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Hillary Clinton: The Fresh Air Interview.

Clinton's new memoir, Hard Choices, outlines her four years as secretary of state under President Obama. She talks about her vote for the Iraq War, women's rights and political "gamers."



June 12, 2014

Guest: Hillary Clinton

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Hillary Clinton is on her book tour. One of her stops is our show, and she is my guest today. Her new memoir, "Hard Choices," is about her four years as secretary of state during the first term of Barack Obama - her former rival in the presidential primary. Spoiler alert - she's not going to reveal if she's planning to run for president. I'm not even going to ask. Our interview was recorded yesterday afternoon.

Hillary Clinton, welcome to FRESH AIR. Thank you so much for coming on our show.

HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you so much for having me. I'm looking forward to it.

GROSS: I want to start with something that you told my colleague Renee Montagne this week on Morning Edition. And you said to her, the most important thing I did was to help restore America's leadership in the world, and I think that was a very important accomplishment. We were flat on our back when I walked in there for the first time. We were viewed as being untrustworthy, as violating our moral rules and values, as being economically hobbled.

I'm wondering how you think the war in Iraq changed how America was viewed internationally.

CLINTON: The war in Iraq, first and foremost, had a very negative effect on our standing in the world and on the way that we were viewed by friends, not just adversaries. The way it was conducted, the unfortunate violations that occurred in the treatment of prisoners and others, was deeply distressing and reflected poorly on our values as Americans. Also, though, the economic crisis on top of that was a terrible occurrence. It left so many people in such terrible economic circumstances. But in addition, it really shook the confidence in the American economy here at home, first and foremost, and around the world.

GROSS: Did you ever ask yourself when you were secretary of state how the world might have looked different if not for the war in Iraq?

CLINTON: I did. I think you have to go before that, though, and say, how would the world have looked different if the kind of tax cut decisions by President Bush had not been made or not been made in a way that they were, because we ended the Clinton administration with a surplus - a balanced budget. We were so well-positioned to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of the economy, but more importantly, to start planning the kind of investments we needed for the future.

Along came 9/11 - you know, a historically terrible event in the minds of all of us and particularly for me as a senator from New York - with a lot of human costs and economic costs and also a shock to how we saw ourselves and what the world was throwing at us at the time. And again, the response to 9/11 - appropriately going after those who attacked us in Al-Qaida who were based in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas - had the full support.

NATO passed a strong resolution, you know, that basically invoked what's called Article Five because an attack on one is an attack on all. The world was with us. And unfortunately, the diversion and the decision that was made about Iraq - which I write in the book was certainly a mistake for me to support - undermined a lot of that solidarity that we had. And what was equally damaging, if one looks backward now, is that the Bush administration wouldn't pay for the war on terror, wouldn't pay for Iraq, wouldn't pay for Afghanistan. And we ended up in a very difficult economic situation. And we also ended up with much of the rest of the world, who were willing to support us in Afghanistan and, up to a point, willing to support the so-called war on terror, but turned their backs largely on the invasion of Iraq.

GROSS: In your book, "Hard Choices," you write that your vote to authorize military action in Iraq was, quote, "a mistake." You say, I got it wrong, plain and simple. You hadn't publicly used the word "mistake" before. Why didn't you use that word during the 2008 campaign, and did something change between then and now in how you saw the war or how you saw your vote authorizing the use of force?

CLINTON: You know, Terry, as I write in the book, I made the best decision that I could at the time. And as we went through the years and I saw the way that the president and his team used my vote and the other votes to authorize action, I became increasingly distressed.

I did not believe that it was in the best interest of our country, and it was not something that I, any longer, wanted to be associated with. Yet at the same time, I was very clear that I felt a responsibility for having voted the way that I did, which led to sending hundreds of thousands of our young men and women into Iraq. And I didn't feel comfortable saying anything that could be interpreted as somehow turning my back on them.

And I wanted to make clear in this book - especially in the context of my thinking about what I would recommend to President Obama concerning additional troops in Afghanistan - that I did get it wrong in Iraq, and it was a mistake. And in many ways, that mistake, as costly as it was, it gave me a much clearer view and certainly increased my skepticism and my humility about these difficult decisions that President Obama had to make when he took office.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Hillary Clinton. And her new memoir is called "Hard Choices," and it's about her four years as secretary of state.

As you were trying to improve the image of the United States abroad, the 250,000 diplomatic cables were leaked as part of WikiLeaks. And you write in your book, (reading) I turned to face the diplomatic fallout from aggrieved allies and outraged partners. What were the worst consequences from your point of view of the WikiLeaks cables?

CLINTON: Well, there were three - just for a little context. The decision was made, before I became secretary of state, to provide to the military diplomatic cables, at their request, that would give them more insight into some of the political and strategic considerations that our diplomats were observing in dealing with various governments that might assist the military in expanding its understanding of the terrain in which they operated. And the idea behind that sounded reasonable. But as we know, there was a decision made by a fairly low-ranking - Private Manning - a fairly low-ranking intelligence officer based in Iraq to download all of these cables and to provide them to the WikiLeaks site.

When they began coming out, there were several consequences. One was that many of the sources that diplomats use are people within government who may disagree with their own governments, or there are people out of government - human rights activists, dissidents, others - who believe strongly in the human rights values that the United States tries to champion.

So what we had to do was to form a task force that would try to reach out and inform everyone who we thought might be at risk if these cables were published and fell into the hands of their country's leaders or intelligence services, that their name might be used. Now, some of the outlets that printed the cables agreed to, you know, either remove or mask some of those names. But others didn't, and a lot was just dumped into cyberspace for whomever wished to see it.

GROSS: Was anyone hurt?

CLINTON: We have some evidence that - we had to make some decisions to move some people, to protect some people, to basically repudiate some people so that they looked like they were not - that it was inaccurate, what was printed. In Tunisia, the description of Ben Ali, the former dictator's lavish lifestyle and that of his wife's family, was used in furtherance of the revolution in Tunisia. And he was forced to flee for that and many other reasons.

In Libya, the WikiLeaks cables written by our former ambassador, Ambassador Cretz, so enraged Gadhafi that he started having thugs follow him and bump up against him and threaten him. And we had to remove him. So there were a lot of - a lot of issues.

Thankfully, I don't know, sitting here today, of anyone who ended up in prison or ended up dead. But in large measure, I attribute the professionals at the State Department with the foresight to go through every one of those cables and do everything we could to warn, move and otherwise protect people.

GROSS: My guest is Hillary Clinton. Her new memoir, "Hard Choices," is about her four years as secretary of state. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Hillary Clinton. Her new memoir, "Hard Choices," is about her four years as secretary of state. You write in your book, (reading) in the end, the fallout from WikiLeaks was bad, but not crippling. However, it did foreshadow another much more serious breach of a far different nature, which occurred after I left office.

And you're referring, of course, to Edward Snowden and his leaks. So do you think it was at all good on some level that the leaks started a conversation about whether it's legal and appropriate for the NSA to be collecting metadata on Americans' phone calls and collecting data from Internet companies like Google and Facebook about Americans?

And I'll mention, not that you and your husband should necessarily have the same opinions, but even your husband, Bill, in April at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, said, Mr. Snowden has been sort of an imperfect messenger from my point of view for what we need to be talking about here. The Snowden case has raised all of these questions about whether we can use technology to protect the national security without destroying the liberty, which includes the right to privacy, of basically innocent bystanders. We cannot change the character of our country or compromise the future of our people by creating a national security state, which takes away the liberty and privacy we propose to advance.

So I'm wondering if you think that, you know, possibly a good outcome of the Edward Snowden leaks, which I know you find very upsetting, was opening up this debate?

CLINTON: Well, I usually agree with my husband, but let me say on this point that there were many ways to start this conversation. And in fact, the conversation was starting. Members of Congress - a few notable examples like Senator Wyden and Senator Udall and others - were beginning to raise issues that it was time for us to take a hard look at all of the laws that have been passed and how they were implemented since 9/11.

The president was addressing this. In fact, he had given a speech that basically made that point shortly before these disclosures were made. And of course, I think it's imperative that in our political system, in our society at large, we have these debates. So I welcome the conversation. But I think that he was not only an imperfect messenger, but he was a messenger who could have chosen other ways to raise the very specific issues about the impact on Americans. But that's not all he did.

In fact, the amount of information that was taken and the substance of that information is much broader. The pieces about the metadata collection, the other impacts on Americans, is a small sliver of what was stolen. Most of what was stolen concerned the surveillance that the United States undertakes, totally legally, against other nations. Now, we also have to make sure that it doesn't go too far, like I personally deplore the tapping of Angela Merkel's cell phone. That was unnecessary. But collecting information about what's going around the world is essential to our security.

There were other ways that Mr. Snowden could have expressed his concerns, by reaching out to some of the senators or other members of Congress or journalists in order to convey his questions about the implementation of the laws surrounding the collection of information concerning Americans' calls and emails. I think everyone would have applauded that because it would have added to the debate that was already started. Instead, he left the country - first to China, then to Russia - taking with him a huge amount of information about how we track the Chinese military's investments and testing of military equipment, how we monitor the communications between al-Qaida operatives. Just two examples. And...

GROSS: So you know what's in the other cables that he took?

CLINTON: We know. There's a lot of public writing about what's in the massive amount of information that was taken. You can read the coverage by people like Walter Pincus or Ben Wittes or others who are quite knowledgeable about the information that might have been sent. I am only talking about what's been publicly discussed in news coverage by insiders, people who cover the intelligence community and people who have a good idea about the processes.

But the bottom line is he ends up in Russia, a country that is a heavy surveillance state, where every time I went there, I had to leave all my electronic equipment on the plane I flew in on with the batteries out of them because we knew the Russians would penetrate everything. At the State Department, we were to attacked on an hourly basis, people trying to get into files and not just the official files, official computers, but personal ones as well.

This is what goes on. There is a concerted effort by many nations and other groups to acquire information about America's military readiness, about its strategic planning, about its economic activities. And what we turn to the intelligence community, including the NSA to do, is to make sure that they do everything they can to know what other people are trying to get from us and prevent that from happening.

GROSS: I want to move on to LGBT rights, which was very important to you as secretary of state. You made it one of your priorities. In fact, you gave a speech at the headquarters of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva with the goal to place LGBT rights in the international community's framework of human rights. In that speech, you said, (reading) like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.

I found it very interesting that you decided to not limit what you were saying to gay rights but to include transgender people. There are parts of the world that are still imprisoning or even executing people for being gay. Being transgender is probably, like, way off the map for them. Was it difficult to decide to include transgender, which would strike some people as being more radical than including - than just including gay and bisexual people?

CLINTON: Well, LGBT includes the T, and I wanted to stand up for the entire community. I don't believe that people who are the L, the G, the B or the T should be persecuted, assaulted, imprisoned, even killed for who they are. And this was the debate that I was having with leaders in many parts of the world who first denied there were any such people in their communities, that it was all an invention and export of the West and then would change the argument to they didn't want people being proselytized. They didn't want children being abused.

And I said well, there are laws against that that are certainly appropriate. No one should be coerced. No one should be abused. But you're talking about the status, the, you know - the very core of who a person is. And it has become, and I think will continue to be, a very important issue for the United States to combat around the world and to stand up for the rights of all people. And as I said, not just women, religious, ethnic, tribal - all people, including the LGBT community.

GROSS: You added gender identity to the State Department's Equal Employment Opportunity policy, and you made it easier for Americans to change their sex on their passport. Did you have to sneak that in without a lot of attention?

I can - I mean, I didn't know you'd done that. But I have a feeling, if a lot of people had known you'd done that, you would've gotten a lot of pushback for that. I mean, 'cause there's still a lot of people in our country who oppose gay rights and would probably even more so oppose, like, any recognition of the transgender community. So did you do that on (laughing) the quiet?

CLINTON: Well, I don't know how quiet it was. Even before I did that, I spoke to the LGBT employees at the State Department. I was aware of their hopes for some changes that might make it easier for them to be the professionals that they had signed up to be. And I don't think it was any big secret. I think it was part of the overall efforts to try to treat people with dignity and equality.

And certainly the Obama administration made some of its own moves at the same time with respect to the larger federal employee pool. And when I had responsibility for the well-being of the 70,000 or so employees around the world who worked for the State Department and USAID, I had an opportunity, through executive action, to recognize that there were barriers and vestiges of discrimination that had no place in a moderate American workplace and so I acted.

GROSS: Hillary Clinton will be back in the second half of the show. Her new memoir about her four years as secretary of state is called "Hard Choices." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Hillary Clinton. Her new memoir "Hard Choices" is about her four years as secretary of state during President Obama's first term. When we left off, we were talking about her efforts to bring LGBT rights into the international community's framework of human rights. She also made it easier for Americans to change their gender on their passports. Were there positions you believed in as senator but you couldn't publicly support because you felt that it wasn't time yet? That the positions would have been too unpopular? That the public wasn't ready in regards to LGBT rights? And, you know, I often think that there are politicians who, you know, in their heart really support it but don't publicly support it.

CLINTON: Well, I was fully on board with ending discrimination in the workplace on behalf of the LGBT community. I did not support gay marriage when I was in the Senate or running for president, as you know, and as President Obama and others held the same position. But it, for me, became an opportunity to do what I could as secretary of state to make the workplace fairer - something I had always supported and spoke out about. And then when I was out of the secretary of state position and once again free to comment on domestic matters, I very shortly came out in favor of fully equality, including gay marriage.

GROSS: So what's it like when you're in office and you have to do all these political calculations to not be able to support something like gay marriage that you actually believe in? And you obviously feel very committed to human rights and you obviously put gay rights as part of human rights, but in doing the calculus you decided you couldn't support it - correct me if I'm reading it wrong.

CLINTON: Well, I think you're reading it very wrong. I think that, as I said, just as the president has said, you know, just because you're a politician, doesn't mean you're not a thinking human being. And you gather information. You think through positions. You're not 100 percent set - thank goodness - you're constantly reevaluating where you stand. That was true for me. We talked earlier about Iraq, for goodness sakes. So, for me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states. And in many of the conversations that I and my colleagues and supporters had, I fully endorse the efforts by activists who work state-by-state and in fact that is what is working. And I think that, you know, being in the position that I was in the Senate - fighting employment discrimination, which we still have some ways to go - was appropriate at that time.

As secretary of state, I was out of domestic politics and I was certainly doing all I could on the international scene to raise the importance of the human rights of the LGBT community. And then leaving that position, I was able to, you know, very quickly announce that I was fully in support of gay marriage and that it is now continuing to proceed state-by-state.

And I am very, very hopeful that we will make progress and see even, you know, more change and acceptance. One of my big problems right now is that too many people believe they have a direct line to the divine and they never want to change their mind about anything. They're never open to new information and they like to operate in an evidence-free zone. And I think it's good if people continue to change.

GROSS: So you mentioned that you believe in state-by-state for gay marriage, but it's the Supreme Court, too. The Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA - the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. That part is now struck down. And DOMA was actually signed by your husband when he was president. In spite of the fact that he signed it, were you glad at this point that the Supreme Court struck some of it down?

CLINTON: Of course. And, you know, again, let's - we are living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I'm proud of our country. I'm proud of the people who had been on the frontlines of advocacy, but in 1993, that was not the case and there was a very concerted effort in the Congress to, you know, make it even more difficult and greater discrimination. And what DOMA did is at least allow the states to act. It wasn't going yet to be recognized by the federal government, but at the state level there was the opportunity. And my husband, you know, was the first to say that, you know, the political circumstances, the threats that were trying to be alleviated by the passage of DOMA thankfully were no longer so preeminent and we could keep moving forward, and that's what we're doing.

GROSS: So just to clarify - just one more question on this - would you say your view evolved since the '90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?

CLINTON: I think I'm an American. (Laughing) And I think we have all evolved and it's been one of the fastest most sweeping transformations.

GROSS: No, I understand, but a lot of people already believed in it back the '90s. A lot of people already supported gay marriage.

CLINTON: But not - to be fair, Terry, not that many. Yes, were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement, but the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue and beginning to, you know, think about it and grasp it for the first time. And, you know, think about their neighbor down the street who deserved to have the same rights as they did or their son or their daughter. It has been an extraordinarily fast - by historic terms - social, political and legal transformation. And we ought to celebrate that instead of plowing old ground, where in fact a lot of people, the vast majority of people, have been moving forward - maybe slowly, maybe tentatively, maybe not as quickly and extensively as many would have hoped, but nevertheless we are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country, is solidly established. Although there will be places.

GROSS: I - I...

CLINTON: Texas, just to name one, where that is still going to be an ongoing struggle.

GROSS: I'm pretty sure you didn't answer my question about whether you evolved or it was the American public that changed (Laughing).

CLINTON: I said I'm an American, so of we all evolved. And I think that that's a fair, you know, that's a fair conclusion.

GROSS: So you're saying your opinion on gay marriage changed as opposed to you - you just felt it was comfortable...

CLINTON: You know, somebody is always first, Terry. Somebody's always out front and thank goodness they are. But that doesn't mean that those who joined later in being publicly supportive or even privately accepting that there needs to be change are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across our country if nobody changed their mind. And thank goodness so many of us have.

GROSS: So that's one for you changed your mind? (Laughing).

CLINTON: You know, I really - I have to say, I think you are very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.

GROSS: I am just trying to clarify so I can understand.

CLINTON: No, I don't think you are trying to clarify. I think you're trying to say that, you know, I used to be opposed and now I'm in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that's just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record. I have a great commitment to this issue and I am proud of what I've done and the progress we're making.

GROSS: You know, I'm just saying - I'm sorry - I just want to clarify what I was saying - no, I was saying that you maybe really believed this all along, but - you know, believed in gay marriage all along, but felt for political reasons America wasn't ready yet and you couldn't say it. That's what I was thinking.

CLINTON: No. No, that is not true.


CLINTON: I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don't think you probably did either. This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay rights movement began to talk about and slowly but surely convinced others of the rightness of that position. And when I was ready to say what I said, I said it.

GROSS: OK, thank you for clarifying that. If you're just joining us, my guest is Hillary Clinton. Her new memoir "Hard Choices" is about her four years as secretary of state. You know, another thing that you made a priority was women's rights issues. And to not have that seem as, you know, like - oh, a secondary thing, when there's time we can talk about women too - but to really emphasize that as a very important women's rights, you know, human rights issue. And I'm wondering what it was like for you representing the United States in countries where women have no rights or, to flip that, what it's like to talk with the leader of a country who might even treat you as an equal yet believe that the women of his own country shouldn't be allowed out of the house and escorted by a man, should be covered from head to toe, shouldn't be allowed to vote, shouldn't be allowed to drive etc., etc. So can you talk a little bit about the experience of dealing with world leaders in countries where women basically have no rights?

CLINTON: Yes, because I had a lot of that experience. Unfortunately a large part of the world denies women rights that should be theirs by virtue of being human beings. And there were two different experiences. In some places, there is just a cultural-religious opposition to giving women their full rights and it's justified because we've never done it or it's justified because it violates the tenants of our religion. But it nevertheless is painful to be observing. And I constantly raise these issues with leaders. And then there are other places where they're kind of indifferent to women, except those who are close to them. You see that in the elites of a lot of countries that have laws against women, you know, voting or how they dress or whether they can drive a car, but their own daughters, you know, go off to Harvard or Oxford and enjoy a western style of living and certainly an advanced education. And in some places, like Pakistan, the elite, which is highly educated, could care less whether poorer women have any opportunities at all. So I saw the full gamut of how women were treated and mistreated. I never stopped raising it. I never stopped confronting leaders and I didn't stop from, you know, pointing out that it was often hypocritical. But I was also trying to make the case in different ways so that I could break through and convince leaders to do more on education, on health care, on opening more doors of opportunity, on paying taxes, for example, so that every child - boy and girl - could end up going to school. So many different approaches that I tried. And probably most significant was the information that became available around the time I became secretary that made the case compelling about the economic roles of women, that the failure to include women in the formal economy in countries led to a lower standard of living, a lower gross domestic product. And that caught people's attention. You know, I make the moral argument, the human argument, the political argument - they could brush that off, their eyes would roll. But when you make the economic argument, more people paid attention.

GROSS: My guest is Hillary Clinton. Her new memoir "Hard Choices" is about her four years as secretary of state. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you are just joining us, my guest is Hillary Clinton. And her new memoir, "Hard Choices" is about her four years as secretary of state. When you were secretary of state, how did you decide how to walk the line between respecting a head of state's religion that might say, oh, you know, a woman needs to cover up or a woman didn't have rights, and not allowing yourself to be - to diminish your own right or to diminish your own self-respect in front of that leader?

CLINTON: Well, when you're a secretary of state, as Condi Rice and Madeleine Albright and I have discussed, it's perhaps unfortunate, but it's a fact that you're treated as kind of an honorary man or a unique woman who comes from another place outside of the religion, outside of the culture. And I never ran into any personal problems with that. I had very frank discussions on a full range of issues in a lot of countries where women were denied their rights. But I always raised women's rights. So it could not be said or assumed by the leader that I was happy with the position of being, quote, "the honorary man" - the representative of the government of the United States.

And I think you'd hear the same from Condi and from Madeleine that you know full well - your eyes are open; you're going into this; and the reason they're receiving you, and you don't have your head covered; and in my case, I'm standing there, you know, in a pantsuit; and I'm shaking their hand, and it's going to be on the front page of their newspaper - that they see that as an exception. And I keep trying to demonstrate that they can learn from our experience in our country where, over the long history of the United States, we keep trying to make a more perfect union. And of course, that includes trying to ensure the full participation of women.

GROSS: You write, of course, about the Arab Spring. You know, the revolutions that overthrew autocratic leaders in the Arab world. Some of that has not worked out as ideal as hoped. And you write about the difficult line America has had to with walk in supporting corrupt autocratic leaders who cooperated with American administrations on al-Qaida and Middle East peace, places like Yemen and Egypt - two of the countries whose leaders were forced out during the Arab Spring.

Can you reflect a little bit on that trade-off? 'Cause I think American leaders are having to that calculus again, for instance with, you know, Egypt's President al-Sisi, who, you know, was the head of the military in Egypt, overthrew President Morsi who was elected. And al-Sisi was just, you know, elected in an election many people are questioning. But he is now the new leader, and he seems to be increasing the crackdown on protesters and dissidents. So can you talk about that calculus between, you know, supporting authoritarian leaders when they support some U.S. policy goals?

CLINTON: Well, that's one of the many hard choices that we have to make, and it's one that American presidents, secretaries of state, others have faced from the very beginning. When you are trying to promote your values and pursue your interests and protect your security, you are constantly trying to reach the right equilibrium. It is absolutely the case that when we have serious security interests that affect us, our friends and our allies, we are going to prioritize security. We're going to keep trying to demonstrate, through word and deed, the values that we believe are universal. But we're going to make some difficult transactional calculations that lead to hard choices.

On Egypt, particularly, I just want to make this point; the revolution in Egypt was an extraordinary event. And it was largely leaderless. It was catalyzed by, led by young people in Tahrir Square. The Muslim Brotherhood didn't lead it. They were latecomers to it. And when Mubarak was forced out of office, the question is, what would come next? I went to Egypt. I went to even see Tahrir Square.

I met with a large of young Egyptians who'd been there demanding freedom from Mubarak's heavy hand. And I asked them, I said, so who's going to run for office? Who's going to form a political party? Who's going to stand for the values that you've been advocating for? And they said, we don't do that. That's not what we do. Others will do it.

I said, well, you know, there are only two organized forces in this country - the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. If you don't do it, they're going to be back in charge. And there was no understanding of politics, nothing that led any of them to believe that they could take this extraordinary accomplishment and institutionalize it. So this is a complicated, ongoing effort that the United States is engaged in, trying to help people who have never experienced democracy, never been given the opportunity to lead or empowered to know how to do that.

GROSS: My guest is Hillary Clinton. Her new memoir, "Hard Choices," is about her four years as secretary of state. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: My guest is Hillary Clinton, and she's written a new memoir about her four years as secretary of state called "Hard Choices." So you've said, you know, that you're not going to decide whether you're going to run for president or not until the end of the year. And like a lot of people, I'm wondering, why would you even think about putting yourself through this? Trying to find dirt on you is nearly a national past-time for your opponents. It's like one of their favorite sports. Like...

CLINTON: (Laughing) Yeah.

GROSS: Isn't it a relief to try to step away from that?

CLINTON: It is, and I'm very glad that I have. I told President Obama about halfway through my term as secretary of state that I was going to only serve in his first term. I was confident he would be re-elected, but I needed to get off the high wire I had been on for more than 20 years. And I'm very glad to have this time. I really dove into writing this book. It was very important to me to, you know, write something that perhaps Americans and others who wonder whether America still matters could read and think through these issues that I had to deal with as secretary of state.

So I am not making any decision yet, but I do feel that we're at a particularly important point in our political life as a nation. A lot of what I've worked for my entire life - freedom and opportunity and economic equality and so much else - is being severely tested. And lots of people in the political arena today just don't share my vision for what America is and what we can continue to be.

I'm about to be a grandmother in the fall. I'm obviously thinking about the next generation. But I've not made a decision. I want to let it percolate and think through. But I would not be deterred by the blood sport of politics because the reason, I think, people go after me or anyone who speaks up on behalf of progressive values and the kind of country we want to see for all of our people is because they want to deter or defeat. And that is not reason enough to step out of the spotlight.

GROSS: So I have to ask you about the kerfuffle over the People magazine cover that you were on. You were standing with your hands resting on the back of a chair, apparently a patio chair. But the photo was cropped, so all we saw of the chair was the bar across the top of the chair. And your good friend, Matt Drudge, tweeted, is Clinton holding a walker? Now, you know, obviously it wasn't a walker but - and he didn't lie. He didn't say you were holding a walker. He just asked a question in the tweet. Is that a technique that you've become used to, like...

CLINTON: Yes, it is to me. (Laughing).

GROSS: Planting ideas in people's heads, not by making a statement, but just by - I'm just asking a question.

CLINTON: Right, well...

GROSS: Is that a walker?

CLINTON: Yeah, Karl Rove tried that with my health and got totally, you know, shot down. I am so used to these people. They're like a bunch of, you know, gamers. They are trying constantly to, you know, raise false canards, you know, plant, you know, false information, and that's what they do.

They don't want to have a real debate about what the tax policy of this country should be. They don't want to have a real debate about how we begin growing the economy again and putting more people to work. They don't want to have a real debate about climate change and clean energy. They want people to get diverted and totally off subject, and that is their modus operandi.

But I have to say, Terry, that if that's the best they have to offer, let them do it because that is not the debate that I think the American people want to have. And, you know, there's a difference between fair game and playing games. And it is, unfortunately, too common in today's political environment that people want to play games that divert attention from the real issues that affect our country and its future.

GROSS: So this isn't a question you can answer quickly, but does the world look really different as secretary of state than it did as senator?

CLINTON: Well, it was a different perspective. Going to 112 countries and seeing our country from that vantage point, particularly during some times that were quite painful - like when Republicans were threatening to default on our debt, for example - and to see the reaction, in many instances, the shock, bewilderment, disdain, contempt that others had for what they viewed as our dysfunctional political system. That was a different perspective.

As I write in the book, when I was in Hong Kong in July of 2011 and Republicans were threatening to default on the debt, Asian business leaders who I was meeting with were just incredulous. How can this happen? Why would the United States do this to itself? What does this mean? Fast-forward, when I was out of office last fall, when the Republicans did shut down the government, forcing President Obama to cancel a very important trip to Asia, leaving the stage to the president of China, the president of Russia, who relished the absence of the United States. And when they were once again threatening to shut - not only to shut down the government, but refused to pay our debts, the press around the world was different. It was, OK, if the United States is going to be dysfunctional, if they are not going to continue to lead economically and politically, then we need alternatives. As one Chinese official said, we need to de- Americanize the world. And we need to look for a different reserve currency than the dollar.

That has dire consequences for our economy, for our standing in the world. So I certainly did have a perspective from abroad that convinced me, once again, the United States is the indispensable nation. The only thing that can prevent us from continuing to promote our values and pursue our interests and protect our security is us. And that's why these upcoming elections will be so consequential.

GROSS: Hillary Clinton, thank you so much for speaking with us. Thank you for your time.

CLINTON: Thank you. Nice to talk with you, Terry.

GROSS: Hillary Clinton's new memoir about her four years as secretary of state is called "Hard Choices." FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller, our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Myers, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman, and Theresa Madden. WHYY's chief content officer is Christine Dempsey. I'm Terry Gross.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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