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96 nations in, ‘tired’ Hillary thinks 4 years as top diplomat is enough

Secretary State Hillary Rodham Clintthird from right hosts working lunch for French President Francois Hollande third from left Blair House.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, third from right, hosts a working lunch for French President Francois Hollande, third from left, at the Blair House., Friday, May 18, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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Updated: May 19, 2012 4:54PM

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, here in Chicago for the NATO Summit this weekend, is nearing the end of her self-imposed four years — a decision based, in part, on “how tired I am,” she says.

“I may look like the bionic woman from the outside, but this is a very intense experience,” she said in an interview with USA Today.

During her term, the Park Ridge native has traveled more than 750,000 miles — “777 — but who’s counting?” she said.

“It’s a 24/7 job. I could be called up in the middle of the night to be asked about something. I could be basically on around-the-clock schedule when I travel 12 hours away — Washington’s awake while we’re asleep. And I wanted to give it my all. I didn’t want to hold anything back,” said Clinton, a graduate of Maine South High School.

Q: I don’t know how you do it.

A: I’ve got good stamina and recuperative powers. Also, I love what I’m doing, and it’s so endlessly challenging and interesting — every day something new, no two days are the same.

Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re now at 96 countries, which I think ties Madeleine Albright. So you will be beyond that when you visit the next country.

A: My view on this is that you really have no choice. Even though we live in the age of so-called virtual reality, where I could do a video conference with anybody in the world in government, I could even be satellite-beamed into a personal appearance somewhere, like one of our “townterviews,” nothing substitutes for showing up. You know the old Woody Allen adage — 90 percent of it is showing up. . . . So I’m aware that it’s exhausting, and there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also really exhilarating, so it’s the kind of trade-off you get.

Q: If I could sum up your tenure, it would be all about these alliances and this architecture and getting different countries to do different things. Can you just speak to why that is good? Some
priors would say we need to be American exceptionalism, we need to do things on our own.

A: Well, first of all, I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive at all. There is no doubt that America remains the premier political, economic, military power in the world, and I both expect and count on it remaining so, because I think that’s certainly in our best interest but also the best interests of the world. It’s true that America can’t solve every problem, but I don’t know of any major problem in the world that can be solved without us. So we are still in a position of predominant leadership.

At the same time, when we were so clearly in that position at the end of World War II is when we understood the importance of alliances. NATO was born. We signed mutual defense treaties with countries in Asia — Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand. We developed strong networks of cooperation with other countries as well. So with the fall of the Soviet Union, I think there was this premature, even false assumption that, “OK, that’s done, communism has been defeated, the Soviet Union is no more, so we are even more dominant a power and therefore we don’t need to be looking for building these relationships.”

And I think not only time but human nature has proven that to be inaccurate in the sense that we don’t want to take the responsibility for doing everything by ourselves. We don’t want to bear the burden, the financial burden, the burden of responsibility that comes with that. We want a world in which both existing and rising powers are responsible stakeholders. So it is in our interest in a deep and profound way to build these alliances, networks, multilateral organizations.

Q: A couple of things that people say . . . one has less to do with you than the White House, which is you hear, “Gee, why don’t they give her more free rein? Why can’t she do her own thing?” And the other one is . . . will she go down in history as a great secretary of state if she hasn’t had that one big thing, which I guess is akin to Middle East peace? You’ve got eight months left.

A: Yes, I can’t remember who got that done. I can’t remember that exactly. (Laughs)

Well, first of all, you are secretary of state in the time that exists during your tenure. And I think your job is to maximize America’s values, interests and security during that time. And we have lived through a quite eventful period of time, but the events have been broad-based, they haven’t been concentrated.

And so we inherited two wars, a very difficult set of expectations coming out of the economic crisis, the rise of the so-called BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China), or emerging powers, who saw a real opportunity — and who can blame them — for asserting themselves, given the economic recession gripping the world and our own difficulties. We saw a big upswing in the concerns about global terrorism, and it wasn’t just one place, it was in many places.

Then along comes the Arab Spring. We had one step forward, half step back on the Middle East. So it would be, I think, malpractice to say, “I’m only working on this thing, and I’m just going to beat it into the ground, everything else can just wait.” Because we can’t just wait. I was just over at the Pentagon speaking to all the combatant commanders and the service chiefs. I just showed up and said, “You can talk to me about anything.” They talked about the entire world. “What are we going to do here, and how about there, and what’s going to happen with this?” Because we don’t have the luxury of just zeroing in on one, maybe two difficult areas or problems. . . .

We are creating the world of the 21st century. And part of what I am committed to doing is embedding the United States in every region and every organization and network that will matter to our values, interests and security. We are on the front lines of trying to do something that’s unprecedented. Ten, 20, 50 years from now, people will look back and say we got it right, we got it not right, we could have done this, we would have done that. But the fact is this is uncharted terrain.

Q: Do you have any thoughts about getting back into public service, in an electoral way?

A: No, I don’t. I don’t. I really want to work up to the second I leave this office. And then I want to just take some time. I’ll write. I’ll, I’m sure, give speeches. I’ll get involved in philanthropy. I don’t know what else. But that’s what I’m looking forward to.

Gannett News Service

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