Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton on what it's like to be secretary of state.

Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton on what it's like to be secretary of state.

Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton on what it's like to be secretary of state.

Dec. 22 2009 7:02 AM

"It's a Job That Requires 24-Hour Attention"

Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton on what it's like to be secretary of state.

This conversation appears in Newsweek's "Interview" issue. To read more of the magazine's interviews with the year's biggest newsmakers, go to Newsweek.com.

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In Afghanistan, we were all part of the lengthy analysis to determine the way forward. And on both the military and the civilian side there was a conclusion reached that military force alone would not be successful. Perhaps it's an obvious conclusion, but it is one that raises a lot of questions that then State and USAID have to answer. It is so much easier to get resources when you are in the Defense Department than it is when you are in the State Department and USAID. So a huge part of your budget becomes Iraq, Afghanistan, and then the civilian assistance going into Pakistan. In a time of budget constraint like we're facing now, it's just much more difficult for us to get the resources that we're expected to have, but the responsibilities still remain. So, it's the tension of the stress that comes with any kind of wartime situation, because when our young men and women in uniform are put in harm's way, increasingly so are our civilians because they are expected to go right out there with the military. If we say we're going to work on agriculture in Afghanistan, the agronomist is there the next day after the fighting stops. So it adds to the complexity and the sense of responsibility.

Kissinger: I would say the special experience of American wartime policy in the last 40 years, from Vietnam on, is that the war itself became controversial in the country and that the most important thing we need in the current situation is, whatever disagreements there may be on tactics, that the legitimacy of the war itself does not become a subject of controversy. We have to start with the assumption, obviously, that whatever administration is conducting a war wants to end it.

Clinton: Right.


Kissinger: Nobody has more at stake than the administration in office. But if you look at the debates we had on Vietnam, Iraq, and so forth, ending the war became defined as the withdrawal of forces and as the primary if not the exclusive exit strategy. But in fact the best exit strategy is victory. Another is diplomacy. Another is the war just dying out. But if you identify exit with withdrawal of American forces, you neglect the political objective. In such circumstances you trap yourself in a position in which the administration in office gets assaulted for insufficient dedication to ending the war, [and] it has to do things that can be against its better judgment. We often found ourselves there.

This is my attitude toward the administration on the war, whether I agree with every last detail or not. The second point that Hillary made is about the civilian side of it, and there is a third element, which is the war will have to find, at some point, a diplomatic outcome. There has to be something that recognizes what the outcome is, in the name of which it can be defended. The disaster after Vietnam was that we would not support what had been negotiated. Whatever emerges in Afghanistan has to be supported, and it needs a legal framework internationally, and that couldn't exist yet. I would think that it's a big challenge that the secretary faces. But the debate ought to be in that framework and not "Do we want to end the war? How quickly can we end the war?" I take it for granted that the administration wants to end it as quickly as is at all possible. Why would they not?

Meacham:In the popular mind, I think there's sometimes a sense that there's diplomacy and then there's mili­tary force. There's a hawk-dove simplicity. What would be the message you would want voters and Americans to have in their heads as they are evaluating Afghanistan, Iraq, the negotiations with Iran going forward?

Clinton: I want people to know we may be sending more troops [to Afghanistan], but we're also intensifying our diplomatic and political efforts and doing what we can alongside the people of Afghanistan to deliver results in terms of better services for them, all of which are part of our strategic view of how you reverse the momentum of the Taliban. So it's all connected. It's not either/or any longer.

Kissinger: Whenever one creates a diplomatic forum, one has to understand that there has to be a combination of rewards and penalties and that the other side will make its conclusions on the basis of benefits and risks. One has to be able to construct that, and one should never put a poor negotiator in the room and say, now you will start making compromises. Create the impression of endless willingness to compromise and you almost invite deadlines. That's the challenge we now have in North Korea and have had in North Korea for 10 years. In this sense, diplomacy and foreign policy and other elements of political activity have to be closely linked and have to be understood by the negotiators. That's why Hillary has the most exciting job in the government.



But it's also more like a conductor than a soloist.