This afternoon Hillary sat down at the Aspen Ideas Festival with Walter Isaacson for a conversation, that was fed live on Facebook from the Aspen Institute where the festival is being held, about her memoir, Hard Choices, and her experience as secretary of state. Signed copies of the book were available for purchase following the event which ran for roughly an hour plus.
Beginning with a mention of the anxiety she perceived nationwide in the course of her book-signing tour, she stressed an agenda of rebuilding trust and making evidence-based decisions.
Isaacson started the ball rolling with a question about the issue of arming rebels in Syria. Her chapter on that topic is entitled “A Wicked Problem.” She refitted that issue into a more subtle problem of how to empower moderates and marginalize extremists, noting that she and David Petraeus, who was in the audience and a would later also address the gathering, struggled over lunch at her house with the question of strengthening the opposition to Assad’s government.
On the subject of Iraq, she noted that Maliki has made bad decisions, but that he has won the election and that our policy is to support elected governments even though we have not always followed that policy.
In as far as her own vote to empower President Bush to enter armed conflict in Iraq, she focused on the word “mistake” and her long resistance to utter it. (She stressed in this segment that President Obama was not in the Senate when that vote was taken.) Her reluctance to say that vote was a mistake, she stated, was the message she feared that would send to the troops.
Russia and her relationship with Putin was the topic of several remarks. She corrected Isaacson’s original comment about shooting polar bears and assured him that she would have been tagging them had Putin taken her along on the mission.
Reminding the audience that at the time the Obama administration came to office Russia had just invaded Georgia and occupied two regions (that it continues to occupy), she said that the U.S. agenda at the time included getting Russia on board with sanctions on Iran, crafting a new START treaty (and getting it ratified – perhaps the more challenging part), and a supply route through northern Russian to Afghanistan. That agenda, by the way, was accomplished.
Recalling Fall 2011 when Putin and Medvedev, wearing black motorcycle jackets, announced that they were essentially about to switch roles and the angry demonstrations that engendered across Russia, she said Putin blamed her personally for the unrest. The retribution he exacted included boycotting the G-8, intransigence at a G-20 in Los Cabos, Mexico on Syria issues, kicking USAID, long resident in Russia, out of the country, and enacting a variety of anti-LGBT laws as a deliberate political act.
On the subject of Sergei Lavrov, her Russian counterpart during her tenure, she said he is very smart and served both Medvedev and Putin very well. Personal take: despite much attention to the original “reset’ upon her first formal meeting with Lavrov, she had a good working relationship with him and together they accomplished a great deal in the interest of both of their countries.
Upon assuming office, Hillary explained, she thought we had to redirect our leadership, promote our values, pursue our interests, and protect our security. To accomplish these ends, she set markers.
The first was women and girls. Harking once again to evidence-based decisions, she said there is evidence that contributions from this sector of society are positive for nations. The second marker involved the balance between freedom of religion and freedom of speech. People should have the right to practice their faith, but they also have the right to express opinion. The final marker was the LGBT community and how they are treated in a society.
On the subject of values v. interests, she cited the case of the Chinese dissident whose case first came to her attention when she was at home preparing to leave for an important trip to China. She was told he had escaped from house arrest and was headed for the U.S. Embassy where he intended to seek refuge. She said it was a clear choice for her. She made the decision and we took him in.
Upon further examination of his case she discovered that his intent was not originally to leave China. He, and other activists, wanted the high officials in Beijing to become aware of their mistreatment by local officials and harbored a firm belief that if high government officials knew about this they would stop it.
Ultimately, she said, Chen wanted relief from oppression by local officials and to go to law school. In the ensuing drama, he called the U.S. Congress on the cell phone we had given him. Republican congressmen held the phone to a microphone on the floor of Congress. He wanted to come here to study. She called the ordeal an exercise in high-stakes diplomacy that ultimately was resolved through what she alternately called “smart power” and “soft power.”
At an event where an American student spoke in Mandarin about his experience studying in China and a Chinese student related her experiences studying in the U.S. the Chinese saw the value of educational and cultural exchange and the crisis was resolved.
Finally the floor was opened to questions posted on Facebook. She stated that she, her family, and the Clinton Foundation all support the idea, championed by Stanley McChrystal, of a National Year of Service. She emphasized the value of volunteering and urged people to get out of their comfort zones.
On voting: People have to vote and it should be as easy as possible.
On the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision: Deeply disturbing. Women and girls are “the canaries in the mine.” Erosion of women’s rights indicates an anti-democratic trend in our society that she described as a slippery slope.
Of Obamacare: Her exhortation to “mend it not end it” had the ring of a campaign slogan that we might be hearing as the mid-term campaigns get underway if Democrats are savvy enough to follow her advice to campaign on that issue.
“Are you going to run for president?” is the wrong question, in Hillary’s eyes. The questions should be “What is your vision for America?” and “How do you plan to get us there?”
She ended by affirming that America matters to the world, and the world matters to America. She said there is no escape in an interdependent world . We need to stay engaged.
This is the link to the video:
Shortly after delivering these remarks, Hillary tweeted this.
Hard-working women will pay the price for today’s two troubling
#SCOTUS decisions — in wages, health care & dignity.