SAN FRANCISCO — The world must contain Russia's expansionism by withdrawing investments, finding other sources of oil and condemning its illegal annexation of Crimea, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.
Clinton's keynote speech to a few thousand attendees at the Marketing Nation Summit in San Francisco was about building public-private partnerships to drive the nation's economy forward. But while taking questions from Marketo Chairman & CEO Phil Fernandez, Clinton had harsh words for Russian President Vladimir Putin — and some vague words about her own presidential ambitions.
The U.S. is in a "political period of dysfunction," she said, citing the "disheartening and embarrassing" spectacle of Congress flirting with debt default.
"I wish our country had the limited campaign period that other countries have," because a shorter election trail would leave more time for reasoned discussion and action on what the country really wants and needs, she said.
"I'm not going to make a decision (about running for president) for a while because I'm actually enjoying my life, having fun doing ordinary things" like seeing friends and taking long walks with her dog, she said before flashing a sly smile. "I danced around that pretty well, don't you think?"
There were no smiles as she discussed Putin, whom she called "a tough guy with a thin skin who believes the best way to move forward is by moving backwards" to the era of the Russian empire. "He will go as far as he can unless he is somehow contained."
Clinton said the "flood of money out of Russia" in recent months "is the best way to undermine the oligarchs who support him." Also important is weaning Europe from the oil Russia provides, she said, as is repeating loudly and often that "what he did in Crimea is illegal; it is against international law."
"He is obviously determined, he is very difficult to read personally and he is always looking for advantage, so he will try to put you ill at ease" through insults or bored, dismissive behavior, she said. "I've had a lot of experience with that. ... I'm not impressed by it."
Clinton said the economic boom during her husband's presidency in the 1990s was powered not only by Silicon Valley itself, but by the productivity gains that computing brought to industries across the nation, touching communities that had been struggling for decades. Those are the kind of economy-wide innovations the country needs today, she said.
"We can, for example, be the clean-energy superpower of the 21st century," she said, even as cloud computing and "big data" analysis can help all sorts of businesses work faster, cheaper and better to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation's gross domestic product. "It happens because we work and earn it — leadership and success is not a birthright."
The speech was the start of Clinton's four-day blitz of Western states; she was scheduled to speak later Tuesday in Portland, Ore.; Thursday in Las Vegas and San Jose, Calif.; and Friday in San Diego. She reportedly fetches around $200,000 per speaking engagement, but her staff wouldn't specify what she's earning this week.
"It's only fitting that Hillary Clinton would kick off her West Coast tour in the liberal bastion of San Francisco," Republican National Committee spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a news release issued before the speech. "Instead of answering questions about her troubled record at the State Department — which includes Benghazi and the failed Obama-Clinton Russian Reset — Clinton is opting to hang out at high-dollar speaking engagements."