The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, joins us to discuss how the United States can confront today’s national security challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to competition with China and Russia.
Moderated by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Foreign Affairs LIVE With Hillary Clinton
Monday, March 22, 2021
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EDT
HAASS: Well, good afternoon for all of you on the East Coast. Good morning for those of you out west and probably good evening for those of you who may be tuning in from Europe or points farther east. Welcome to this special Foreign Affairs LIVE. We literally have thousands of subscribers to the greatest magazine in the world devoted to all things international and things about American foreign policy and, obviously, foreign affairs. It’s in its ninety-ninth year. I also want to welcome members of the Council on Foreign Relations. That's an organization in its hundredth year. So this is a gala time. And obviously today, we are thrilled to have the former first lady; the former senator from my state, the great state of New York, the Empire State; the sixty-seventh secretary of state; and last but not least an author in the November/December issue of said magazine of Foreign Affairs who wrote a piece called "A National Security Reckoning." Secretary Clinton, great to welcome you back to the Council on Foreign Relations and to Foreign Affairs for the umpteenth time. We're thrilled to have you.
CLINTON: Thank you so much, Richard. It's always a delight to be with you and happy one hundredth and ninety-ninth anniversary.
HAASS: Now you're supposed to tell me I look pretty good for a hundred. Thank you.
HAASS: Not a day over ninety. So much to cover. And again, thank you for doing this. One of the things that you were most associated with when you were secretary of state was your interest in advancing the welfare and the options for girls and women around the world. That was really one, I thought, of the hallmarks of your tenure. And here we are now on the eve of the administration, having to make [inaudible] May 1 is the date where the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed just over a year ago calls for all U.S. forces to depart. I wanted to begin with that because, obviously, if we are to do this there's many—I'll be honest, including me—who think this would have real potentially adverse consequences for the government of Afghanistan but also for the fate and welfare of girls and women whose situation has improved pretty dramatically. It’s not perfect, but it's improved over the recent years and decades. So I was curious, given your perspective, given your familiarity with Afghanistan, what is your sense of what would be wise for us to do at this point?
CLINTON: Well, Richard, you're right to be concerned. This is one of those wicked problems that come up in life but particularly in matters of foreign policy. There's a great appetite, as you know very well, for the United States to begin to draw down and end what are sometimes referred to as the “forever wars,” the longest presence in a conflict now in Afghanistan in our history. So there is certainly a very active consideration that I know is going on inside the administration about what's the path forward. But on the other hand, there is a great deal of worry, number one, that the Taliban has not abided by the agreement that it entered into with the United States under the prior administration. There is no evidence that it has cut ties or certainly repudiated al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization with which it identifies and has received support from in a number of ways over the past, including the Islamic State with whom it may even be in some kind of a competition. There is a great deal of regret that it looks as though we could be pulling the literal rug out from under the current government, because despite all the problems, which you and I know very well, in governing Afghanistan, there have been elections more or less considered, you know, credible with many problems but nevertheless government being installed and government trying to hold the country together. And then of course there is the question about the failure of the Taliban to recognize and be committed to the laws and constitution of the Republic of Afghanistan, which includes the rights and roles of Afghan women and girls. But I think we need to sort of broaden the viewfinder here and think about what it would mean if our withdraws were quickly followed not only by a civil war, but by a takeover of the functions of the Afghan government and a lot of ungoverned territory for either al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, or other terrorist groups to fill what that would mean for our national security. So I would just end by saying, you know, the roles of women in Afghanistan is not some kind of add-on issue. It's not, you know, a nice but not necessary consideration. We now know, and a lot of good work has been done on this by the Council and others, that leaving women out of peacemaking of conflict resolution, not having them at the table when agreements are reached, is very likely to lead to a collapse of whatever the alleged agreement promised and also a return to an ideology that is against the interests of the United States and much of the rest of the world.
HAASS: I'm going to put us down as agreeing on this one. [Laughs]
CLINTON: It's a tough problem. Look, I mean, you and I know that trying to come to grips with this is going to be one of the biggest challenges that the Biden team faces. HAASS: This is one of those classic ones where there's no good choices or easy choices, and you've got to choose between and among them. Let's talk about another issue you associated with, which was the negotiation of what then was called the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And here we now have an administration, that like its predecessor, is articulating a fairly muscular line towards China. Wouldn't U.S. entry into what's now called the CPTPP, but essentially the agreement formerly known as TPP, as Prince might put it, shouldn't the United States really think about getting in there both for the benefit of our exporters but even more as a security mechanism to present China with a set of economic standards that it has to meet?
CLINTON: Look, I think that furthering and deepening trade relations as well as renewing our alliances and our relationships with countries in the greater Pacific region has to be one of the long-term goals of our country. It should be bipartisan and not partisan to do that. The idea of a TPP had a lot of promise. I was one who said it needed to be amended for a couple of very serious issues that I thought had to be addressed. But the idea of trying to link the United States with the rest of the world, particularly with the rest of Asia, in strategic and economic arrangements remains an important goal. I would hasten to add, however, that I think the Biden administration is correct in saying that we have to be sure our trading arrangements and the way we govern international trade work to the advantage of the American worker, to the American economy, and not leave behind either individuals or whole regions and sectors of our economy. So that's the balance to be struck now. I think it's a balance that can be struck, and maybe one of the ways to try to begin to do that is to take a hard look at our relations when it comes to economic arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region and see whether it can be amended in a way that would benefit the American economy and American workers while also creating more of a united front against China's economic activities.
HAASS: Another issue that's come up a lot obviously with China is Taiwan. China seems to be growing, shall we say, impatient about what it sees as its national priorities. What more do you think the United States should consider doing to deter, or if need be, defend against, a Chinese move or coercion against Taiwan? For example, I've recommended in the same magazine that you've written for that the United States should move from a position of strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity about our willingness to defend Taiwan. We just published a Council Special Report, which essentially argued the United States should ramp up dramatically its preparations both to economically penalize China if it were to move as well as militarily work with allies and Taiwan to strengthen its ability to defend itself. Are you comfortable with moving in that direction?
CLINTON: I think it has to be part of a larger set of moves made by the United States. I think it's clear that Xi Jinping is impatient. The absolute breach of the agreement regarding Hong Kong is now apparent and the moves to really not just squash democratic activists in Hong Kong, but to really uproot democratic institutions—the court system, for example. It may even impact, you know, the transparency of the markets, the financial markets, that have called Hong Kong home. So if you look at the recent rhetoric around Taiwan, I think we have to take it very seriously that there could well be a moment, if this is not handled very carefully, that China would militarily move against Taiwan. They have, as you know, been building up their blue-water navy. They have a much greater reach now than they did a decade ago. So I do think we need to be clear that we have treaty relations with a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, we have a very clear connection with Taiwan, and we will continue to support Taiwan's defense. This, however, as I say, needs to be embedded in a broader view about what are the areas of potential cooperation versus competition with China. You know, nobody is looking to launch some sort of, you know, terrible conflict with China. But it's also clear that China left unchecked will remake the map not just of Asia, but much more aggressively other parts of the world as well. So we have to be prepared to spend the resources that are necessary not only militarily, but also economically and developmentally. We have to rebuild those relationships. We have to make our word count for something again. People don't trust us after the, you know, prior four years to keep our word. So yes, Taiwan remains a very serious challenge for us strategically but also relationally that we have to make clear. It needs to be part of a broader strategy with respect to China.
HAASS: Let me keep hopscotching around the world and turn to the Middle East, which is the region of the world that absorbed a lot of your energies, again, when you were secretary of state. So it's roughly a decade, plus or minus, since the Arab Spring first began. Needless to say, the Middle East is not demonstrably better off than it was ten years ago. In some ways one could argue it's actually worse off. Democracy has not broken out all over. When you look back on it, is it your sense that this was inevitable because of things about the Middle East? Do you reflect on it and say we got some things wrong that the United States could and should have maybe if we had a mulligan to do some things differently? How do you understand those events with the benefit now of the decade perspective?
CLINTON: I think that, you know, there's a lot of room for reflection. I would certainly encourage everybody to engage in it. But let's just take a few examples. Let's take Egypt, for example, because although the so-called Arab Spring may have, you know, started in its neighbor, it really was most dramatic in Egypt. And what we saw in Egypt was what happens when there is a vacuum of politics, when there is a vacuum of organized civil society. I remember, Richard, going to Egypt shortly after Mubarak was forced out and I, of course, went to Tahrir Square. That was the symbolic part of the trip. But most importantly to me, I met with a group of the young Egyptians who had led the uprising, the revolution, if you will. And as I sat around the table with about thirty of these young men and women, I found myself getting worried and even discouraged because when I said to them, “So now that this has happened, how are you going to organize yourselves? Are you going to be forming political parties? Are you going to be running for office? How will you build on this moment to try to instill the values and the institutional change that you want to see?” And almost to a person they said, “We don't do politics. That’s not for us to do” And I said, “Well, with all respect, there are two organized entities in Egypt post Mubarak. One is the Muslim Brotherhood and one is the army. And if you don't fill that vacuum, one or the other,” and it turned out both in sequence, “will fill it.” It was a real reminder that when you have repressive regimes over a long period of time with very little space for civil society to flourish, for politics to be practiced, you can't just rip off the band-aid and expect people to understand what it means to put together a political process, let alone a democracy. So I can't say that I ended up being surprised. Of course I was disappointed because I had hoped for more. But I also believe that the momentum for democracy, for freedom, for autonomy for, you know, the rights of, you know, women and others has not died. I just think that it's expressing itself culturally but not politically in a lot of these places.
HAASS: Do you think we have hurt our ability to be an advocate for human rights and democracy? Two things come to mind that some have alleged. One is our own domestic challenges January 6 and the like that if we don't walk the walk, it's hard for us to talk the talk. And the other is the administration's treatment of MBS, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, that after issuing the rather tough indictment of him, the consequences of it are quite finite. Do you think that either both of those have set us back at all?
CLINTON: Well, I think the larger problem is what happened in our own democracy. I think many people understand that in global politics you make hard choices to try to lift up human rights but sometimes you can't deliver all the way. What hurt us, and I fear continues to hurt us, particularly among young people globally, is the very sad example of the failure of our prior president and those who enabled him, including a large minority of Republican members of Congress, in accepting a fair, legitimate, and independently certified election that turned him out and then, of course, the insurrection attacking our Capitol. We're going to be hearing about that for quite some time, Richard. You know that. We heard about it in the recent meeting between our secretary of state and national security advisor with their counterparts from China. There was quite a bit of, I think, you know, schadenfreude of, you know, “Here we are, you lecture us all the time. Now it's our turn to turn the tables on you. You had armed intruders trying to stop an election trying to illegitimately overturn the outcome.” So yes, we've got our work cut out for us. I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be, and I hope that people understand, yes, of course, it's got to be the responsibility of the Biden administration and those people in positions of power and authority. It really should be all of us. I mean, the Council on Foreign Relations, people who are in all kinds of positions, the media or academia, or just citizens. They have to stand up here at home for our own rights and protect our own democracy if we expect to resume and be able to convey the kind of leadership globally that is good for America and good for the rest of the world.
HAASS: We may circle back to that if we have time. I want to talk about an issue related to the biggest issue of the day, COVID-19, and this question of how we balance taking care of Americans and how we help the rest of the world. Not simply as an act of philanthropy or foreign aid, if you will, but also as an act of enlightened self-interest and that it makes sense to vaccinate the rest of the world to decrease the chance that variants break out, which come back here then and ultimately kill Americans. Can this argument be made? Clearly the administration's been shying away from it other than a few million AstraZeneca doses going to, I think, Canada. They basically have chosen a sequential approach to vaccination. Do you think you could sustain the political conversation with the American people and essentially explain why it makes sense to do this simultaneously rather than sequentially?
CLINTON: I do think so. I was heartened by the administration's announcement that they would be sending millions of doses to Canada and Mexico. I think it's got to go much further than that. You know, I'm reminded, Richard, of the really extraordinary commitment made by President George W. Bush during the HIV-AIDS crisis in setting up the President's Emergency Program to provide AIDS drugs to people around the world in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and elsewhere. It was a tremendous act of generosity, good heartedness, but also self-interest by the American people. The Republican Congress voted for billions of dollars. I had a front row seat. I was in the Senate and my husband worked with the Bush administration to get the cost of the drugs down so that even more people could be treated. Well, here we have a disease that has affected far more people even than the scourge of HIV-AIDS. We're approaching, you know, more than, what, five hundred thirty-five, forty thousand dead in our own country and many hundreds of thousands and eventually millions more around the world. So this is the kind of leadership that the United States has historically been known for, which, frankly, we should be lifting up and doing more of. What I'm intrigued by, and a little saddened by, is the way both China and Russia are pushing their vaccines. They're using vaccine diplomacy. They are, you know, going into countries and saying, “We'll take care of you.” And, you know, that leaves the United States playing catch up. Now, of course, we have to vaccinate our whole population. But from what I'm told, we're going to have more than enough supply to do that. We can do it both unilaterally, as we seem to be doing it with Mexico and Canada, but we can also be part of the larger global effort known as Covax to try to, you know, both get more doses produced, manufactured and distributed more quickly, and then to look at ways that we can perhaps expedite that even further. We don't know yet whether these variants are going to, you know, cause a big problem in some parts of the world, whether they're going to cause some of the vaccines not to be effective and others will be. So we still have a lot to learn, and we're not at the end of this. I mean, when the vast majority of the world is not yet vaccinated, that is like a petri dish for more variants to develop. I mean, we are, you know, walking a fine line here. Let's vaccinate us, but at the same time let's do everything we can to try to provide as much vaccination support to the rest of the world as possible.
HAASS: I agree. I think one of the things we could also do is accelerate licensing so we don't have to therefore ship doses produced here overseas. If we could enable various governments around the world to produce their own vaccines, I don't think there'd be any domestic backlash against that. I got two more questions. I got a lot more, but I'm going to show uncharacteristic discipline and limit myself to two more questions. Then I'm going to open up to subscribers and members and anybody else who crashed this meeting. I want to go a little bit back to your time as a senator. When I look at this administration, I understand what they're doing but something about it still bothers me. Here's what I understand. Through reconciliation they got the ARP to pass. There's a lot of things being done by executive orders. And obviously, the previous administration did a lot of things through executive orders and single-party votes. Me the citizen and me the analyst gets incredibly uncomfortable with this, because this is in some ways what parliamentary systems do. One of the hallmarks I always thought of the American system is that you govern institutionally and in a bipartisan way. And what that did was it reduced the chances when you had the inevitable rotations of power, you would have major changes in policy. And so my question is, you know, someone like yourself, you've been in the trenches now for decades, you've been on the receiving end, shall we say, of quite a lot in our partisan wars, do you really think bipartisanship at this point is possible? Or do you think that given changes, particularly the Republican Party, but not solely in the Republican Party, whether bipartisanship is something to feel nostalgic about but not realistic about?
CLINTON: Well, I think we're at a period in time where it's very difficult to imagine how it can come about for the big things that need addressing. I would hope that that's a temporary phase that we can, you know, move out of. I do remember when I was in the Senate for eight years, I probably introduced legislation and worked to pass legislation with practically every Republican senator at one point or another. So there was a real premium on trying to find common ground, trying to work across the aisle, but the House had already begun to change by then. You know, the House, from my reading of history and my firsthand look at it during the ‘90s, began moving away from bipartisanship under Gingrich. It became, you know, a zero-sum game, if you will. There was a lot of very unfortunate partisan warfare in the House that came late to the Senate. It wasn't completely present when I was there. But I think, unfortunately, there are now a lot of personalities in the Senate who engage in that kind of scorched-earth politics. So I think several things: One, I have come to believe that the filibuster is an archaic remnant of a past time. We have to show people that government can work. We may not always agree on, you know, what it is the right solution might be, but we have to demonstrate that elections actually produce consequences and people, like it or not, should see what the results are. I think that the House is engaged in a very interesting approach by bringing back, you know, the kind of earmarks that can be justified, hopefully, to bring people together around infrastructure. Not the bridge to nowhere, but you know, the bridge that's going to fall down, you know, in a year if we don't fix it. And so I think that the filibuster has become a symbol of minority obstructionism as opposed to a cooling saucer parliamentary move to get people to work together, because there doesn't seem to be a lot of appetite. And you know, the final thing I would say, Richard, is even when I was there, we actually had a legislative process. We would have committee hearings. People would show up. Witnesses would show up. We would mark up bills. We would go to the floor. We would have real debate. That's all gone. I mean, the only thing that, you know, Mitch McConnell wanted to do was, you know, cut taxes and confirm judges. The rest of the business of being in the Senate basically was just, you know, put aside, and I think we need to bring back a real legislative process. If you thought you had to actually stand up and vote on something, you'd actually work to get an amendment to change it as opposed to saying, “I don't even have to think about it. I'm just going to show up, and I'm going to be part of a filibuster.” That doesn't inspire cooperation; it just keeps people in their separate camp. So I think it's going to take a little bit of change in order to get to where people have to work together. And surprisingly, in my own mind, I think, you know, getting rid of the filibuster will actually have that result. HAASS: Do you have—just quickly on that—reform ideas that are both from your point of view desirable and have a chance of happening that you think would make a difference?
CLINTON: Well, look, I think that, you know, the two—getting rid of the filibuster and having a very disciplined, careful look at earmarks. You know, I'll give you an example. When I was a senator from New York, I worked hard with the Republican congressman from Buffalo on helping the medical center in Buffalo get access to federal funding to build on an incredibly important project that they were doing. I could justify that. It wasn't pork barrel. It led to a huge increase in the capacity of the medical center, and it led to a lot of employment and all the rest. So I do think there's going to be some good things that could come from both of those reforms. In addition, I would like and this sounds kind of, you know, crazy, but I'd like to see a return to what we used to call regular order, where you have committees functioning, where people had to show up. If we can get some, you know, reform that will help our voting system actually encourage people to vote but also try to rein in some of the excesses of the out-of-control finance system, you know, people will be in Washington more. They will be there doing the work that they should be doing. I know it sounds almost naive in this, you know, era of social media and quick hits and very, very warlike attitudes between the parties, but creating situations where they have to work together is the best way I know of trying to, you know, engender some bipartisanship again. HAASS: Okay, I'm just going to ask one last question, then we'll open it up to subscribers and members. I want to go back to the State Department again, which is clearly the building has fallen on hard times. Recruitment is down. A lot of talented people left. Are there a couple of things either you would do if you were now secretary or you would suggest to Tony Blinken to do that you think could really get the State Department and Foreign Service going back in a direction that quite honestly the country needs?
CLINTON: Well, you know, we're lucky that Secretary Blinken has a long and deep history with the State Department and having been deputy secretary before he knows the building. I really believe he understands we've got to do several things. One, a lot of good people were driven out by the prior administration. It became impossible to do the job that they had signed up to do and we're trained to do. There may be an opportunity to bring some people back mid-career, and I think Tony is well aware of that. At the same time, the people who stuck it out, the professionals, the Foreign Service officers and the civil service officials, they should be rewarded as well because that was not an easy time. So I think you hear from the Biden administration, both the president and the secretary, a real emphasis on trying to use the professionals. I think the president has said he's going to limit how many political ambassadors he has. And you know, that's a good signal to the foreign service professionals—there's going to be more room for you. I think we need to send that message loud and clear. Secondly, I think that there has to be a renewed emphasis on recruitment for people taking the Foreign Service exam, trying to fill the pipeline again, and particularly fill it with people whose talents and experiences we need—different languages, different experiences growing up, immigrant American citizens and the like. And thirdly, I think that there has to be a renewed emphasis on the importance of diplomacy and development alongside defense as what I call “smart power” that has to be explained to and advocated for not just with the Congress, but out in the country. It was a little difficult because of COVID, there's not the travel that is necessary. You know, I talked to Secretary Blinken who was chomping at the bit to actually get out there. He finally got to go to Asia and then go to Anchorage for the meeting with the Chinese. But there has to be a lot more of that. We have to start showing up again. We have to start, you know, building those bridges and building back those relationships again. And we need to be out in our own country talking about why this is important, what it means to American business or American communities. But all of that is, I know, on the mind of Secretary Blinken and others in the administration, and I'm really hoping that they'll be able to, you know, deliver on that.
HAASS: Apropos of your last point, one of the podcast series we started up here at the Council is called Why It Matters. And the whole idea is to help people connect the dots. You mentioned that—so before I go to others for questions [inaudible] one last border, you mentioned immigration. Whether the administration uses the C word, the crisis word, it is fast becoming one if it hasn't already become one. What is your sense of what can and should be done to get that situation under control at the border—what we need to say, what we need to signal, and maybe what we need to do vis-a-vis the places that people are coming from?
CLINTON: Look, I consider it a chronic problem. We saw in the Obama administration where President Obama said repeatedly, “Don't come.” We saw in the Trump administration where, you know, children were literally snatched from their mother's arms as a cruel idea of deterrence to try to prevent people from coming. We're hearing from, you know, the president, the secretary of homeland security, the message of, you know, we're going to treat children humanely but don't come. So clearly, this is a chronic problem. And it's a chronic problem, because we have chronic unrest and violence in our region particularly in Central America. You know, the primary source of immigration used to be Mexico. For now a number of years, the Mexican economy, you know, opportunities in Mexico have improved and there's actually been, you know, net migration out of the United States back into Mexico. So the source of our real challenge now is Central America, you know, the three so-called triangle countries that are really the source of most of the immigration flow. I would say three things very quickly. You know, we tried in the time I was there to begin a process in those countries, in Honduras, in El Salvador, in Guatemala, working with obviously others in the region, to help them do a much better job in, you know, dealing with corruption, increasing economic opportunities, stabilizing institutions, providing schooling, which, unfortunately, a lot of places is still sporadic at best, in order to create a more peaceful, safe environment. Now, climate change has frankly impacted some of the agricultural opportunities in those countries. So again, we should be sending experts down there to figure out what can be done. And we need to have the same kind of long-term relationship that we had with Colombia, with Plan Colombia, which started in the '90s and continued into the Bush administration and beyond, to help, again, try to stabilize, try to create an environment for the end of a conflict. If we don't focus on the root of the problem—it's like that old story where you're plucking the babies out of the water and somebody finally says, “I'm going to go find out who's throwing them in?” Well, the combination is the conditions, particularly the violence, the gangs, the unrest in the countries combined with mercenaries, traffickers, the coyotes who, you know, promised so much and basically take the last bit of, you know, money that these people have. So if we don't focus on that, we're going to continue to be plucking the babies out of the water instead of trying to deal with the larger problem. And the corruption, the narcotic corruption, the financial corruption is really at the root of not providing stable government that produces results for people. You know, look at the neighbors, look at a place like Costa Rica, which is, you know, also bearing some of the brunt from their neighbors’ unrest but which has figured out how to be a stable functioning country for a long time. There's lots we can learn and lots we can help with if we're willing to do that. And then with the immediate problem, the president has to follow the law, number one. We have laws. Until they're changed, you have to follow the law. But do it in a humane compassionate way that, you know, certainly tries to reverse the cruelty, the deliberate cruelty, of the prior administration but nevertheless recognizes that, you know, we've got to follow the law and we're trying to do the best we can.
HAASS: Okay, thank you. Kayla, let's get some tough questions now from people who are subscribers and members, please. STAFF: [Gives queuing instructions] We'll take the first question from Maria Teresa Kumar. Q: Hi, Secretary Clinton and Richard. It's great to hear you, Secretary. I wanted to ask specifically around the disinformation. As you know at Voto Latino, we registered a record 612,000 voters this election. In 2016, when you were running, your candidacy, we saw the rise of it. In 2020, it went gangbusters, specifically in Florida, and we have it very much on the radar for national elections. But something that we found triggering was that we saw the disinformation coming out of Latin America targeting congressional candidates. I'm speaking specifically about Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. And so at Voto Latino, you know, we are creating a Latino anti-disinformation lab, but one of my questions to you is how do we work with our allied countries to battle disinformation? Because what we were seeing hitting Florida was from places like Colombia, like El Salvador.
CLINTON: Maria Teresa, first, thanks for everything that you've been doing. You're a real champion for, you know, the rights of so many people but particularly the Latino community. You raise a really important issue because right now we know there are very active centers and hubs of disinformation in a lot of countries. Obviously, it used to be primarily Russia, Macedonia, Ukraine, you know, places that were pumping out a lot of the disinformation that either Russia influenced or even the Russian government was helping to promote, but it's gotten much broader than that. And you're right to say that there are these hubs in Latin America. They’re now in Africa. We have English-speaking hubs pumping out disinformation in Ghana, for example, in Liberia. This is becoming more and more of a global problem, and it's both state financed or state influenced. It's now increasingly run by other actors with or without affiliation to states. They're promoting causes, financial interests, obviously, political outcomes. So it's one of those areas where I would like to see the Biden administration try to maybe work through the UN and other international organizations to begin to hammer out some rules of the road. If you were to talk to a lot of the governments and I've had conversations with some, particularly in Eastern Europe, they'll say, “Well, you know, it's not against our laws. They can go on the internet, they can say whatever they want to say. That's not against our laws.” So we need some global standards. We need some ways of trying to empower governments to prevent their own citizens from being agents of disinformation. I think it has to be done on a global level. Absent that we're going to have to go country by country and the United States should include that in our bilateral and multilateral conversations with governments and come up with some recommended solutions because it's a really serious problem. I will just end by saying it's only going to get worse in the era of deep fakes because they're going to take Richard Haass's face, and they're going to have Richard Haass saying things that he never said. And people are going to say, "Why did Richard Haass say that?" And the answer is going to be, “He didn't.” But you know, he can’t catch up with it. It's going to be, you know, across the globe. So it's only going to get more and more difficult with artificial intelligence. So we need to act now.
HAASS: I want to go on the record to thank you for using me as the example of that problem. I will come to appreciate that even more with the passage of time. Kayla, let's get another question. STAFF: Our next question is a written submission from Marcus Kratzer, who asks, "To what extent is the United States prepared for the uncertain political landscape brought about by climate change? And what should be done to mitigate this challenge effectively?"
CLINTON: Well, Marcus, you've asked one of the most important questions that we all have to come to grips with. Climate change is going to have severe consequences in displacing people from their current habitats because of droughts, because of increased storm activity. There's going to be a problem with trying to figure out how to deal with increasing refugee and migrant flows. We already have more people in refugee and migrant status in the world today than we've had at any time since the end of the Second World War. It's just an enormous problem. And unless we figure out, number one, a mitigation strategy, where again, we can help focus on not only those countries that will be most affected, but even places within countries. You know, there's a lot of worry in our country about what happens to our coastline. We've already had to relocate villages in Alaska because the storms kept coming and the ice didn't protect any longer because the water was too warm for the kind of heavy ice that used to protect these villages during the winter season of storms. So those are just some examples. It's on a much broader basis with the desertification of Africa. Now we're going to see crops moving further and further north and what that means to agriculture. I mean, the list goes on. So as any part of discussion about climate change, mitigation has to be at the forefront. How do we help equip communities and societies to deal with the impact? How do we try to get ahead of it? I mean, is there some way that—you know, some people argue in certain places you can at least mitigate by planting many, many millions of trees right now, by ending certain agricultural practices right now so the erosion, you know, at least has a chance to recover. All of that has to be part of the discussion moving forward on climate change.
HAASS: I'm just going to also put in my own pitch that I hope we start looking at how trade agreements can be used to promote climate change and how climate considerations about the kinds of energy and how much of produced items or how much is used to the lifecycle of an item could begin to affect the access of certain goods to certain trade areas. That's my unpaid public service announcement. Okay, let's get another question.
STAFF: Our next question is another written submission from Andrea Mitchell, who asks, "While understanding the Biden administration's desire to signal the end of Trump policies toward Russia and China, was it a mistake to be as aggressive in public as the president was regarding Putin and the secretary of state regarding China? To paraphrase Richard Haass yesterday, isn't diplomacy better practiced in private so that both sides don't get dug in?"
CLINTON: Well, Andrea, you're a longtime observer of our diplomacy. And, you know, sometimes there's a role for public signaling as well as private negotiating. And, you know, in the case of Putin, and what the president said, it was such a direct question. Had he dodged it, I think that would have sent a message also, a very loud and clear message that we weren't ready to really, you know, confront Putin and his unfortunate practice of having his opponents killed. And I don't think that's the end of the conversation by any means. I think though it is a signal that the days of Trump, for whatever reasons—cozying up to and frankly taking direction from Putin—are over. Now the hard work should start, yes, behind closed doors and trying to figure out what we're going to do to rein in some of the worst impulses that we've seen from Russia, which left unchecked, will continue I believe. With respect to China, I think the first shots in that verbal jousting were fired by the Chinese when Yang Jiechi did his seventeen-minute assault on America with all of our own troubles being put front and center. That was unfortunate. And I don't think that either Secretary Blinken or National Security Adviser Sullivan could have gotten away with not responding. And so again, the Chinese chose to really place the conversations that were about to occur on a defensive back foot for the Americans in terms of the initial attack on the U.S. and the reminder that Black lives matter and the January 6 Capitol—all of which we know very well our problems we have to deal with. And then behind closed doors, from what I hear, there was a greater amount of engagement, but the Chinese were sending a signal. So unfortunately, or just by reality, we're living in a time when people are quick to read into anything that is said and where social media, frankly, leads with disinformation as often as real information. So trying to walk this balance beam of how to do diplomacy in public and diplomacy in private to get results that are in our interest is challenging, but I think that, you know, we're going to see a lot of follow up that is more substantive and more focused on the goals that the United States has.
HAASS: I think, just for the record, without speaking for the Chinese, I think Secretary of State Blinken spoke first and that's what triggered Yang Jiechi’s response. So from their point of view, there was a sequence there. In any case, I think you're right. The real question is whatever happened, can you somehow now segue to construct your private talks, because I don't think successive public exchanges are necessarily going to do either side a lot of good.
CLINTON: Well, the only thing I would say, Richard, is that in the two minutes that Secretary Blinken said we have concerns, that's the start of every conversation with the Chinese. And the appropriate response from Yang Jiechi would have been, “Well, we have concerns too. We have concerns about what's going on in your country. We have concerns about whether we can trust your word. And we have to get to work.” But to counter a two-minute kind of pro forma statement with a seventeen-minute attack on the U.S., I mean, the disproportionate nature of that, I think, you know, sort of speaks for itself. But your larger point is absolutely right. You know, we've got to get back to real diplomacy, not the reality show, TV kind of diplomacy that we saw for the last four years writing love letters to, you know, North Korea, cozying up to dictators, throwing out trade deals that, you know, often had no real impact on China but hurt our farmers and other people. You know, that kind of nonsense hopefully is in the past, and we've got a much more steady approach toward finding common ground where it's possible, holding our ground where we must, and then pushing where needed.
HAASS: We'll go to the next question. STAFF: We'll take the next question from Sylvana Sinha. Q: Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton, for being here. My question relates to the challenge of vaccine inequity. Richard Haass mentioned that he doesn't think most Americans would object to allowing pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers abroad to produce COVID vaccines. But along with EU leadership, President Biden has actually been pretty reluctant to share the patents for the COVID vaccines. I'm sure you know very well inequitable rollout could cost the global economy more than $9 billion, and a waiver on the patent protection for the COVID vaccines could help to mitigate some of that. What is your view on waiving patent protection for the COVID vaccine?
CLINTON: I don't think that there would be any agreement to waive patent protection right now. I think that there could very well be increased production in other countries under the control of the patent holders. I think there could also be some additional use of the Defense Production Act to increase production and support the manufacturers here in this country so that there would be more doses available. But I think that at this point in the pandemic, there is not going to, you know, it's just a fact there's not going to be an openness to patent waiver. Where I think there could be a great openness and financial support and legislative and regulatory support for is increased production abroad under control of the patent holder and increased production and distribution from the United States.
HAASS: Great. Kayla?
STAFF: Our next question is a written submission from Alexander Marion, who asks, "Building off of your first points on the rights of women and girls, how should the new administration empower and build rights for queer LGBTQ-plus people across the world?"
HAASS: Well, certainly starting in the first Obama term, as secretary of state, we did a lot to lift up LGBTQ rights and to make it a part of American diplomatic engagement. There was, sadly, some pushback and rollback under the prior administration. But I have heard already that the Biden administration, both the State Department and the rest of the government, intends to advocate for, stand up for, speak out for LGBTQ rights. And, you know, let's be really clear, this is a serious problem in a lot of places. I had to call a president of an African country to talk him out of agreeing with the death penalty for people who were LGBTQ in his country. We've seen leaders use prejudice and discrimination against the LGBTQ community in order to score political points. So this is not some kind of, you know, far-fetched issue that people say, “Why is the United States talking about it?” This is core to what human rights means, it is core to what our diplomatic mission is, and I think you'll see the Biden administration, once again, pushing forward on that.
HAASS: Kayla, we've got time for one last succinct question, and then we'll get a final answer from the Secretary.
STAFF: We will take our last question from Paula Stern. Q: Hi, greetings to you both. Warm personal greetings to your families. One of the questions I had was already posed, but I'll try to do a corollary to it and it's about, I guess, pandemic diplomacy. The question is based on President Biden’s decision to offer vaccinations to Mexico. And I guess my question to you is we've practiced leverage in so many different ways in our foreign policy, be it economic leverage, military arms, etcetera. Is there an increasing role for our fruits of our science, such as vaccinations, to become a type of, if you will, butter as opposed to guns and butter in our diplomatic relations with other countries and should that be done plural laterally, multilaterally, or just bilaterally?
CLINTON: Well, Paula, I think, based on what I've read, that the offer of vaccines to Mexico was twinned with a request for more help from Mexico on the border I don't know the details, but that was the public reporting. I don't know that that's using leverage so much as part of an ongoing conversation that needs to be had between our two countries. But I would be reluctant to use vaccines as leverage except in some very narrow ways, such as encouraging countries to do more to upgrade their own health-care systems, encouraging countries to not substitute for the help they get on vaccines and taking money out of their budgets and putting it to other uses. We saw that with HIV-AIDS when the United States came in and said, "We will provide funding for medicines." Some countries said, "Oh, great, then we're going to cut our health-care budgets and put money into military procurement." That cannot be allowed to happen. So I think it's a kind of, you know, a case-by-case basis. But I would prefer to see when it comes to the vaccines that the United States act out of humanitarian compassion and self-interest in getting the whole world vaccinated as quickly as possible.
HAASS: And I think you'd agree with this if we do that, it will also help not just save lives, but economies will recover sooner and people's incentive to become immigrants toward the direction of the United States will go down. On so many levels I think this is a net gain for the United States.
CLINTON: Right. I agree with that.
HAASS: Madam Secretary, I want to thank you for two things. Well, three things actually. One, I want to thank you for writing for Foreign Affairs. Two, I want to thank you for being with us for this past hour. And three, I really want to thank you for several decades of public service and it's a reminder of how this country has benefited from its citizens and you've been a great citizen. I just wanted to say thank you for all that.
CLINTON: Thank you very much, Richard, and thanks for all you're doing and, again, happy anniversary.
HAASS: Thank you and thank you all for joining this Foreign Affairs LIVE. Members of the Council, readers of the magazine, we love you all equally and please stay well and stay safe.
Further reading from this discussion:
“A National Security Reckoning” by Hillary Clinton
“Repairing the World” by Richard Haass