The top diplomat discussed rumors of her next job, how the recession impacted diplomatic efforts, and the media's limited coverage of foreign policy.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forcefully rejected speculation that the White House is considering a plan to have her switch places with Vice President Joe Biden for the 2012 ticket.
Taking the stage for the final day of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women’s Conference, Clinton said she has “absolutely no interest and no reason for doing anything other than dismissing these stories and moving on because we have no time. There’s so much to do. And I think both of us are very happy doing what we’re doing.”
Rumors of the high-level shuffle have made the rounds in recent months but gained steam this week after the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward told CNN on Tuesday the possible swap is “on the table.”
Clinton, in an exchange with Time Inc. chairman Ann Moore, recalled how she came to take the job in the first place. Following her failed presidential bid in 2008, Clinton said she was looking forward to getting back to the Senate, where she represented New York. She was back in the state after the election, on a hike with her husband Bill, when he got a call from then-President-elect Obama asking for help on personnel issues. Obama mentioned he also wanted to talk to Hillary.
When they talked, he invited her to Chicago — an invitation she accepted even as she dismissed reports that he was considering her to the State Department job. She said she was “the most astonished person you could find” to get the offer, and accepting it was “one of the hardest professional decisions I’ve ever made.”
Clinton described her working relationship with Obama as “wonderful” — and said she frequently cites their ability to develop it as a model for foreign audiences struggling with their own internal divisions.
But the recession at home has posed its own challenges to Clinton’s diplomatic efforts. The financial crisis shook international confidence in American institutions, Clinton said, and she quickly got the “very firm impression that many countries were quite upset with us” for our role in precipitating it. Clinton said the worst of that sentiment is past, “but there is a residue, and there is a, I would say, skepticism, on the part of many around the world now as to how reliable our economic recovery will be.”
Now, she said, we are confronting the same predicament as many other developed economies, which is how we’re going to produce enough jobs for enough people. "I don’t think anybody yet has the code to crack on how we’re going to do that,” she said. In trying to find a solution, the top diplomat made an appeal for “evidence-based decisions, not ideologically-based decisions. And if we can demonstrate a steadiness and a leadership going forward, I think the damage that may have been done because of this crisis will be reversed.”
Clinton voiced some frustration at the lack of Congressional and popular support for the country’s diplomatic mission, arguing there is a disproportionate focus on our military might. “We have to elevate diplomacy and development to be on the same platform as defense,” she said. “We cannot use our military to solve our problems around the world.” Yet, she complained, when Secretary of Defense Bob Gates requests $500 billion from Congress, he gets it all, while a request by Clinton for $50 billion gets trimmed by $5 billion.
She suggested part of the problem is with limited media coverage of foreign policy. “We’ve worked hard to break through on that,” she said. “The President has been very willing to do a lot of interviews about foreign policy both here and around the world and we’ll keep trying,” because, she said, “many of the issues Americans should be most concerned about are in the foreign arena, and they aren’t much of an issue in this year’s midterm election.”