Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, spoke at Rackham Auditorium Thursday afternoon to an audience of more than 1,000 students and community members, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Michigan state Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor.
Clinton has spent decades in public service, serving as first lady from 1993 to 2001, U.S. senator from 2001 to 2009 and secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 under the Obama administration. After a presidential campaign loss in 2016, Clinton still has a large political influence.
Michael S. Barr, dean of the Ford School of Public Policy, moderated the talk, and the subsequent student Q&A session was the inaugural event of the University of Michigan’s Weiser Diplomacy Center’s lecture series on diplomacy and foreign affairs. During the talk, Clinton answered questions about global affairs, her career experience and her opinions on contemporary foreign policy issues.
Clinton began by discussing the changing role of multinational institutions in shaping international affairs, emphasizing the need to work with allies and rely on institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In evaluating when to use different modes of diplomacy, she referenced the example of President Donald Trump’s recent withdrawal of troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish military operation against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces. According to Clinton, Turkey’s membership in NATO could help ease diplomatic negotiations.
“There are ways of working on really thorny — what are called wicked — problems,” Clinton said. “But they take thought and deliberation and diplomacy. Yes, we have the common bond of NATO membership, we could have used that, and now we have a situation with all kinds of consequences, both predictable and unintended.”
Referring specifically to NATO, Clinton acknowledged the existence of problems within international and domestic institutions, but emphasized the importance of maintaining and using them for the public good. Clinton noted the work of various leaders during a post-World War II period of international order; leaders who upheld standards of peace and democracy. In the face of interests that want to disrupt faith in these institutions, she emphasized standing by this institutions while trying to reform them.
“There is also a concerted effort to undermine our faith in these international institutions. There is a real effort by some to try to create dislocation and disruption,” Clinton said. “We should be standing up for the success of the last 75 years, not throwing it on the trash heap of history. We need to engage now in a new process of trying to restore and renew and, where necessary, reform and replace institutions that are not serving us well.”
Public Policy junior Nick Silk was one of a select group of students who attended a talk with Clinton before the main event, during which students were able to ask questions of Clinton about developing leadership skills for careers in public policy. Silk was impressed by Clinton’s personal experience working in diplomacy.
Silk said Clinton’s advice and remarks to public policy students fit in with the Public Policy School’s mission of developing leaders who make a positive difference in the world.
“The school’s theme of leadership is making a positive impact upon others,” Silk said. “So she really honed in on that aspect of using empathy to build relationships with other people, and also building trust with other people, relying on others and, at the same time, kind of cultivating this culture that’s responsive to other people, and building teams rather than being divisive.”
Later in the conversation, Clinton weighed in on current impeachment proceedings against Trump, describing the role of Ukraine’s “growing pains” to modernize their economy and stabilize politically. She explained how Ukraine is in a difficult position, needing to deter Russian aggression while relying on U.S. aid. She believes the impeachment proceedings are justified but must be thorough.
“The whole Ukrainian scandal in the midst of the impeachment inquiry, in and of itself, is troubling because of what it shows about abuse of power and the use of threats and extortion by the President of the United States,” she said. “Withholding military aid that they so desperately need to defend themselves. So, it’s a scandal, it’s an absolutely inappropriate scandal and it should trigger an impeachment inquiry.”
Sen. Gary Peters is the only Michigan Democrat not to have voiced support for impeachment investigations. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., announced her support for beginning proceedings in July. In a statement, Peters echoed concerns for national security.
Clinton also shared her personal views on U.S. policy in the Middle East, reflecting on the role of former President Barack Obama’s administration in the Syrian war. According to Clinton, current international relations could lead to a possible ISIS resurgence, and the multitude of national interests complicate the path toward a diplomatic solution.
“This is going to be a difficult period, and it requires intense, intelligent diplomacy. And right now, we have very little of that,” Clinton said.
The event was not without controversy. Half a dozen demonstrators, voicing support for Trump, protested outside of Rackham during Clinton’s talk. The protestors held signs reading “TRUMP 2020” and wore “Make America Great Again” hats as a crowd of counter-protestors surrounded them.
One of the protestors, who chose to remain nameless, stated she was protesting in order to show support for President Trump.
“I was supporting my president, didn’t you see that?” the protester said. “I support my president all the time.”
About 50 students and community members urged the protestors to leave campus and yelled they were not “on the right side of history.” LSA sophomore Tiahna Pantovich took part in the counter-protest, calling out to the protestors holding Trump signs on campus.
“Nobody’s really on your side,” Pantovich said, pointing at the protestors. “I hope you know that.”
Throughout the protest, the demonstrators remained silent aside from a few remarks in response to the counter-protestors’ yelling.
Ann Arbor resident Robin Wonder also attended the counter-protest. After the incident, Wonder said he was protesting in response to Trump’s policies on immigration, which he said are oppressive and inhumane.
“Guess what?” Wonder said. “They’re not welcome here, right? I’m not OK with Trump. Trump deported my mom, and she did nothing wrong. Nothing. She just came here for a better life. They’re just trying to get everybody out for no fucking reason.”
After Clinton spoke, LSA junior Brianna Morigney told The Daily she came to the event to learn more about Clinton's perspective on international policy.
“I think the biggest thing that stuck with me is when she said we need to help people abroad to make our borders safer, which is an interesting perspective because usually you hear border safety coming from the other side,” Morigney said. “It’s important to have that view of, ‘We’re not helping who we need to help, and that’s why our borders are at risk.’”