Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended U.S. surveillance tactics on Friday, saying recent allegations of National Security Agency spying on German, French and other foreign leaders illustrates the need for a broader conversation.
Speaking at Colgate University in upstate New York a week after the end of a political standoff in Washington that triggered a 16-day federal shutdown, Clinton also praised President Barack Obama's handling of the matter, saying he was right to refuse to negotiate with conservative Republicans until they agreed to reopen the government.
The putative frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton delivered remarks on the next generation of global leadership and then had a question-and-answer session on hot topics with the school's president, Jeffrey Herbst.
Clinton took students and parents on a world tour, touching on issues ranging from emerging democracies in the Middle East, to the relationship between the United States and a rising China, to the unintended consequences of domestic political gridlock.
On disclosures that NSA eavesdropped on world leaders, Clinton said the parties need to lower the temperature.
"We don't want to cause difficulties for our friends and (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel is a great friend, as is (French President) Francois Hollande and others in Europe. They also rely on a lot of the information we gather to protect themselves," Clinton said.
"So they are great partners with us in surveillance, and in analyzing information, but I think everybody now says, 'OK, we have to make sure we're not going to far,' and that's the discussion that has to happen in a calm atmosphere," she said.
The former first lady and New York senator also said the United States has lost something important due to bitter political gridlock over fiscal matters.
"The saddest part of the all the debate in Washington, sequester and shutdown and debt limit is we've gotten out of the future business," Clinton said. "We were the future. We continue to be the future. But our government is no longer the partner."
She gave Obama credit for his stance against conservative House Republicans, who sought unsuccessfully to tie defunding of his sprawling health insurance initiative with continued federal spending.
She compared that debate to the shutdown that occurred when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president in the 1990s, saying both he and Obama were right to refuse to negotiate until the government reopened.
"No president, I don't care if you're president of a company, of a school, of a country can give in to that sort of threatening behavior," Clinton said.
Syria and Iran
Asked what lessons could be learned from Obama's handling of the situation in Syria, Clinton called the ongoing international process to dismantle Bashar al-Assad's arsenal of chemical weapons a "net good."
While Obama sought but dropped efforts to win Congressional approval for military action against Syria for its alleged chemical weapons use once a diplomatic option materialized, Clinton said American allies should be comforted that Syria's chemical stockpiles are being dealt with.
"I think that if you were sitting in Israel or anywhere else you could say okay coercive diplomacy, the threat of force, actually worked to remove a threat to the region including Israel," Clinton said. "So I don't think you can make assumptions about what might or might not happen in Iran based on that."
Women candidates - in Afghanistan
The only brush with presidential elections of any kind during the evening came when Clinton was asked a question about Afghanistan's transition to democracy.
"They're gearing up for another election, they actually have women candidates," Clinton said. "It's not likely that they would win, but that didn't happen here either so can't blame Afghanistan for that."