Hillary Clinton: 'Failure' to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS

JG: I think that defeating fascism and communism is a pretty big deal.

HRC: That’s how I feel! Maybe this is old-fashioned. Okay, I feel that this might be an old-fashioned idea—but I’m about to find out, in more ways than one.

Great nations need organizing principles, and “Don’t do stupid stuff” is not an organizing principle. It may be a necessary brake on the actions you might take in order to promote a vision.

JG: So why do you think the president went out of his way to suggest recently that that this is his foreign policy in a nutshell?

HRC: I think he was trying to communicate to the American people that he’s not going to do something crazy. I’ve sat in too many rooms with the president. He’s thoughtful, he’s incredibly smart, and able to analyze a lot of different factors that are all moving at the same time. I think he is cautious because he knows what he inherited, both the two wars and the economic front, and he has expended a lot of capital and energy trying to pull us out of the hole we’re in.

So I think that that’s a political message. It’s not his worldview, if that makes sense to you.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the campaign trail, in 2008 (Jim Young/Reuters)

JG: There is an idea in some quarters that the administration shows signs of believing that we, the U.S., aren’t so great, so we shouldn’t be telling people what to do.

HRC: I know that that is an opinion held by a certain group of Americans, I get all that. It’s not where I’m at.

JG: What is your organizing principle, then?

HRC: Peace, progress, and prosperity. This worked for a very long time. Take prosperity. That’s a huge domestic challenge for us. If we don’t restore the American dream for Americans, then you can forget about any kind of continuing leadership in the world. Americans deserve to feel secure in their own lives, in their own middle-class aspirations, before you go to them and say, “We’re going to have to enforce navigable sea lanes in the South China Sea.” You’ve got to take care of your home first. That’s another part of the political messaging that you have to engage in right now. People are not only turned off about being engaged in the world, they’re pretty discouraged about what’s happening here at home.

I think people want—and this is a generalization I will go ahead and make—people want to make sure our economic situation improves and that our political decision-making improves. Whether they articulate it this way or not, I think people feel like we’re facing really important challenges here at home: The economy is not growing, the middle class is not feeling like they are secure, and we are living in a time of gridlock and dysfunction that is just frustrating and outraging. 

People assume that we’re going to have to do what we do so long as it’s not stupid, but what people want us to focus on are problems here at home. If you were to scratch below the surface on that—and I haven’t looked at the research or the polling—but I think people would say, first things first. Let’s make sure we are taking care of our people and we’re doing it in a way that will bring rewards to those of us who work hard, play by the rules, and yeah, we don’t want to see the world go to hell in a handbasket, and they don’t want to see a resurgence of aggression by anybody.

JG: Do you think they understand your idea about expansionist jihadism following us home? 

HRC: I don’t know that people are thinking about it. People are thinking about what is wrong with people in Washington that they can’t make decisions, and they want the economy to grow again. People are feeling a little bit that there’s a little bit happening that is making them feel better about the economy, but it’s not nearly enough where it should be.

JG: Have you been able to embed your women’s agenda at the core of what the federal government does?

HRC: Yes, we did. We had the first-ever ambassador for global women’s issues. That’s permanent now, and that’s a big deal because that is the beachhead.

Secretary Kerry to his credit has issued directions to embassies and diplomats about this continuing to be a priority for our government. There is also a much greater basis in research now that proves you cannot have peace and security without the participation of women. You can’t grow your GDP without opening the doors to full participation of women and girls in the formal economy.

JG: There’s a link between misogyny and stagnation in the Middle East, which in many ways is the world’s most dysfunctional region.

HRC: It’s now very provable, when you look at the data from the IMF and the World Bank and what opening the formal economy would mean to a country’s GDP. You have Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe in Japan who was elected to fix the economy after so many years of dysfunction in Japan, and one of the major elements in his plan is to get women into the workforce. If you do that, if I remember correctly, the GDP for Japan would go up nine percent. Well, it would go up 34 percent in Egypt. So it’s self-evident and provable.

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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