Former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger
Video from the “Conversations on Diplomacy” is available on the Charlie Rose Show homepage at http://www.charlierose.com/.
MR. ROSE: We’re at the State Department in Washington, D.C. for a special edition of Charlie Rose. It is called “Conversations on Diplomacy.” We inaugurate the series with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Other former Secretaries of State will follow. It is an opportunity to hear these men and women who have served as Secretary of State talk with Secretary Clinton about today’s issues, the philosophical framework for decision-making, our changing world and new realities. Also, to look back at the history of each. What can we learn from their experience? How do they view with 20/20 hindsight their action and their failure to act?
Secretary of State is a remarkable position held by a stunning group of Americans from Thomas Jefferson to George Marshall to Hillary Clinton, also other familiar names in American history like John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William Jennings Bryan, Charles Evans Hughes, Dean Acheson, Ed Muskie, and many more. They have come from an extraordinary diversity of experience, from university professor to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, from politics to law. After the recent death of Warren Christopher, there are eight living Secretaries of State. There are, of course, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Lawrence Eagleburger, James Baker, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger.
These conversations are being recorded at the State Department where room by room you can see America’s history and the object of history, and also a wonderful collection of American paintings and decorative art. The rooms are named for former Secretaries of State. The John Quincy Adams room is home to the desk at which the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the American Revolutionary War. The treaty was signed by John Jay, John Adams, and Ben Franklin. These rooms have witnessed historic meetings between American officials and foreign ministers and heads of state. We take note of the 50th anniversary of these rooms and the Patrons of Diplomacy Initiative.
We begin our conversations on diplomacy with Secretary of State Clinton and former Secretary of State Kissinger. Secretary Clinton came to this office after serving as first lady of Arkansas and the United States, and the United States senator from New York. She was appointed by President Obama after a spirited contest for the Democratic nomination for president.
Secretary Kissinger was a Harvard professor, National Security Advisor for President Nixon, and Secretary of State in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
I first want to thank Secretary Clinton for allowing us to come here at the State Department in these historic rooms.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Charlie, we delighted to have you here for these conversations, and especially in these rooms which have seen a lot of history and which continue to help us chart our way forward. And I’m especially pleased to welcome back Dr. Kissinger for today’s discussion.
MR. ROSE: How do you see this world that has emerged? What are the factors, what’s the opportunity for the United States? Where do we want to go and how do we want to use our resources?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think about that question every day because, although there is a very clear continuity in American foreign policy that I would argue goes back to the very beginning of our country, every era presents its own challenges and opportunities. And today in this first part of the 21st century we clearly continue to spend an extraordinary amount of our time on state-to-state relationships. But we increasingly are focused on networks, on multilateral relationships and organizations, on charting the changes that are sweeping the world, many of them driven by technology and trying to understand the implications of those changes for the decisions that we make here.
There are many more actors who have a role to play and who are demanding that that role be recognized today. And we have to keep up with it. The flood of information that now comes to us, not just from traditional media but from all of the new forms of media, we’re just as likely to see events starting from Twitter feeds as from the statements of heads of state. And, therefore, we’ve had to adjust, and it has been one of my goals as Secretary of State to really look at 21st century statecraft and to recognize the increasing role that people-to-people diplomacy plays in assisting the United States in understanding trends, and in influencing decisions.
So it’s been — I would hesitate to characterize completely, but it’s been a very active and challenging period for the last two-plus years.
MR. ROSE: I somewhere read that you’ve gone over the 512,000 miles.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, but who’s counting?
MR. ROSE: And 83 countries.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, yes.
MR. ROSE: Secretary Kissinger, when you were Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, there were two great superpowers Russia and the United States. Today, people say that there are limits on our power and that the United States has to live in a different world.
SECRETARY KISSINGER: Well, first of all, let me say what a pleasure it is to be back here. And as part of the community of former Secretaries of State who have a nonaggression treaty with each other –
MR. ROSE: A nonaggression treaty?
SECRETARY KISSINGER: They know what this job is like, and they know how close the decisions are that need to be made. So in all cases they would have great sympathy for their successors, and in this case it goes back a long time.
Now, when I served, we had two great superpowers, and we lived with the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe, which is, from that point of view, less likely today. But even then there were limits to American power, and the art of foreign policy is to operate at the limit of your power but not to go beyond it, and to recognize that other countries must feel they’re part of the international system or the tensions become unmanageable.
What is unique about this period, I think, is that for the first time in history, there are huge changes going on simultaneously in every part of the world, and that these changes are not of the same nature. In Europe, where the state system originated, the state is losing its significance, and they’re trying to form a larger unit. In the Middle East, the states never took hold in the same manner and on the same pages, and there is a religious overtone to the contest. In Asia the states have a character more similar to what the European states used to have.
So all I’m saying is that when the Secretary today has to make a decision, she is not talking about the same phenomenon in every part of the world. She has to understand the different cultures, the different histories, and she has to try to bring that into a coherent relationship. And for
Americans who did not until fairly recently have to engage in foreign policy on a regular basis, that is a tough road.
MR. ROSE: Secretary Clinton, what do you think the world and member states of the world community expect from the United States? What kind of leadership?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that the United States remains a dominant power in the world today, the dominant power on many measures. But as Henry said, the art of diplomacy is to balance the power you have with the aims you seek in an attempt to bring as many people with you in a common effort and to draw lines where one must to protect your interests and your security and advance your values. I think there is a lot of questioning and even some anxiety in the world today, particularly among leaders and among intellectuals about what it is that we are trying to achieve. Where is America heading? What are our goals?
Because we’re living in a time of such rapid change, and I think President Obama has rightly captured the feeling of that by the embodiment that he represents of that change and by his very focused effort to reach out to the rest of the world while demonstrating America’s continuing influence and power. So what do people expect of us? Sometimes what they publicly say they expect of us is very different than what they privately say they expect of us. We all the time –
MR. ROSE: Can you explain that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, yes, to some extent.
We all the time encounter in relations with other countries a desire for the United States to take a position on an issue that may be of importance to them, and even to us, and they think it’s very important that we become involved, and usually on their side. But I’ve also seen those who say publicly we don’t want the United States involved, and then privately to us are very much begging us to be involved.
So I think there’s an uncertainty on a lot of different levels right now about power, about the future of states, about the role of religion, which is increasingly challenging in many parts of the world, about, you know, the rise of powers like China and the role that India and Brazil and others will play. So there’s a lot of questioning, but it’s been my experience in the last two and a half years that more often than not, people come expecting the United States to be if not fixing problems, to be part of fixing whatever problems an individual state has or a region has. And our biggest — one of our biggest foreign policy challenges right now is to get our own house in order. That is something that we — I feel very strongly about, I know the President does as well, because we have to consolidate our own economic and political position in order to be able to continue to influence events in the future.
MR. ROSE: As you have said and the President said no country can long maintain, you know, its geopolitical position if its economy is suffering.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right. Well, but it’s also important to keep the American people feeling very positive about the direction of our own country because that influences what kind commitment a government can make. Even in the most authoritarian regimes around the world people are listening to the opinions of their public because those publics now have many more ways of expressing that opinion. And so there’s a growing effort to make sure that your views and your actions at home and abroad are aligned with what public opinion is.
MR. ROSE: The Arab spring, from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Bahrain, how do you see this? What is a strategic opportunity for the United States? And let’s take Libya first.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Whether it’s Libya or Tunisia or Egypt or Syria or Yemen, there is an overall arc of action occurring, some of which are hopeful and some of which are very troubling. And I think Henry can look at that from a broader strategic perspective.
SECRETARY KISSINGER: I look at it — the Secretary has to make the day-to-day decisions as such a crisis develops. From my present posture I look at it as a historian primarily, and so there are a number of rules that I apply to revolutions.
One is you cannot judge the outcome of a revolution by the proclamations of those who make it. Secondly, those who make it rarely survive the process of the revolution, and so that the second wave of the revolution is tremendously important. Third, the greater the upheaval that the revolution causes, the more likely is it that the — in order to restore order and a sense of legitimacy, that — that a lot of force gets used. So when one looks at the process — so I look at the process not in terms of what to do tomorrow because that I couldn’t really affect and I wouldn’t really know.
But I would make some judgments as to where this is going. And I was in a program with you earlier, and I warned against the extreme enthusiasm in some of the media about the inevitable progress that this was going to have in every — in every part of the world. So I think we are
now in scene one of act one of a five-act drama that will develop over a considerable period of time and in which we have to determine our interests, our range of influence, and what conflicting motivations may be involved.
MR. ROSE: Speak to our interests and our influence.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if we’re looking at our interests, our interests are to see a peaceful, stable transition to a more representative form of government in which institutions are able to democratize over time and people are given the opportunity to make more decisions about their own lives, but to do so in a way that does not exacerbate preexisting differences, particularly sectarian differences, that doesn’t create more discrimination against any group, including women, but instead leads to a broader base for stability of the right kind, a market economy that can function without the pressures from corruption, the ability of a government to be responsive to the needs of its people instead of just to a privileged elite, and a sense that the population itself is becoming more integrated into the larger world.
I mean, one of the problems about the Middle East and North Africa is that this region of the world did not grow and prosper during the last 50 years when all of the rest of the world did. Now, with great resources in some but not all of the countries, there was a more — a more of a focus on development which produced goods for people. But in many of the countries there was further and deeper poverty, and there was no real effort to chart a course of development that would move people upward on the scale of accomplishment, educational attainment, and the like.
So you’re looking at a part of the world that the Arab Development Reports started saying in 2002 was really being left out. So it was only a matter of time before people who are now connected by the Internet, who had access to satellite television, were going to say, “Wait a minute. Is there something different between us and the Chinese or the Koreans or the Colombians or the Brazilians? The answer is no. So why is it we are not in some way making this kind of material progress, let alone democratic progress?”
So it’s been — it’s been a long time coming. The frustration has now come through very loudly and clearly. But Henry’s caution is the right caution because nobody knows how this is going end. And the voices of stability can be pro-change but in a gradual way, or anti-change, trying to hang on to the status quo. So what we try to do all time is to chart a course emphasizing nonviolence, emphasizing inclusive political and economic reform. And some of it is happening, and a lot of it is still unclear to us.
SECRETARY KISSINGER: I agree with what the Secretary has said. I would just add that there’s another — there’s an additional dimension, namely that as we are trying to achieve the objectives there is simultaneously going on a strategic competition between some of these states — Saudi Arab and Iran, between some of the religions. And we have in some cases a national interest in the outcome of these conflicts so that in dealing with all the issues that the Secretary has mentioned, and with which I agree, we also have to do it in such a way that we don’t tilt the strategic conflict in a direction that is unfavorable to us.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And that is exactly right, because, make no mistake about it, we see Iran as the major threat to the region. And nothing that has happened in the Arab awakening in any way diminishes that threat in the short term. In fact, we see Iran trying to take advantage of what is going on, which is the height of hypocrisy, but that has never stopped the regime before. And what they are doing is trying to somehow connect their failed revolution of 1979 with the movements for aspiration and change that are now sweeping the region.
So we have a lot of good friends in this region, people that we may not agree on every issue when it comes to politics or economics, by any means, but, you know, they’re good friends of the United States. They have been for many decades. And what we are saying both publicly and privately is don’t do anything that gives any ammunition, so to speak, to the Iranians, because we don’t want the Iranians to be given one iota of credit for what is a non-Iranian phenomenon. It is an Egyptian phenomenon, a Tunisian phenomenon, a Libyan phenomenon. And so when we look at this, we have — it’s like playing multidimensional chess of an unprecedented scope, because you’re on a tight wire. You’re trying to hold the board. You’re trying to figure out how to make the moves, and people are yelling at you from a 360-degree angle.
And so there is a lot here that we try to sort out and to understand both in the short term — what do we say today, because we’re living in a media environment where if you haven’t respond to the latest tweet in the last 30 seconds, somehow you’re not keeping up with what’s going on in the world when that is no way to make any decisions, let alone those of such strategic importance. So we’re looking at it in the very, very short term, and trying to make decisions that are going to be in the best interest of the United States first and foremost, but also in the best interest of the values and the interests that people we identify with are promoting while keeping in mind this larger strategic framework.
MR. ROSE: But that’s the point some people raise, is there a conflict between our values and our interests?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, ultimately, no, but are we take talking in a 5-year, 10-year, or 50-year framework? I’m sitting looking at the front row here with a lot of ambassadors and the second row as well of countries who are going through their own versions of change, some of them very dramatically, like Egypt, some of them over time, like China.
But there’s no doubt that we believe eventually free-market economies will prove to be the most effective means of both generating and distributing wealth, that democracy defined by the conditions of a country, but as inclusive as possible, will end up being the most stable form of government. But is that a 5-year, a 10-year, a 50-year, a 100-year enterprise? There’s no way any of us sitting here today can predict that.
MR. ROSE: Did we miss a sense that this was coming? Should we, as a country and administration have known this was coming?
SECRETARY KISSINGER: As a historian, you could say when a regime has been in power for 30 years and is not changing as fast as the circumstances would indicate, that something ought to be done. And as a professor you can say it should have been done. As a practitioner, I’m more sympathetic. I’m sure that when you came in, you knew some of the difficulties. But you had to make your own priorities of what you had to deal with first. So in that sense you can say yes, one should have known, but one never expects it. And after all, the political parties — a colleague of mine visited Egypt during the week of when the upheaval started, and she actually had come from the CIA, so she was a trained person. She went to the political parties and said to them, “I understand a day of rage has been advertised.” And all the political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood said that’s for children. That’s not going to amount to anything.
I guess in a historical sense one should have known something was going to happen. But to translate that into an American action that would guide a historical process, that’s a very tough, and it’s always very hard to deal with problems.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I wanted to answer, too, the question about interests because there’s a– there’s a situation that we’re dealing with every day here at the State Department, and that’s Afghanistan and Pakistan. There was a consensus in our foreign policy establishment that we were going to do whatever we could to help the Mujaheddin drive out the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. It was a bipartisan commitment. It was entered into with great certainty, that it was the right thing to do. And it contributed significantly to the eventual not only withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan but the internal problems that exacerbated the tensions within the soviet union that led to its collapse.
So in hindsight we often say to ourselves, OK, that was what we viewed as in our interest, and we did it. And then we made another decision, which was OK, the Soviet Union has collapsed, so we do not need to expend treasure and maybe lives doing anything else in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so we withdrew. And the vacuum that was filled by the Taliban, the warlords, et cetera, the safe haven for Al-Qaida and all the rest is something that people now say to me, they say, well, did we make a mistake in the 1980s, and should we not have done what we did with the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan? But it’s one of these questions that is unanswerable because you made — we made the decision at the time based on our analysis of those circumstances. Where we fell short, which is often the case in trying to analyze what comes next, is looking over the horizon, doing every scenario, every kind of war game, which is hard to do on an ongoing basis because you’re so caught up in the day-to-day. But there were certainly people who then said, well, that was a terrible mistake that you left Pakistan and left Afghanistan and then look what happened.
So we pursue our interests. Of course our interests in seeing the collapse of the Soviet Union can’t in some way trump our interests in avoiding 9/11. But some people conflate those and say you should have known one led to the other. So there are all these questions that we’re constantly asking ourselves and trying to get the best possible answers to.
MR. ROSE: Let me turn to Libya, because it is every time on the front pages of the newspapers. What is your assessment of what ought to be done if our interest is regime change?
SECRETARY KISSINGER: If our interest is regime change –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Which of course is not our interest.
MR. ROSE: OK, but that’s why we’re having the conversation.
SECRETARY KISSINGER: First of all, I don’t consider Libya central to the issues that we’ve discussed. I think it’s of some importance, but it’s peripheral to what we discussed about Egypt, the Gulf, and so forth. I think that whatever one’s view about the wisdom of engaging in military action there, once we are involved, we — it’s better if the Qadhafi regime is removed, because I don’t think any constructive evolution is now possible as long as he is — as long as he is there. And, therefore, on the whole, I would say the scale of effort that is needed to bring that about, but if that isn’t possible, then some political solution should be sought. What I don’t like is an open-ended situation which is a daily irritant of fluctuating second-level military operations. So one or the other should be achieved.
MR. ROSE: Are we looking at a stalemate?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I think it’s too soon to tell. I think that, as I counseled my foreign minister colleagues in Berlin last week, I mean, we want to get to a point where there is a resolution, and it has to be a political resolution. But it may not be as quick as all of us would like to see it. And I think there’s a lot of effort being put into the political outreach that is going to be necessary to try to resolve this. I agree with, you know, Henry’s assessment that, you know you can’t be a little of this and a little of that. There does have to be an effort made to reach a resolution, and that is ongoing.
MR. ROSE: Can you have a resolution with Qadhafi still in the country?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think so.
MR. ROSE: But the motivation is not to regime change?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are operating under the United Nations authority, and that is not part of the United Nations authority.
MR. ROSE: But it seems that Britain and France are operating beyond the United Nations authority.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they are certainly making, you know, their decisions to support, as they see it, the United Nations. Their decisions to send in military advisers they characterize as an effort to protect civilians, because part of what everyone has seen is that there’s no experience in the opposition military personnel. And so there is a desire to try to help them be more organized, and we support that. We’re not participating in it but we support it.
MR. ROSE: We’re not likely to be drawn into it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: No.
MR. ROSE: The Palestinians are going to the United Nations probably in September for a vote on statehood. What do you think is going to happen? What should happen? And what should the United States do?
SECRETARY KISSINGER: First of all, this is an issue that the Secretary will have to decide in the next weeks. And so I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say what we should do. I’ll make a general statement not about what should we do at the U.N. but what I think some of the surrounding issues are to be.
If there is an agreement, however it comes about, there will have to be some guarantees that it’s the only way it can be made tolerable and acceptable. At the present moment it is very difficult for most of the Arab states to give reliable guarantees because they are in great turmoil themselves. So the question is: Can some other guarantees be substituted for this, at least at a minimum, time lag that exists? And on the other hand, endless continuation of the present situation is — it’s not acceptable to any of the parties concerned.
But how to navigate in that, I really think it would be wrong for me to sit here and make a recommendation for something that is so short term in front of us.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me just make a few general comments, because we are on record as having said that we do not support any unilateral effort by the Palestinians to go to the United Nations to try to obtain some authorization, approval, vote, with respect to statehood, because we think you can only achieve the two-state solution, which we strongly advocate, through negotiation. And we have been urging both the Israelis and the Palestinians to get on with the business of actually negotiating. Both of them, for their own reasons, have been somewhat concerned about proceeding in negotiations and laying out positions on very sensitive matters even before the upheaval in the region. But it is absolutely clear now that with all of the uncertainty both are trying to analyze what this means for their future position.
And so, I would hope — and President Obama has said that he will continue to press both sides, which is what we believe we have to do, that everyone would realize that negotiations are the only way, but more than that, they are an immediate need to return to, because our assessment is that it is in the best interests of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, even in the midst of everything going on in the region, to try to turn to the hard work of determining borders, determining the security requirements, and dealing with all the other issues that they have to face.
MR. ROSE: And it’s in our national interest to see an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis and a Palestinian state.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It has been American policy for more than 20, 30 years now.
MR. ROSE: Let me take you to Vietnam and a speech. Tell us what you are articulating as America’s policy, foreign policy, with respect to Asia, to the region, its relationships with other states, and its assessment of China’s intentions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, it was important in this Administration that we make clear that the United States is both a Pacific and an Atlantic power. And I made my first trip very shortly after becoming Secretary of State to Asia with that message. Understandably, the prior administration had been very focused on Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there was a feeling by a number of leaders and influential people in the region that the United States was receding from Asia. And that was never a decision. That was never intended. But we needed to make that very clear.
So we’ve done things that they’re not going to get maybe headlines in the newspapers here at home, but joining the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with the ASEAN nations, with the Southeast Asian nations, which no administration had done, but which sent a very strong signal. We are part of the Pacific world. We have a history here, and we’re going to stay involved — joining the East Asian Summit, another multilateral organization. So our goal was to make it absolutely indisputable that the United States has interests and we have alliances and partnerships that we are going to continue to invest in.
MR. ROSE: Were you drawing a red line at any point?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I mean, no, because we think that there is an opportunity here in Asia to see a very cooperative approach toward the future, which is why when I became Secretary and looked at our engagement with China it was very heavily weighted on the economic side, as everybody knows. And what we wanted to do was to marry the economic side with the strategic side, and so the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that Treasury Secretary Geithner and I co-chair was a result of that. And we’ve had two successful meetings, the first here, the second in Beijing, and then the third will be in Washington in early May.
And, you know, we have an opportunity to develop exactly what both President Obama and President Hu Jintao said we wanted: a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship. And there’s a lot more dialogue going on at all levels now between the United States and China. Do we still have differences? Of course we do. Are we going to stand our ground on some of those differences? Of course there is no question of that. But as much as we can be constantly interacting and solving problems together, both bilaterally and multilaterally, the more our relationship will mature, and I think that’s a very important goal for us to have going forward.
MR. ROSE: You just wrote a book on China and the future. How do you see the possibilities and what are the risks?
SECRETARY KISSINGER: I have to tell you, I’m getting to the age where I start telling stories about myself.
I once went with President Nixon to a military command where the general was dying to make a big technical explanation, which I knew the president might not want to hear in full detail. So I said, let me ask the questions, and you just answer my questions. So I asked my question, and he said, “May I have the first slide, please?”
The relationship with China has, for one thing, has been pursued by eight administrations on an essentially bipartisan basis. It’s one of the most consistent aspects of American foreign policy. When it started in 1971, we were — China and the United States were brought together by a common adversary. And so that produced a certain agenda. At that time China was a very underdeveloped nation, and the idea that one day one would talk of it as the second largest and potentially largest economic power would have been inconceivable in 1971. It’s only really in the last 10 years that China has emerged as an economic superpower, and, therefore, has a capacity to participate on an international scale which did not exist before.
So now both of our countries have a huge challenge. Normally, the emergence of new powers has led — has been characterized by enormous rivalries. And there are points where we impact on each other in a way that could generate rivalries. On the other hand, there is no constructive outcome to a long, drawn-out contest between the United States and China. So both of our countries have an obligation to try to construct an international environment in which parallel evolutions, I don’t say necessary, but parallel evolutions we contribute to peace — to peace and progress. And that has difficulties because our societies have had quite different origins. By Chinese standards we have negligible history, very, very, very short.
So America is very pragmatic. China has a 4,000-year history, and China – deals with problems as a historic phenomenon. So we are very problem oriented. The Chinese are conceptually oriented. And I have noticed we sometimes have problems because the Chinese – we will do three or four different things for totally disparate reasons — receive the Dalai Lama, arm sales to Taiwan, currency exchange — they all are done for different reasons.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. Absolutely.
SECRETARY KISSINGER: Not connected with each other.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s right.
SECRETARY KISSINGER: The Chinese say there has to be a common theory here. And then they deal with the theory. They don’t deal with the three problems.
MR. ROSE: Which is an interesting idea. As you travel from country to country, whether it’s China or the Middle East, have to correct impressions of your motivation and your actions.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we try to correct impressions. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes we are not. But I think this point that Henry’s making is not only important for China, because I see it myself. I see it all the time, that there are assumptions about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it that have absolutely never crossed our minds but which our friends on the other side of the table are thinking and therefore we have to know they’re thinking in order to disabuse them of that.
I’ll give you a quick, trivial example. My first trip to China as Secretary of State, I’m sitting there with the foreign minister. He says we think it’s a very unfortunate decision that the United States has made and reflects on our relationship that you’re not participating in the Shanghai Expo. First of all, I didn’t know there was going to be a Shanghai Expo. It had never been raised to me in the month and a half I had been Secretary of State. And a decision had been made in the prior administration that we don’t do expos anymore. So here’s China about to hold this very significant expo, and we and I think Andorra are the only countries not participating.
And to explain to a group of high Chinese officials that it wasn’t a decision that carried with it anything other than our Congress’s allergy to expos anywhere in the world was nearly impossible. So I spent the first six months putting together an expo, something that was not in the job description.
But it was a very important signal of our commitment to the relationship even though it doesn’t fall into one of the 10 or 20 issues that we might be listing.
But the point is a broader one than what Henry has made just about China because this happens with every culture. I mean, even though we live in this ocean of information right now where people wear jeans, where they all talk on cell phones, where young people are connected like never before in history, there are still very significant historical, cultural, political, even psychological differences. So we have to constantly not only be trying to disabuse others of assumptions about us, but also we have to in our own heads question assumptions about others. So it’s an ongoing conversation. But Henry’s an expert on that.
MR. ROSE: If you look back on your experience as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, what is the lesson learned that might be most valuable to Secretary Clinton?
SECRETARY KISSINGER: We’ve been talking — I think the lesson which she experiences, I’m sure, every day is — and we talked about it earlier — how to get attention to middle-term problems? Basically, a great part of foreign policy is made by the Secretary approving cables that are written in response to incoming issues. So I would say a great part of the day is spent on that. Then when you add interdepartmental testimony, how do you free time to think about the long-term problems and to think about them in a way that is operationally significant? You can always bring a group of professors in and listen for an hour or two, but how to do it in a way so that your key operating personnel is not totally obsessed with the immediate issues and spend some real time on middle-term issues, and how to free your own thinking enough, that, I think, is the biggest challenge that a secretary has in the management of it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I agree with that completely. We talk a lot around here about the urgent, the important, and the long term, and there are so many issues that fall into each of those, and some fall into all three categories. And the last thing you want is to be a prisoner of your inbox because the amount of paper that comes your way — and it still is a paper culture because of all of the traditions and habits and the clearance process, which goes on inside the State Department — could imprison you. And to try to lift your head up enough just to see slightly into the middle term let alone over the horizon is a very challenging exercise. But if we don’t do it, we are sunk.
SECRETARY KISSINGER: And to get your operating personnel to do it, not just the Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right, right.
SECRETARY KISSINGER: So that the operating people who are overwhelmed every day with issues to take a perspective.
MR. ROSE: I’m left with two thoughts about this. Number one, you once said that you have to — once you become Secretary of State or a high-level official that you’re really operating on the intellectual capital you had going in because there’s little opportunity to gain more, yes?
SECRETARY KISSINGER: Yes.
MR. ROSE: And what you said, interesting, about being Secretary of State is you wanted to be proactive, not reactive.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
MR. ROSE: How are you doing on that that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, in some of the areas that we identified, you know, like technology, for example, when I set up this unit inside the State Department of these young technology gurus, a lot of people thought it was trivial, unimportant. And then the Iranian election protests began, and the way those protesters communicated was all through, you know, the means of social media. And it became important to have people in the State Department, which when I arrived didn’t even get blackberries to everybody — to all of a sudden have to feel the connection to what was going on in the streets at that moment. And we’ve only seen that accelerate.
So we identified with some key issues that we thought were not on anybody’s agenda to try to drive. But they are not in the realm of strategic decision making. They’re more emphasis, like, obviously, I want to integrate women and girls into every aspect of American foreign policy because it’s the best bet you can make and developing countries and democratizations. So there are these issues that are cross-cutting issues.
But the problem Henry has identified is the problem I live with every day. And we also, in our system, people serve maybe for two years, and then they get another assignment. If they’re in the building they get sent to language school to learn Arabic or learn Chinese. And then they’re out of the decision-making. They’re out of the operational control and they’re preparing for what comes next. So there’s a lot of churn, there’s constant churn. So to try to have a steady course with people coming in and people leaving in our complex intergovernmental system, which we only briefly mentioned, takes an enormous amount of effort. And we try to bring that effort to it, but it’s hard.
MR. ROSE: Secretary Kissinger, thank you very much. Secretary Clinton, thank you very much. And thank you for coming.
This is the first of a series of conversations, “Conversations on Diplomacy,” Secretary Clinton, and former secretaries of state. We thank you for joining us. And we’ll see you next time.