WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2010 — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates discussed their cooperation with each other and answered questions about countering global terrorism in an interview broadcast last night.
Gates and Clinton sat down together for an interview with Cynthia McFadden, shown on ABC’s “Nightline,” while in Australia for the annual Australia‑U.S. ministerial meetings.
The secretaries did not know each other before then President-elect Barack Obama asked both to serve in his Cabinet shortly after his election, they said. Their dealings mostly had been limited to Gates’ appearances before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“What I know about Bob Gates is that he’s a real patriot,” Clinton said. “He loves our country, and that’s how I feel about myself. … We both have a highly developed responsibility gene, we have a long history of service, and we approach this job with a great deal of seriousness.”
Gates said his starting point in working with Clinton was that the secretary of state is the principal spokesperson for U.S. foreign policy. When problems arose between past secretaries of defense and state, it often was because the secretary of defense was unwilling to acknowledge the appropriate division of government, he said.
“We both recognize that many of the challenges we face require what we call a whole-of-government approach,” Gates said. “And that means the State Department and the Defense Department have to work well together, and that signal has to come from the top.”
Both secretaries said they are optimistic about the U.S. strategy and operations in Afghanistan. There is progress there and in neighboring Pakistan, they said, to counter the “terrorist syndicate” that began with and continues to flow from the al-Qaida followers who devised the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks from Afghanistan.
Asked why the United States and its allies haven’t taken the fight to terrorist havens in Yemen or Somalia, the secretaries said some work is being done in Yemen, but the focus has to remain on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“That border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism, because whether you’re in Yemen or in Somalia or in Asia or wherever else, they are getting encouragement, they are taking inspiration, and often they are taking guidance from Osama bin Laden and [Ayman al-] Zawahiri and their minions who are telling these guys what kind of operations to plan, to keep their focus on the U.S., and so on,” Gates said.
The defense secretary said he disagrees with the notion that history is against U.S. success in Afghanistan because of the past defeats of the British and Soviets there.
“History isn’t against us,” Gates said. “The people who have failed in Afghanistan have invaded Afghanistan. They’ve tried to impose a foreign system of government on the Afghans. And they have acted unilaterally.”
With the backing of the United Nations, the support of the NATO alliance, and the invitation of the Afghan government, he said, the United States has broken with precedent on other foreign governments’ involvement in Afghanistan.
For her part, Clinton said she has seen “considerable change” in Pakistan’s willingness to fight terrorism in the region, and that Pakistan has proven it in lives lost to the fight.
Pakistan has withdrawn the equivalent of about six military divisions from its border with India and repositioned 140,000 troops on its northwest border with Afghanistan, Gates said.
“They’re attacking the Taliban, but they’re also attacking the safe havens that are a problem for us,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)