what has to be done in the Balkans. But I
believe we did the right thing. The president certainly believes we did the
right thing. Because we have given the Serbian people an opportunity that the
rest of Europe has, which is to choose their own leader, to choose their own
way of life, and be part, not only of a functioning Balkan peninsula, but,
ultimately, of this new Europe that is integrated and free and undivided.
... And so it was the last piece left. The president's determination, and the
skill of the American military made this happen, and of course it's a
vindication. But the vindication will ultimately come when we have continued
to help those countries, not just Serbia but Croatia and Bosnia, and the other
parts of the former Yugoslavia, be at a level with the rest of Europe. And
there's a long way to go.
I think that the hardest part about foreign policy is to understand that it is
a continuum, that you have to sustain what is being done, and as a new
administration takes over, that certain policies are pursued. Just as we were
left certain things on the table, we are obviously leaving some positive and
some negative, for the next people to come on, and the president and I have
talked about this a lot.
It was so evident at this amazing dinner at the White House celebrating the
200th anniversary of the White House that the institutions of the United States
are strong and continue, and each of us is here only temporarily to play our
part. It's a huge responsibility and each person has made a difference, and
you pick up a story and you leave it for the next people. But that is the
strength of America, and President Clinton has contributed, richly, to what
this country is about.