Transcript: Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sec. of Defense Robert Gates Speak to Cynthia McFadden

Photo: "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden joins Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Melbourne
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most political odd-couple on Earth, have a rare and powerful alliance. They both sat down with ABC News' Cynthia McFadden on a flight to Melbourne, Australia, individually and then again for the only joint television interview the two have ever granted abroad. The following is a transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity:

Interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

CYNTHIA McFADDEN: I want to ask you, Madame Secretary, about Haiti. Over a billion dollars appropriated to help the Haitians in the wake of the devastation last year, and in fact it's an appropriate question here because this trip to Australia was originally scheduled to happen a year ago.

HILLARY CLINTON: Mm hm.

McFADDEN: None of that billion dollars has been spent.

CLINTON: Well but, let me . . .

McFADDEN: Why?

CLINTON: Well, let me explain. We had money in the pipeline that was going to and has been delivered to Haiti. We expended an enormous amount of money in the ah immediate relief efforts. So the money that has not yet been released by the congress was money that was future money. It's now past time when I would like to see it released and utilized, and it will be.

But I think there's been somewhat of a confusion that no money from the United States government has gone to Haiti. That's not true. We have spent ah money, our spending money, and ah are doing a lot of good, although the need is overwhelming. And you feel so sorry for Haiti, from you know earthquakes, cholera, hurricanes. These people never catch a break, but we're deeply involved with um the government of Haiti, with our our great NGOs that are serving in Haiti, and we're doing a lot as we speak in Haiti.

McFADDEN: Are you confident that congress will indeed release the money?

CLINTON: Oh yes, I mean we, you know, we will be able to expend the money that has been appropriated for Haiti.

McFADDEN: Okay, great, because it sure didn't read very well when the release was "US government spends zero of billion dollars."

CLINTON: Yeah, yeah. But that's part of a bigger story.

McFADDEN: So someone said that the job of diplomacy was getting somebody to do what they don't want to do without shooting them.

CLINTON: [laughter] That's a good description!

McFADDEN: Is that what your day is like?

CLINTON: My day consists of figuring out what people are doing and why, and what they would like to do and why they're not, and trying to talk with people and make a case for why doing what would be ah from the American perspective a positive is in their interest to do. So I do spend a lot of time talking to governments and to influential people in various countries about how to make tough decisions that are really in their interests. And it is, it is fascinating, endlessly so. But there is, of course, a little bit of frustration from time to time.

McFADDEN: So was it mere coincidence that you were half way around the world during the midterm elections?

CLINTON: Actually it was, and here's why. I had two dates that bookended that period; one, the East Asia Summit where I had to go and represent President Obama, because he obviously couldn't leave the country; and the other, the 25th what's called AUSMIN where Bob Gates and I meet with our counterparts here in Australia. They were a week apart with the election in the middle. So for me it didn't make sense to go to Vietnam, turn around, go back to the U.S. and then come back again.

And also there were some really important other opportunities to go to Cambodia, which is a country that is coming out of such a a terrible, traumatic experience inflicted by the Khmer Rouge, the United States has supported the trials and we want them to continue doing the trials; to go to Malaysia, a country whose prime minister gave a really important speech at the U.N. about a month and a half ago, calling for moderates to join a movement against extremism; to go to Papua New Guinea, which has found natural gas and a big Exxon Mobil contract. So there were lots of reasons for me to go between Vietnam and Australia.

McFADDEN: So let me tell you, the Democrats . . .

CLINTON: . . . What happened? [laughter]

McFADDEN: The Democrats really took a licking!

CLINTON: Yeah, I'm very, very sorry about that. I think that it's something that happens in midterm elections as a rule. After the inauguration of a new President the members of Congress of his party lose seats. But I was very, very sad to see a lot of good people turned out of Congress for doing the right thing.

McFADDEN: Well you lived through it.

CLINTON: I did, 1994.

McFADDEN: Lots of headlines about questioning, wondering whether or not President Obama can pivot the way your husband was able to. What do you think? Can Obama pull a Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I think he can, you know, show clearly the leadership that the country expects from him and which he's providing.

McFADDEN: What do you think it means when they say, can Obama pull a Clinton? What do you think they're talking about?

CLINTON: Well I think, I think what they're talking about is when you suffer the losses that both my husband did and that President Obama did in this election, how do you stay your course and your principles and do what you believe is right for the country, but present it and sell it in a way that more people will understand what you're trying to do?

You know, when Bill made- Bill made a lot of hard decisions for the Congress, you know, raising taxes to go down with the deficit, getting assaults weapons off the streets, and a lot of other things that were very difficult. And people lost their seats in Congress because nobody understood exactly what this would all mean to the average voter.

Similarly, the President inherited a terrible economic situation. I think what he's done has prevented a depression, even though I'm very worried about the fact that employment is not where it should be and the President is working hard on that. But what he has to do now is figure out ways to advance what he thinks is the right agenda for America, working with a Republican house and a narrower majority of Democrats in the senate. But . . .

McFADDEN: . . . Your husband . . .

CLINTON: . . . I'm absolutely confident he can do that.

McFADDEN: Your husband moved toward the middle.

CLINTON: You know, I I think that is sort of . . .

McFADDEN: . . . Or is that . . .

CLINTON: . . . the conventional wisdom, but I don't think that Bill changed his principles or changed his objectives or really reversed course in any way. I think what he did was take a very clear-eyed assessment of what was going to be possible with the congress after the election, and moved on every front that he could to get things done. And I think that's what you'll see President Obama doing.

McFADDEN: Are you worried about the tea partiers and others who have been elected this time round, um wanting to pull back internationally, wanting to not support an international agenda?

CLINTON: Cynthia, I don't know, because I don't know them. I'm going to get to know them. I'm going to work very hard in a bipartisan way to reach out and consult, and I've already been calling some of the Republican leaders that I'll be working with. But I think we will have to wait and see. Now there are some people who campaigned along the lines of what you're saying, and we can always do a better job at what we're trying to achieve on behalf of the United States. I'm open to constructive criticism.

But there is no way that the United States can shrink from our leadership responsibilities, give up on promoting our interests and our values around the world, fight against terrorism, stand up for human rights. I mean the agenda that is so important to who we are as a nation I think will continue to be ah supported.

McFADDEN: Have you talked to Mr. Boehner?

CLINTON: I've got a call into him. I haven't talked to him yet.

McFADDEN: You can work with him though?

CLINTON: Absolutely. I, you know, I know him. I was in the senate when he was in the Congress.

McFADDEN: Two years ago you wanted to be president.

CLINTON: Yes, I did.

McFADDEN: Did you end up with the better job, do you think?

CLINTON: [laughter] Well, I ended up with a job that I love. I never would have predicted that I would have this job, but I'm very grateful for the chance to serve in this way. I've had a wonderful life in the public arena. It's been beyond anything I could've imagined when I first started all those years ago. And I think that it is clear that at this moment in time the United States has to assert ourselves on the international stage in a way that wins the confidence and the trust of people around the world again. And that's what I'm trying to do.

McFADDEN: You know, I said to people when I saw you last in Moscow that you seemed much happier in Moscow than you did in Iowa.

CLINTON: [laughter]

McFADDEN: True?

CLINTON: No, I loved my campaign. I, you know, obviously tried very hard to win, and that wasn't what came out of it. But I loved, I loved getting out and talking to people. And to a certain extent I'm campaigning for America now. I'm doing town halls, I'm meeting people from all walks of life. I'm using my political experience to try to explain America in ways that somebody in a country far from us who's never been there can understand, and realize we have- we have something in common that we need to be working toward.

McFADDEN: The enormity of the problems facing America . . .

CLINTON: . . . Right . . .

McFADDEN: . . . at this moment.

CLINTON: Right.

McFADDEN: The enormity of the problems that this country faces right now and that most Americans go to bed worrying, not just you know whether they have a job, whether they can afford to send their kids to college, whether or not, you know, a package is going to arrive from Yemen in the mail and blow up the house.

CLINTON: Right.

McFADDEN: I mean, what do you say? How safe are we?

CLINTON: I think that we have the most dedicated, professional, hardworking people in our government, who every single hour of every day are doing all they know to do to keep America safe.

When you think about the interception of those packages, that is the result of years of work, of building relationships with intelligence services in other countries. And we have to be right all the time. The terrorists only have to be right one time, but I'm very proud of the work that is being done in our government. I want Americans not to be governed by fear. Life is uncertain and unpredictable, no matter who you are and where you live.

We don't know what's going to happen to any of us tomorrow. You can step off a curb and get hit by a truck. We can't live like that. We have to keep being willing to face the future with confidence and optimism. I am a huge believer in our country, our resilience. We have to work together. We can't be shouting insults at each other and get anything done. We may have differences of opinion about the best way forward, but we all love our country.

We want to see the economy moving and growing again, so that people who are willing to work hard and play by the rules have a chance to get a good job and support their family and live the American dream. We want to see America respected and admired around the world. We want to make sure that the dream is there for our children. That's how we should be looking at the future. Now, part of the problem is we all know too much about what's going on in the world. I mean there have been bad things happening all over the world ever since, you know, people came out of the caves. That that is just human nature. But now we know within a millisecond about something terrible happening half way around the world.

You know, if there's a kidnapping in California, people in New York won't let their children go out and play. I mean we know so much, and at some point you cannot allow your fears to determine how you live, whether you're a person or you're a country. So we're going to do the very best we can to keep our country safe. That is the highest priority of this president, of this administration. But we can't live every single day looking over our shoulder. We've gotta get about the business of reshaping the future. That's what America's about. I run around the world talking to people in countries who can't get over the past. They can't move on. They are paralyzed. That's not us, and we need to act like the Americans that are fearless and focused on building a better tomorrow. And we'll get there.

McFADDEN: You said talk about the future. You said you're not running for President in 2012 or 2016. What about "2020"?

CLINTON: [laughter] I think I'm gonna be the best Secretary of State I could be, Cynthia. Thank you.

Interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

McFADDEN: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for first of all letting us hitch a ride on your plane.

ROBERT GATES: Absolutely.

McFADDEN: Here we are in Australia. You know, it's been said that you're the most powerful Secretary of Defense since McNamara. Do you buy it?

GATES: I think all that stuff comes out in retrospect. The historians have to decide that, and you know, that's not what I wanted when I took this job. What I wanted was to be effective and make a difference. And we'll see.

McFADDEN: You've had a remarkable run. The first person in the 60 years the job's existed to be asked by an incoming president to stay on. Were you surprised when you got that first phone call?

GATES: I had gotten a call from a fellow senator of his I guess in mid-summer 2008. And and so I had had feelers from both camps on whether I would stay on. And and basically I said I didn't want to, but it was a conversation I would be willing to have.

McFADDEN: And now looking back two years, good decision?

GATES: Well I I think so. You know, I'm grateful to President Bush for having given me the opportunity to do this, and I'm grateful to President Obama for giving me the opportunity to do more than I originally anticipated. When I took this job, I said I had one agenda item -- Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. And although, you know, we see the problems and putting the government together and so on, I think Iraq's probably going to turn out okay. So I feel pretty good about that.

And under President Obama, it's been a chance to try and do something about Afghanistan, but also because I didn't think I'd have enough time to do it under President Bush. Under President Obama the time to actually take a look at the way the Pentagon gets run and to try and make some changes there as well.

McFADDEN: You've had a unique opportunity to serve both Bush and Obama, and I know you don't like to do comparisons. But I'm just wondering if there's a way you could point to a similarity between the two men and a way you could point to a difference between them?

GATES: Well, I would point to a similarity that I think has characterized ah all eight presidents that I worked for, and that is I think most Americans don't appreciate how much they all care about the country . . .

McFADDEN: . . . Regardless of the policy? . . .

GATES: . . . and how often they are willing to put aside what is in their best political interest to do what they think is best for the country. One reviewer of my book almost 15 years ago said he never met a president he didn't like. I would say that I never met a president I didn't respect, because they all tried to do what they thought was right. Maybe with the exception of one!

McFADDEN: Now you've gotta tell me which one!

GATES: Well, he resigned.

McFADDEN: I guess we know then, President Nixon. You know, in terms of how they're different though, how their management styles are different, how their visions were different, you have had this incredible opportunity to see both men function up close, both Bush and Obama. What would be the primary difference between the two, would you say?

GATES: Well, like you said at the outset, I don't talk about that. And I intend to write about it someday.

McFADDEN: We'll have to pay for that one . . .

GATES: . . . So stay tuned.

McFADDEN: We're gonna have to pay for that one, huh?

GATES: Yeah, pretty much!

McFADDEN: Okay, fair enough!

[laughter]

McFADDEN: Originally when you agreed to serve under President Obama you said that not to expect that you'd serve out the full first term. Well, we're now two years in and I'm wondering if you've given thought to what point you'd like to step down?

GATES: Well, I've made pretty clear that sometime next year it'll be time.

McFADDEN: Will you stay through July 2011?

GATES: Next year sometime. I think it's important not to get too wedded to these positions. There is a lure in senior positions in Washington that makes you want to stay. And I think it's important and empowering ah to be willing to leave.

McFADDEN To not inhale . . .

GATES: . . . Well . . .

McFADDEN: . . . all the power?

GATES: You inhale for a while. You just gotta quit! [laughter]

McFADDEN: On the other hand one could argue that there are very few people who can occupy the chair.

GATES: Well, you know, the old French term -- the cemeteries are full of indispensable men.

McFADDEN: I like your other one, the one about today the peacock --

GATES: Tomorrow a feather duster!

McFADDEN: In some ways it looked outside as if you were going to be the fox in the hen house, the Republican in the Democratic Administration. How has it been being a Republican?

GATES: I do the same things. I make the same kind of decisions. I've never been a partisan person. I believe totally in bipartisanship in international affairs. My highest priority is not what goes on in Washington; my highest priority is what those kids are doing out there in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that's what I focus on.

McFADDEN: I was really moved by your speech at Duke and the notion that as the President of Texas A&M, you've been seeing kids just like the ones you're now sending to war, you know, in a very different context. Talk a little about that.

GATES: Well, I've talked about the fact that being a university president probably has been harder for me in this job in wartime, because I spent four and a half years seeing kids 18 to 25 walking around campus in T-shirts and shorts and backpacks going to class, mostly. [laughter]

McFADDEN: Or not going to class.

GATES: And having fun and, you know, living out their dream. And in an instant I'm, in Afghanistan and Iraq seeing kids exactly the same age in full body armor and putting their lives on the line for the rest of the country. And so I've, I guess I would say I've had a very paternalistic view toward these men and women out there. When I've talked at the academies and when I've talked in other places, I say you know I regard, I feel responsibility for you as if you were my own son or daughter. And I feel that very deeply.

McFadden: That's a lot of weight to carry, Mr. Secretary.

GATES: Well, that's my job.

McFADDEN: I've been told that you actually write handwritten notes on the condolence letters.

GATES Yeah. I told myself when I took this job I would never allow the fallen heroes to become a statistic for me. And so with every condolence letter I get the hometown newspaper article and a picture, because then I read about what their coaches say about them, what their boy scout leaders say about them, what their ministers say about them, what their friends and family say about them. So I try to know something about every one of these um incredible young people.

McFADDEN: How many have died since you've been Secretary of Defense?

GATES: Well, probably about... it's getting on toward 900 in Afghanistan... Well we've lost about 3,500 in Iraq, probably a third of those while I've been Secretary.

McFADDEN: It's a dangerous world, of all the things that keep you up at night, what's the toughest?

GATES: Well would it be irreverent to say barbecue! [laughter]

McFADDEN: Not the answer I was expecting!

[laughter]

McFADDEN: You are kind of a wit. You know, for a very somber guy, you kind of a crack-up, right?

GATES: Well, no. I just...

McFADDEN: But you know, look, when you were studying Russian history...

GATES: I'll tell you what keeps me up.

McFADDEN: What keeps you up at night?

GATES: These kids. The casualties.

McFADDEN: Was the world a simpler place when we have the Soviet Union as the evil empire and...

GATES: It was a simpler place. And the danger was cataclysmic, but the probability extremely low. Now the danger of a cataclysm is very low, but the likelihood of attacks is high. And so it's sort of a flip, in terms of likelihood. But the consequences -- I mean we have been both good and lucky since 9/11. The capabilities the government has developed, the intelligence, the military capabilities, the whole works, the law enforcement, is just night and day different than it was on 9/10, 2001. But they keep coming at us. It's a problem we're gonna face for I think quite a while.

McFADDEN: If there was one thing you could accomplish, whatever amount of time you have left in this office, what would it be?

GATES: Well, I would hope that it would be that it would, that people would recognize that we're making progress in Afghanistan, that this is worth doing, and that the sacrifice these young men and women are making is in fact producing success. It's gonna take a while, but I think it's headed in that direction.

McFADDEN: Years ago when you were studying Russian history, that was certainly if you wanted to change the world, affect the world, that was certainly the thing to study. What would you advise someone now to study?

GATES: Well one of the programs that that I've gotten the help of Congress in getting through is paying ROTC students to study hard languages like Dari and Farsi and various Arabic and so on. I think that the difference that we face now from the world that I grew up in is that the the challenges are so diverse, and we face, I think, a growing split in the world between the developed countries and developing countries, many of whom are failing or are approaching failed state. And so they have deeply unhappy populations.

You have huge youth bulges in many of these societies and no jobs, like in Iran, but in a lot of other societies too. So you know, this is why I make the argument that we can't afford to reduce the size of the American military at this point. We face a diversity of challenges all over the world, and we are the only power that, in the world, that has global interests, and frankly is a force for stability and I believe, and I've believed my whole life, a force for good.

McFADDEN: We ask a much different thing from an American soldier today than we did even 15 or 20 years ago. I mean it seems to me they have to be part social worker, part psychiatrist, part urban planner, as well as combat ready.

GATES: I met a young captain on my first visit to Afghanistan at a forward operating base, Tillman, right on the Pakistani border. And I was walking with him and he was training Afghans, he was building roads, he was meeting with village elders, he was providing basic services, and he was fighting a war. And I turned to him and I said, "be hell of a thing go back trying to sell shoes now, wouldn't it?" And the complexity of the job that we have given these young people, and the amazing thing is how these young captains and NCOs have risen to the occasion.

This is a war that is being fought at the local level by lower level officers and NCOs and troops. The generals can set the umbrella, can set the stage in terms of the overall strategy. But whether it works or not in a way I think not seen before in war, it really depends on what these younger officers and NCOs and their troops are doing.

McFADDEN: Speaking of commanding officers, I want to ask you just now that the dust is settled, General McChrystal, I know that you suggested his appointment to the President, I know that you believed that he was the right man to lead us in Afghanistan. And my impression is that you were hoping that the President wouldn't fire him. Now, six months later, was he the right man for Afghanistan?

GATES: I think he was the right man, and the truth of the matter is General Petraeus has, I think, in significant ways continued the campaign plans that General McChrystal put together.

McFADDEN: What went wrong?

GATES: What happened was was an unfortunate thing, a tragedy in many ways.

McFADDEN: Do you understand why it happened?

GATES: No, not really.

McFADDEN: Have you talked to him?

GATES: Ah, not since he retired, no.

McFADDEN: So it's...

GATES: But but I think we were very fortunate, and I will say, I mean one of my concerns was that losing General McChrystal would be a big setback in our effort in Afghanistan. And again, we have all these tens of thousands of young people out there with their lives on the line. And it was actually the President who suggested to me, well how about sending Petraeus out there? And that, for me, said okay, we will not lose ground in this war if we send Dave Petraeus out there.

McFADDEN: Do you think the President did the right thing in firing McChrystal?

GATES: I think so. The truth of the matter is General McChrystal took responsibility for this on himself. He behaved, I thought, with extraordinary integrity.

McFADDEN: Tough situation.

GATES: Very. Welcome to Washington.

McFADDEN: I mean you always are the Washington outsider, yet you've been there 40 years running the joint! How's that work?

GATES: [laughter] Well I think...

McFADDEN: I mean every speech you start with a little kick in the pants to Washington, right?

GATES: Well that's because it's a guaranteed laugh every place in the country.

McFADDEN: Yeah.

GATES: I mean Will Rogers used to say, I don't make jokes, I just watch -- I just watch the government and report the facts! [laughter] And, so you know, I mean they're cheap laugh lines, but you know my...

McFADDEN: How do you really feel about Washington, Mr. Secretary?

GATES: I have problems with people who are self-serving, with people who are willing to make compromises just so they can stay in the jobs they have, and not just compromise, because Washington works on -- Democratic government works on compromises. But I mean doing things that are not necessarily in the best interest of the country. And I'm talking about the whole shooting match.

McFADDEN: Republicans, Democrats?

GATES: Both branches of government. I mean both the Republic -- both the Congress and the executive branch. I probably made some of those compromises myself. But I just do feel that the place is a little out of touch. But the other thing is I've read a lot of history, and I know that the things that annoy me about Washington have been characteristic of the place since the beginning of the Republic! So that gives me comfort in terms of looking at the future.

GATES: I think we're gonna be just fine.

McFADDEN: You do?

GATES: I do. I absolutely do.

McFADDEN: Knowing what you know?

GATES: I think, the way I've expressed it is that history's dustbin is littered with countries and powers that have underestimated the United States and our power of recovery. We have been through many tribulations. We are the most self-critical nation in the world, and we are the most quickly self-correcting. And you can see it right now. And and we're gonna be just fine. I absolutely believe that.

Joint Interview with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sec. of Defense Robert Gates

McFADDEN: Thank you both. I came over on your plane, I'm going home on your plane. His is bigger.

CLINTON: [laughter] I'm not surprised!

GATES: Proportionate to the budget.

CLINTON: I don't know. He has a plane with no windows. Did you bring the no window plane?

GATES: Yes, yes, yes.

McFADDEN: The Doomsday plane. I told . . .

GATES: . . . It's like being FedEx'ed around the world.

CLINTON: [laughter] Did you get scanned and screened?

McFADDEN: Well that's a good point. You know, historically the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense have not exactly been best buddies. Fair to say?

GATES: More than fair to say.

McFADDEN: So I'm interested in the relationship that the two of you have forged over the last couple of years.

CLINTON: We didn't get the memo about how we were supposed to be diametrically opposite on everything. And in fact we've had, both of us, the experience of former Secretaries of Defense and Secretaries of State and former National Security Advisors sort of shaking their head in wonder, like you guys are not not in the groove here. You're supposed to be constantly at each other's throat. It's been, for me, a real pleasure to work with Bob, and to find that we have a lot in common. We have different ah experiences that we bring to the table. But I think we have a very, a very common view about some of the national security challenges we face.

McFADDEN: Well do you share a sort of world view, do you think? Is that the basis of the relationship?

GATES: I think we have a very compatible view of the world. But I would just in terms of the question that you put to Hillary, I think my my approach has been shaped very much by the fact that I spent almost nine years on the National Security Council staff under four different presidents. And I would see the inter-agency bickering, and every now and then I'd say at a meeting, you know, there for a moment I thought we all worked for the same government. And I came out of that experience believing that a president was very badly served by senior members of the government who bicker and quarrel with each other, and particularly in public. And I think the starting point is the Secretary of Defense acknowledging that the Secretary of State is the principal spokesperson for American foreign policy. And so we have our role, but the Secretary of State has her role. I think acknowledging that, because a lot of the time in the past where I have seen this conflict, and it's been more characteristic than not, going back a long time of conflict, I think it's because the Secretary of Defense has been unwilling to sort of see this division of labor within the government.

CLINTON: You know, with Bob's extensive experience in government and in different positions, because obviously he was in the White House, he was at the CIA, he's now at the Defense Department, he's developed this perspective of trying to cut through the shaft, I mean get to the meat of the matter, figure out what it is we're trying to accomplish, what our goals are, what's the best way of getting there. And it's not that we agree on everything, but we come to our internal debate with a respect for the other person and an understanding of the institutional prerogatives that we both each represent. So for me, it's been a particular particular pleasure to work with him.

McFADDEN: So I want to go back before you all become so kumbaya with each other.

CLINTON: [laughter]

McFADDEN: Like alright, so you got appointed first, right?

CLINTON: No, he was there

McFADDEN: Well but no, but Obama -- had the President asked you to stay at the point?

GATES: We were actually all announced the same day.

CLINTON: Yeah, yeah . . .

GATES: . . . In Chicago . . .

McFADDEN: And so when you heard she was Secretary of State, you thought, because you didn't really know each other...

GATES: No.

McFADDEN: What did you think? What was the first thing that went through your head?

GATES: I thought it was going to be interesting, you know, because all I knew of Hillary was what I'd seen on TV . . .

McFADDEN: . . . And what did you think? . . .

GATES: . . . and so on.

McFADDEN: Tough?

GATES: Yeah.

McFADDEN: Smart?

GATES: Yeah. But somebody who also was very effective at communicating.

McFADDEN: And?

CLINTON: Well, I had been on the Armed Services committee, so I had the experience of sitting on the other side of the table from Bob when he came to testify as Secretary of Defense. And it was such a change from his predecessor . . .

McFADDEN: . . . Mr. Rumsfeld??

CLINTON: Mr. Rumsfeld, because this Secretary would actually answer questions, he would express his opinion. He was extremely straightforward, and I welcomed that. So although I didn't know him personally until we started serving together, I had observed him on several occasions and believed that he was a straightforward, Midwesterner who could, you know, get to the heart of an issue and stake a claim as to what he thought was the right thing to do. I admire that.

McFADDEN: Because you do understand from a distance, you look at the two of you and you say, maybe not so much. Besides the Midwestern thing, we've got a Republican, we've got a Democrat, we've got a guy who's married to a woman who can't stand politics, we've got a woman who's married to a guy who most days likes politics!

[laughter]

CLINTON: Yeah, but Cynthia, part of the experience of working with someone is to get beyond all of that. I mean the caricatures and the stereotypes, the superficial kinds of characterization, and what I know about Bob Gates is that he's a real patriot. He loves our country and that's how I feel about myself. I mean I took the job I have in part because I felt like when your president asks you to serve, you should serve. This man has spent the better part of his life serving our country. So I am not in any way surprised that we have developed a good working relationship, because despite what are, from my perspective, superficial differences, we we both have a highly developed responsibility gene! And we have a long history of service, and we approach this job with a great deal of seriousness.

GATES: I'd make a couple of other points. I think we both recognize that many of the challenges we face require what we call a whole of government approach. And that means the State Department and the Defense Department above all have to work together. And that signal has to be sent from the top, and if the people who work for us know that we get along and work cooperatively with one another, even when we come at problems from a different perspective, it radiates through the entire bureaucracy. And so the people who work for every cabinet secretary who come in every day trying to set their hair on fire, there's some other cabinet officer has just committed some egregious sin and and therefore we ought to, you know, set the whole place on fire. Once they realize that's not career enhancing, that well that doesn't sound like Hillary's told me, I'll just pick up the phone and call her. And then all of a sudden they realize. And so that that becomes I think also very important.

McFADDEN: In the new Woodward book, the two of you are referred to as 'blocks of granite'...

CLINTON: I didn't know that!

GATES: [laughter]

McFADDEN: Do you plead guilty?

CLINTON: I have no idea! I don't know. Is that a compliment?

McFADDEN: I'm asking you! Two of the five blocks of granite in terms of the setting Afghanistan policy, and if the books is to be believed, really pushing President Obama toward increasing troop strength in Afghanistan.

GATES: Let me just put it this way. I found the review that we went through a year ago really useful and important.

McFADDEN: Because?

GATES: Because I learned some things. I adjusted some positions. I changed my views on some things in the course of that . . .

McFADDEN: . . . What? . . .

GATES: . . . two and a half months or so. Well, the July 11 date to begin withdrawal is one example. I had opposed any kind of dates or deadlines in Iraq relentlessly. But in terms of . . .

McFADDEN: . . . Because you felt it gave comfort to the enemy?

GATES: Yeah. And denied us flexibility. But the way that it was framed and the President's decision, and the way we talked about it, about how do you- how do you give the Afghan government a sense of urgency that they have to take ownership of this thing? We're not gonna -- How do you assure, tell them and the American people we're not gonna be there forever? And you weigh that against, well, does it give some relief to the Taliban? And because of the way we discussed it and the way that the pace of the withdrawals beginning in July 11 will be based on the conditions on the ground, you know, if the Taliban are telling their supporters and their soldiers today, the Americans are leaving in July of 2011, they're going to discover very quickly in August and September of 2011 we're still there and we're still out there killing. And so weighing those two things, I came to believe that that was the right decision. So but that was a change of position for me.

McFADDEN: What about you, Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: Well I think Bob has described the process well. It was very thorough. We had many meetings where people freely expressed their views. There was a lot of give and take, and I too learned different perspectives. There was a lot of drilling down into what was meant by counterinsurgency, what it would take in, you know, various districts in Afghanistan to win the trust of the people, what we would have to do to improve governance. It was a complex and and serious effort. I did not enter into it with any preconceived opinion. I entered into it with an open mind, because it was a very serious undertaking.

McFADDEN: Do you feel the two of you ended up pushing the President? Or do you feel that he, at the end of the day, felt comfortable?

CLINTON: I think the President was committed to the process and was open and very clear that he was going to make this decision, which he did after listening to everyone. I don't think his conclusions agreed with any one person. I think he drew from many of us to compose what he thought was the best policy.

McFADDEN: So defeat Al-Qaida and downgrade the Taliban, the goal? Yes? Still the goal?

GATES: Reverse the momentum of the Taliban, deny them control of populated areas, degrade their capabilities, build the Afghan National Security Forces so that between the degrading of the Taliban and the elevating of the Afghan Forces, within some period of time the Afghans will be able to make sure their territory is no longer -- can never again be a platform for launching attacks against anybody.

McFADDEN: So how are we doing? Because a report that was leaked in October from the White House indicated not so well.

GATES: Well this is, as I reported to the President when I came back from Afghanistan a month or so ago, this is a struggle that unusually the closer you are to the fight, the better it looks.

McFADDEN: Why?

GATES: And if you look at the progress that that General Petraeus and the Afghan troops and our troops have made in clearing the areas around Kandahar that have been Taliban safe havens for years and years, and you read the intelligence about Taliban leaders going back to Pakistan and so on, the signs are encouraging. It's early. It's a tough fight...

McFADDEN: And history's against us, isn't it?

GATES: Actually history isn't against us. The people who have failed in Afghanistan have invaded Afghanistan. They've tried to impose a foreign system of government on the Afghans, and they have acted unilaterally, so . . .

McFADDEN: . . . So when Mr. Gorbachev . . .

GATES: . . . So we are in Afghanistan first of all with the sanction of the United Nations, second with as part of the NATO alliance, third and perhaps most importantly at the invitation of the Afghan government, and and we are there to help the Afghans. This is why civilian casualties are so important and why sovereignty is so important ah and observing their sovereignty, because we are there as their partners in this process, and that's different from foreign presidents ever before in that country.

McFADDEN: There are so many Americans who feel this is a hopeless cause and that we're spending our treasure both in terms of the money of this nation, which is you know one could argue sorely needed at home right now, and the treasure of our youth . . .

CLINTON: . . . Well to the . . .

McFADDEN: . . . in a hopeless proposition.

CLINTON: Well I know that some have that an opinion, but certainly what we're seeing on the ground is that progress is being made. Is it as fast as any of us want? Of course not. It's a very difficult struggle against the Taliban. But we are making progress. And I think that the sacrifice that we're making this very painful for all of us who are involved in our government. But we know what the downside is of walking away from an area that can once again become a launching pad for attacks against us and our friends and allies around the world.

McFADDEN: So isn't the real problem Pakistan?

CLINTON: Well Pakistan has a a major responsibility, and they need to be working with us, as they are, to root out the Taliban and Al-Qaida. I think in the last 20 months there has been a considerable change in their strategic calculation about what is in their own best interest.

McFADDEN: In what way?

CLINTON: Well, I know when I became Secretary of State, when I was first testifying, the government of Pakistan had made a kind of peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban in an area called Swat. And they were ceding territory in return for basically an understanding that the Taliban would leave everybody else alone. And of course they wouldn't, because they are aggressive in their desire to attack and undermine the Pakistani government as well as to support the activities of the Taliban in Afghanistan. That has changed. The Pakistanis have lost far more military um men and civilians than any of us have in their fight against the Taliban.

McFADDEN: But isn't it a strange, open, duplicitous, bizarre relationship? You go to Congress and ask for $2 billion for the Pakistanis, and we know that in part they're supporting the Al-Qaida.

CLINTON: Well they're not support Al-Qaida. They are...

McFADDEN: . . . They are certainly supporting the Taliban, and the Taliban is supporting Al-Qaida.

CLINTON: Well they have in the past hedged against both India and an unfriendly regime in Afghanistan by supporting groups that will be their proxies in trying to prevent either India or an unfriendly Afghan government from undermining their position. That is changing. Now I cannot sit here and tell you that it has changed, but that is changing. And again . . .

McFADDEN: . . . And if it doesn't change, would you recommend not giving the $2 billion next year?

CLINTON: Well, what we have done is through intensive consultations with both the civilian, the military and the intelligence leadership in Pakistan, you know, had very frank conversations about what we expect. But I think it is important to note that as they have made these adjustments in their own assessment of their national interests, they're paying a big price for it. It's not an easy calculation for them to make, but we are making progress.

We have a long way to go, and we have to -- we can't be impatient. We can't say, well, you know, the headlines are bad, we're going home. We cannot do that. Part of what we are fighting against, right now, the United States created. We created the Mujahideen force against the Soviet Union. We trained them, we equipped them, we funded them, including somebody named Osama Bin Laden. And then when we finally saw the end of the Soviet Army crossing back out of Afghanistan, we all breathed a sigh of relief and said, okay, fine, we're out of there. And it didn't work out so well for us.

GATES: This is a problem that we have with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. First of all I just note, Pakistanis now have 140,000 troops on on their north western border. They've withdrawn the equivalent of about six divisions from the Indian border and moved them, and they are attacking ah Taliban. They're attacking the Taliban, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and but they are also attacking groups that, in safe havens, that are a problem for us.

But the other piece of this, just to pile onto what Secretary Clinton said, we face in both countries what they call a trust deficit, and it is because they believe we have walked away from them in the past, at the toughest moments of their history. You can't recreate that in a heartbeat. You can't recreate that in a year or two. They both worry that once we've solved the problem in Afghanistan, or if we don't solve it, that either way we will leave, and leave whatever remains in their hands to deal with. Now we're not leaving. We will drawn down our troops over a period of time, but we have every intention of of being active and aggressively involved in Afghanistan and also a long term relationship with Pakistan. But convincing them that we mean that and that we will deliver on that is something we've been working at. And I think we've made some headway, as Secretary Clinton said, but it's a work in progress.

McFADDEN: So not not to in any way underestimate the problem, but the whole problem of Al-Qaida is almost like a game of Whack-A-Mole. I mean, yes, great, Afghanistan. But when you look at Yemen which has, what, five or six times the number of Al-Qaida, why aren't we in Yemen? Why aren't we in Somalia?

GATES: First of all, I think frankly Hillary put it best in the hearing we did together. What what you have seen develop, first of all that border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan is is the epicenter of terrorism, because whether you're in Yemen or Somalia or in Asia or wherever else, they are getting encouragement, they are taking inspiration, and often they are taking guidance from Osama Bin Laden and Zawahiri and their minions who are telling these guys what kind of operations to plan, to keep their focus on the U.S. and so on.

Furthermore, they have created what Hillary calls the syndicate of terror, with it is not just Al-Qaida, it's the Taliban in Pakistan, it's the Taliban in Afghanistan, it's the Haqqani network, it's all these different groups. And a success for one becomes a success for all. So if we don't deal with that problem, then we are going to have a challenge of our own security. And the tentacles spread to a lot of different places, North Africa, Yemen, elsewhere.

McFADDEN: So what can we do to help the Yemen government?

CLINTON: Well we're actually working with the government of Yemen, and we're providing equipment, ah military advice. Ah it's their army which conducts the actions against the Al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen. But we're also trying to persuade the government of Yemen that this is not just about killing bad guys. This is about improving the lives of the people in Yemen.

So from my perspective on the diplomacy and development side, we're trying to assist the government of Yemen to make it clear that it's a full comprehensive effort to try to change direction. If you look at what's happening in Yemen, they're running out of oil. They may be the first country to run out of water. They have a wealth of problems and their internal conflicts between tribes in the south with the government, tribes in the north with the government, it's an incredibly difficult political environment.

So we are working, along with a lot of our allies in the Gulf, because it's not just the United States, it's Saudi Arabia and others who see terrorism emanating from Yemen. It's many of our European friends, and as we just saw with the packages that ah started in Yemen, with the Christmas Day bomber who was trained and directed from Yemen, these these problems can migrate in many different directions. So we have to work where we are with governments and like-minded friends.

McFADDEN: So you tell me you're not going to stay in office more than another year, Secretary Gates? Any thoughts about who might do a good job at Defense?

CLINTON: We're hoping that that timeline keeps moving further and further ah beyond . . .

GATES: . . . We have, we have . . .

CLINTON: . . . We came in together, we should go out together! That's my theory!

GATES: We have, we have what we call the Old Folks Caucus.

CLINTON: [laughter]

GATES: Since we're so much older than everybody else in the government right now! We're the only ones that kinda pick up on our cultural allusions and our jokes and things like that! All these younger people are sitting around with what -- what was that all about? . . .

CLINTON: . . . What are they talking about!

[laughter]

McFADDEN: Could she do your job?

CLINTON: I --

GATES: Sure.

CLINTON: Well yeah, but --

McFADDEN: But what?

CLINTON: No, no, wait a minute!

McFADDEN: I asked -- Just a second, I asked him.

CLINTON: It's not fair, it's not fair! First of all we want Bob to stay, so I don't want him -- I don't want him on national television talking about somebody else doing his job! I hope . . .

GATES: . . . But I will say . . .

CLINTON: . . . we could convince him to stay.

GATES: I will say this. I think that one of the great strengths that Hillary brings to the job as Secretary of State is as spokesperson for the United States around the world. And to go back to the beginning of this conversation, that's not the role of the Secretary of Defense.

McFADDEN: Okay! But you're interested in shattering those glass ceilings, and with due respect two other people have been in this job before. There's never been a woman sitting in the Secretary of Defense's position.

CLINTON: Well and I hope, I hope there is . . .

McFADDEN: . . . The budget's a hundred times bigger than yours, the staff is . . .

CLINTON: . . . Well not exactly a hundred. It feels like a hundred!

McFADDEN: Isn't it a hundred? How much is it?

CLINTON: It's about . . .

GATES: . . . Ten times.

CLINTON: Twelve times, just give or take.

McFADDEN: What's your budget?

GATES: Ah the base budget?

McFADDEN: Yeah.

GATES: Is $550 billion.

McFADDEN: And what's your budget?

CLINTON: It's about $50 billion. Yeah. No, but I do want to see women break every glass ceiling, from Secretary of Defense to President and everything else. But I love the job I'm doing. I love being the Secretary of State. And it doesn't matter to me that other people like Thomas Jefferson have done it. I'm doing it right now. And it is a great time be Secretary of State, because we are having to break new ground in explaining what the United States stands for, who we are, our values, around the world, in ways that we could take for granted in the past, that we no longer can.

You know, I look a lot at survey data of young people, and here in Australia I just did a town hall at one of the universities this morning. Most young people around the world don't have the same memories that their parents and grandparents had of US troops fighting side by side in World War I, II, Korea, Vietnam, along with Australian soldiers or New Zealand soldiers, you know, preventing the march of fascism and communism to save countries from Singapore and Malaysia, all the way to South Korea. They don't -- That's not part of their experience. So they're not against the United States. They just are are not looking and thinking about us ah as being important to their lives. So the job of Secretary of State today is to make that case about American values and about partnerships, and not just government to government, but people to people. There could not be a more rewarding and challenging ah effort than what I'm doing right now.

McFADDEN: And if they -- if the President asked you to serve as Secretary of Defense?

CLINTON: I have made it clear I love the job that I have.

McFADDEN: If he asked you whether she could do it, what would you say?

[laughter]

McFADDEN: Hey you gotta- -- You can't blame a girl for asking... Secretary Clinton, you you just did a very compelling, in light of all the teen gay suicides, about it gets better.

CLINTON: Yes. Right.

McFADDEN: With the two of you sitting here is it going to get better for gay men and women who serve in the military? Is "don't ask, don't tell" going to be repealed?

CLINTON: Well I -- Let me answer first, because Bob, of course, has the responsibility of carrying out the policy that is in existence and any policy that might come into existence, and say that I certainly hope so. I think again it's kind of a generational issue, and this issue, like so many issues, you know young people have different life experiences. But there does have to be a thoughtful process, which is what Bob's running right now, a process to really survey this and examine and analyze it, and come to what is the best decision for our military and what they're expected to do out in very dangerous and difficult situations.

McFADDEN: So assuming that --

GATES: I would say --

McFADDEN: Yeah.

GATES: I would say that the leaving "don't ask, don't tell" behind us is inevitable. The question is whether it is done by legislation that allows us to do it in a thoughtful and careful way, or whether it is struck down by the courts. Because recent court decisions are certainly pointing in that direction. And we went through a period of two weeks in October where we had four different policy changes in the space of, as I say, two weeks, from striking it down totally, to a stay, to appeal, and so on. So I I think we have the least flexibility. We have the least opportunity to do this intelligently and carefully and with the kind of preparation that is necessary, if the courts take this action as opposed to there being legislation.

McFADDEN: And what about the President taking action?

GATES: Well the problem the President faces, I mean his position on this has been clear from the very beginning, and certainly from the state of the union last year. But this is a law. This is not something -- This is not a policy.

CLINTON: Right.

GATES: This is law.

CLINTON: Right.

McFADDEN: So there can't be just an executive . . .

GATES: . . . And so the President either has to be changed by the congress or struck down by the courts. The President cannot do anything unilaterally.

McFADDEN: So will the new congress?

GATES: Well my hope . . .

McFADDEN: . . . Strike this down?

GATES: My hope frankly is that if they -- if we can make the case that having this struck down by the courts is the worst outcome, because it gives us no flexibility, that people will think I'm called a realist, a pragmatist, I'm looking at this realistically. This thing is gonna go one way or the other. And I wanted and I -- when I testified last February I said, you know, there's smart ways to do things and there's stupid ways to do things. And trying to do this all at once and under some kind of fiat, I think is not the way to do it.

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