June 26, 2004

The former president blasts the Bush-Cheney rush to war, explains why Gore lost in 2000 and tells how Kerry can win in 2004.

Two more US marines died in Iraq over night. For what? Meanwhile, both Bill Clinton's book and Michael Moore's movie are breaking records and breaking chains all over America...There is an Electoral Uprising coming in November 2004...The poltical end is near for the Bush cabal, the "vast reich wing conspiracy" and the shell-of-a-man-formerly-known-as-Ralph-Nader...

Joe Conason interviews Bill Clinton: Have the fiscal
policies of the Bush administration destroyed your
No, but they've destroyed the surplus! [Laughs]. I
think that he returned to trickle-down economics
because that's what they believe in. They don't
believe it's important to keep the deficit down, keep
debt down, keep interest rates down. They spend money
on what they want to spend money on and cut taxes,
especially for upper income people. Though he has
reversed our policy, he can't destroy our legacy. Our
legacy is how many people got jobs, how many people
got homes, how many people got college aid -- how many
people were helped.
Nothing is permanent in politics, but they can't
change whether people were better off when you left
than when you started. The country needs to return to
an economic policy that's an updated version of the
one I followed ... with even more emphasis on a new
energy policy to create jobs and free us from foreign
oil and do our part to deal with the environmental
challenges we face ... What they've done is
undisciplined and shortsighted and wrong on the
economic front.

Restore the Timeline, Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)


The Salon Interview: Bill Clinton
The former president blasts the Bush-Cheney rush to war, explains why Gore lost in 2000 and tells how Kerry can win in 2004.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Joe Conason

June 25, 2004 | At several points in "My Life," Bill
Clinton chastises himself appropriately for the
reckless selfishness and dishonesty of his affair with
Monica Lewinsky. He writes that he was disgusted by
his own misconduct and appalled by the consequences to
his family, friends, his country and his reputation.

None of this should come as news to the media, which
has devoted ample attention to that episode and its
aftermath for the past six years.

Yet publication of his exhaustive memoir has been
treated as the occasion to renew that same old
obsession while matters of substance are neglected or
ignored. "Everything has changed" since Sept. 11, or
so the portentous slogan goes, but some things haven't
changed at all.

As might be expected, Clinton is less preoccupied with
the subject of sex than Oprah, Larry King, and Michiko
Kakutani. He is perfectly willing to address other
questions, including those for which he has no glib

On Thursday afternoon, he spoke with Salon about his
administration's "inexcusable" failure to intervene
militarily against the 1994 genocide, which cost
hundreds of thousands of lives, and about his own
responsibility for the rise of a "dangerous"
Republican hegemony in Washington. But he also had
remarkably harsh words for the Bush administration's
dubious claims about Iraq, the "broken pottery" left
by its unilateral foreign policy and the president's
curious nonchalance about the exposure of CIA agent
Valerie Plame. He was frank about why he thinks Al
Gore won but lost the 2000 campaign ("The NRA ... hurt
us bad") and what John Kerry has to do to win in

For a man often accused of worrying too much and too
publicly about his legacy, the former president sounds
relaxed and confident. While he confesses to lapses of
wisdom and courage, he cannot quite conceal the sense
that almost every day, the extremism and incompetence
of the Bush administration make his controversial
tenure look better by contrast. After years of mostly
refraining from overt criticism of his successor,
Clinton evidently feels free to be more candid from
now on. If his book tour offers his political
adversaries a fresh opportunity to attack him, it also
provides him a national platform to speak his mind
about them.

"We were in better shape when I left office than we
are now," he said. He was talking about the number of
Americans who lack health insurance -- but the
unavoidable inference went much further.

Al Gore gave a speech in Washington Thursday about the
Bush administration's attempts to link Iraq and
al-Qaida. Do you agree with him that the
administration misled the country about those alleged

The whole time I was there [in the White House], I
knew of no links. Now, I don't think you can say for
sure that there was never an al-Qaida member that was
inside Iraq, but in terms of them being operational
partners, I didn't know anything about that. I also
never had any doubt that Iraq was not behind 9/11,
because they didn't have the terrorist capacity to do

I supported -- as the whole world did -- resuming the
weapons inspections inside Iraq, for a simple reason.
When any kind of tyranny is running out of steam -- as
Iraq seemed to be -- I was afraid if they still did
have any of those chemical or biological agents,
somebody might sell them or give them away, or they
might be stolen. But in terms of [Iraq and al-Qaida]
working together, I never saw any evidence of it. And
I have not seen any evidence since -- from what's been
in the press -- that supports that contention. And
apparently the 9/11 commission doesn't agree [with the
allegation that Iraq worked with al-Qaida] either.

Now I hear Vice President Cheney continuing to assert
that there is a connection, but there's a difference
between assertion and evidence. If they have some kind
of evidence, they can come forward with it, but I
haven't seen any yet.

The administration and its supporters have often cited
statements from you and your administration about
Saddam Hussein's regime to justify the decision to go
to war in Iraq. I have heard you say recently that the
invasion was too precipitous -- and that the president
should have waited until the inspections were
completed, at least. Do you believe the war was

Well, I believed at the time that it was far more
important to win a complete victory in Afghanistan, do
everything we could to try to find Osama bin Laden and
al-Qaida's leadership, and help Hamid Karzai be the
president of the whole country and not just Kabul. Now
it seems to be moving in the right direction anyway
because Karzai has proved to be a very able man and
because we beefed up our support a little bit and the
rest of the world came in a little bit. I thought at
the time that we should take care of our Afghan
obligations first. I thought it was curious -- given
who did 9/11 and what the big terrorist threat was --
that we were sending 150,000 troops to Iraq and had
only between 12,000 and 15,000 in Afghanistan.

But Paul Wolfowitz always had a theory that if they
got rid of Saddam Hussein they could build a democracy
in the Middle East that would shake up the other
authoritarian Arab regimes, and that would give them
greater leverage in making peace between the
Palestinians and the Israelis. The only legal
justification they had for going to war was Saddam
Hussein's failure to comply with the U.N. resolutions
[requiring his regime to destroy its illicit arsenal].

And I didn't see how we had triggered that by
substituting our judgment for that of [chief U.N.
weapons inspector] Hans Blix. If Blix had said this
guy won't cooperate, he's bad, and we ought to take
him out, then I would have favored military action.
But had that happened, then whether the Security
Council voted for it or not, we would have had many
more allies and far fewer enemies, and no one would
have thought we had a different agenda.

You've said that Prime Minister Tony Blair was caught
in a dilemma between our government's position on Iraq
and the European viewpoint, and that he understandably
tried to maximize his leverage with his decision to go
forward with President Bush ...

Remember that Blair first tried to pass another
[Security Council] resolution that the Bush
administration didn't want. He tried to get a
resolution through that would have extended the
inspection time by another four to six weeks. The
Chileans and the Mexicans in the end decided not to
vote for it because they thought the Russians would
veto it anyway ...

But did Blair make the right decision in the end?

I think he made the decision he thought was right. You
know, I'm not the British prime minister. He believed,
as I did, that there was at least a strong chance that
there were some chemical and biological stocks still
there. We didn't know how much we had destroyed in the
1998 bombing. He believed that having gone as far as
he did, to turn around and go back to the continental
European position would have undermined his ability
over the long run to maintain the transatlantic
alliance. I think that's what he was thinking -- and I
think it was a defensible position given the fact that
the Bush administration played such a hard hand and he
couldn't get anybody to vote for his U.N. resolution.
He had two bad alternatives ...

What I thought the evidence showed was apparently
different from what they thought, too. To me, the
evidence was more limited than what Vice President
Cheney said. There were unaccounted-for stocks of
chemical and biological agents; a few unaccounted-for
missiles that could be loaded with chemical and
biological agents; and some quite limited laboratory
capacity to do very preliminary work toward nuclear
weapons. That's what we knew. I never knew of any
yellowcake from Niger or any of that stuff.

My view was that it would be good if we could account
for all that. And if we had a corollary benefit of
installing a more representative, less tyrannical
government in Iraq, that would be a good thing. But I
thought we didn't want to start the doctrine of
preventive war there, because we had a lot of fish to
fry with bin Laden and al-Qaida and Afghanistan.

My view was somewhere, I guess, between where Al
Gore's was and where Bush and Blair were. I never
liked Saddam Hussein and I wasn't sure he didn't have
some of that chemical and biological weaponry left. So
I was left without a home for my policy when Hans Blix
wasn't allowed to finish his job. Blix was plainly an
honest and competent man who wasn't rolling over for
Saddam Hussein. He was tough on the Iraqis when they
didn't help him. He tried to totally play it straight.

Speaking of yellowcake, how would you have handled the
"outing" of a CIA agent such as Valerie Plame Wilson
by officials in your administration? Do you think that
Bush's response was adequate?

Well, I'm not sure what he did. I would have done my
best to find out who did it, fire them, and make sure
they had to live with the consequences ... I know Joe
Wilson. He was a career diplomat, a straight-up
professional guy who did a lot of valuable work for me
and for America in Africa. What happened to his wife
was unforgivable as well as illegal -- and potentially
dangerous, and damaging to our intelligence networks.
And it plainly came from someone who didn't like the
fact that Joe didn't give the accepted line [on Iraq].
So it's hard for me to believe they can't find out who
outed her. And I would have gone to extraordinary
lengths to find that out, and then taken the
appropriate steps.

In your book, you describe the American and allied
failure to intervene in Rwanda in 1994 as one of your
worst errors. How did you reach that decision to do
nothing while the genocide was going on there?

That's one of the most regrettable things about it.
It's not like we had a decision. I don't know that we
ever had a high-level meeting on it. At that time I
think the whole foreign policy apparatus, including
me, was geared to getting into Bosnia as quickly as
possible. We knew we were going to have a problem in
Haiti. We were still reeling from what had happened in
Somalia. And I think even though there were a lot of
indications that Rwanda was going to be quite bad, I'm
not sure anybody focused on the fact that 10 percent
of a country, 700,000 or 800,000 people, could be
killed in 90 days with machetes ...

If we'd moved right away, we might have been able to
save a couple of hundred thousand people. They still
could have killed a lot of people before we could have
deployed in acceptable numbers there. [Later] we went
into the camps and we kept a lot of people alive, both
safe from violence and also rehydrating kids ... We
saved tens of thousands of lives, but we could have
saved a couple of hundred thousand more if we'd moved
more quickly. We hadn't really developed a clear
doctrine of when we would go in and when we wouldn't.
There was a lot of sentiment against such intervention
in the Congress. And the worst thing about it was that
we didn't have a meeting with an options paper where
we said yes, no, or maybe. We didn't even do that. And
before we knew it, they were lying dead.

It was inexcusable. We didn't even seriously consider
it, and I feel terrible about it. It's very
interesting though: the only people who have never
excoriated me for it are the Rwandans. When I went
there and apologized to them, their response was,
"You're the only person that ever even said you were
sorry. There were other people who could have helped
us, too."

The Bush administration has sharply criticized the
deal you made with North Korea as a failure, because
it was revealed that they have begun to clandestinely
reprocess uranium and built at least a couple of
nuclear weapons. What is your response to that
criticism? How should the United States deal with
North Korea?

I disagree with that, and if you look at the press
reports from the past few days it seems that the Bush
administration is coming back to our policy again.
Let's get the facts out first. When I became
president, it became obvious that North Korea was
moving toward the capacity to build several nuclear
weapons a year ... I was determined not to let that
happen. We had a very tense set of negotiations with
North Korea, which got quite tense when they kicked
the U.N. inspectors out ... Eventually, we made a deal
after we told them that under no circumstances would
we allow them the capacity to make several nuclear
weapons a year. So the deal we made was that we, along
with the Japanese, South Koreans, and other interested
parties, would provide them with food and [energy aid]
if they would put all the nuclear fuel rods in a place
where they could be inspected. That agreement worked
and on its own terms was not violated. In 1998 we
reached an agreement where they agreed to stop testing
their long-range missiles. In 2000, we nearly reached
an agreement where they nearly agreed to stop
producing and selling those missiles.

After I left office, the Bush administration
discovered, and briefed me about it, that in 1998 the
North Koreans had started a much smaller program in a
lab with highly enriched uranium -- enough to produce
perhaps a weapon or two. Does that mean my policy was
a failure? No, because if we hadn't stopped their
reactor program [in 1994], they could have been
producing not one or two nuclear weapons but maybe six
to 10 a year. Colin Powell said they would have had
dozens of weapons by this time, and the State
Department in the Bush administration has supported
our Korea policy.

What should be done now? North Korea wants three
things. They don't want to disappear. They want to eat
and stay warm, and they can't grow food or afford
power. And they want to be treated as an important
country that deals with the U.S. and other countries
in their region. They want some sort of official
recognition from us.

They're not going to bomb South Korea or Japan. The
danger is that a country that builds world-class bombs
but can't feed itself or stay warm will sell them ...
What we need to try to do is to get an agreement, with
the Chinese, the Russians, the Japanese and the South
Koreans, where they finally end all those nuclear and
missile programs, and we arrange for them to get food
and energy. And we continue to support the
rapprochement between North and South Korea. Now it
looks to me as if the Bush administration is in the
right place and moving in the right direction.

There could hardly be a greater contrast between your
view of how to deal with the world and our allies, and
the much more unilateral approach of this White House.
As you travel around the world, how do you assess the
reaction to this change? Do you feel the Bush
administration has undone the goodwill and prestige
that grew from a more open, multilateral policy?

There's no question that we have suffered some loss,
if not of prestige then at least of support in the
world by following a more unilateral course. But
that's not very important to [the Bush White House],
because they saw 9/11 as an opportunity to move the
country to the right and mold the world the way they
thought it ought to be molded.

That's why they morphed the attack by al-Qaida into
the war on Iraq, which is something they wanted to do
beforehand. Paul Wolfowitz tried to get me to depose
Saddam ... They see the world very differently. I
believe we ought to be trying to build more and more
institutional cooperation in the world, while
reserving the right to act alone when we have to. They
have believed, at least for the first three and a half
years, that they should act alone whenever they can,
using the springboard of what happened on 9/11 -- and
cooperate when they have to. In the end it may bring
us to the same place. In Iraq they've gone to the U.N.
to get a resolution. But in the meanwhile we're
leaving a lot of broken pottery along the way ...
That's one of the things that ought to be debated
thoroughly in this election.

Senator Kerry got in trouble earlier this year for
suggesting that leaders around the world are hoping he
will be elected in November. Have you picked up that
sense abroad?

I think that a lot of countries would like to see us
go back to a more cooperative, multilateral approach
like I followed, even though there were times when
they didn't agree with me. Now, I signed every
international agreement except the landmines treaty,
because I thought that had two parts that were
malicious and would put our soldiers at risk. And I
was doing more to destroy landmines than anybody who
signed the treaty.

There will always be times when we are at odds with
the rest of the world. But what they want to know is
that we basically favor cooperation and that we care
what happens to them. When they don't feel that way,
they hope for a change in policy. So I think that
[what Kerry said] is accurate. John got in trouble
partly because nobody can be "outed" admitting that.
He would have been better off not saying it, and
letting other people say it. None of these people
could afford to admit that and make their relations
with America even more tenuous.

Iraq was the last straw. They also didn't support the
International Criminal Court, although today I see
they've changed their policy on that ... They got out
of the climate-change agreement, which hurt America's
prestige enormously. They got out of the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty. They don't want to strengthen the
Biological Weapons Convention. So Iraq has to be seen
in the larger context.

Many critics, including some Democrats, believe that
your presidency damaged the Democratic Party by
bringing the party to its present diminished state,
where the Republicans control the White House, both
houses of Congress, many state houses and the Supreme
Court. How do you respond?

I talk about this a lot in my book. I did play a role
in losing the Congress in '94. Part of it was
inevitable. We had to clean up their fiscal mess and
we lost some votes because we did it. The Republicans
portrayed our budget as nothing but a tax increase and
we didn't effectively counter that ... We should never
have lost the White House and we didn't -- we just
didn't win by enough to stay out of the Supreme Court.
When I left office, about 65 percent of the American
people approved of what the administration had done,
and we should have won the White House on that.

I feel terrible about that, because I think it's very
dangerous for the country to have a party as far right
as the Washington Republican Party is, in control of
the White House and the Congress, packing the courts
with all of these ultraconservative people. It came
out today that one of the people who wrote these
questionable legal opinions about the treatment of
people in Iraq is now a Court of Appeals judge.
Whatever they find out about what he did, he's now got
a lifetime job.

Did Al Gore make an error in 2000 by seeking to put
some distance between himself and his campaign for the
presidency, and you and your administration?

In the beginning, I supported his going out on his own
with Joe Lieberman, because every vice president has
the same problem in running directly for the
presidency. People don't give the vice president
credit for the good things that happen in the
administration, as much as they should. I tried to
solve that by giving Al lots of credit all through the
eight years, but [voters] don't absorb that ... I
thought Gore ought to be independent ...

But I thought it was not a good idea to not embrace
the record more explicitly and say we ought to keep
the change going in the right direction. Remember in
Los Angeles, he said the issue was the people versus
the powerful, which it certainly was. Every powerful
right-wing interest group in the country was behind
Bush. But that didn't send a clear signal that it was
necessary to vote for Gore to keep the prosperity
going. At the end of the election, when Gore came back
to that theme, about eight days before Election Day,
he made up points in a hurry and actually won the
election by about 500,000 votes ... He probably would
have won by enough to stay out of the Supreme Court if
that had been the theme from August straight through
November ... I campaigned in California and Arkansas,
and those were the states where we beat the three
incumbent Republicans that lost in the House.

I believe Al lost Arkansas because of the National
Rifle Association ... and maybe Missouri, and maybe
Tennessee, and maybe New Hampshire (in addition to the
Nader vote) ... I don't think the NRA got near as much
credit as they deserve for Bush's election. They hurt
us bad.

If you were John Kerry, what would you do to close the
deal with voters this year? They seem to be wavering
in their support of President Bush, to say the least,
but not yet fully embracing Senator Kerry.

They don't know Kerry yet. That's why Bush is running
all these ads, trying to fill in the blanks in a
negative way, saying Kerry is not a positive figure,
he's focused on the past, and all that. What he needs
to do is keep doing what has been doing, saying what
he thinks and what he would do. To win he needs to
have a very good convention in Boston, and then acquit
himself well in the debates, and then maximize the
time he has following the convention.

Right now he's got a real problem because he got
nominated, in effect, so early that even the Democrats
in states that weren't involved in the nominating
process didn't know him all that well. The
independents and the Republicans who would like to
vote for somebody other than Bush didn't have much
information about him. It's just the downside of the
early nomination, although we got more out of that
than we lost because we're united and raising lots of
money for him on the Internet and doing a lot of good
things. He just has to keep doing what he believes is
right and keep carrying on. I think he's doing it very
well ... The chances are more than 50-50 that he's
going to win this election.

Have the fiscal policies of the Bush administration
destroyed your legacy?

No, but they've destroyed the surplus! [Laughs]. I
think that he returned to trickle-down economics
because that's what they believe in. They don't
believe it's important to keep the deficit down, keep
debt down, keep interest rates down. They spend money
on what they want to spend money on and cut taxes,
especially for upper income people. Though he has
reversed our policy, he can't destroy our legacy. Our
legacy is how many people got jobs, how many people
got homes, how many people got college aid -- how many
people were helped.

Nothing is permanent in politics, but they can't
change whether people were better off when you left
than when you started. The country needs to return to
an economic policy that's an updated version of the
one I followed ... with even more emphasis on a new
energy policy to create jobs and free us from foreign
oil and do our part to deal with the environmental
challenges we face ... What they've done is
undisciplined and shortsighted and wrong on the
economic front.

If you had another chance, how would you change your
approach to achieving universal healthcare? Although
some incremental changes were made, we're still a long
way from the goal you set in 1992.

Well, we were in better shape when I left office than
we are now. We had a decline in the number of people
without insurance. We passed the Children's Health
Insurance Program, which covered about 5 million kids
and was the biggest expansion in healthcare since
Medicare. We needed a simpler plan ... When Senator
Dole decided to filibuster any healthcare plan we
should have stopped and moved on to welfare reform,
and then come back after the [1994] election ... .If
you're not going to have an employer mandate, then
probably the only way to do it is some version of what
Rep. Rahm Emanuel [D-Ill.] is now suggesting -- which
is to allow all the uninsured people to buy into the
Federal Employee Health Benefit Program. That's a
private plan with a lot of different options and
costs. And then subsidize the purchases for small
businesses and those who can't afford it. That's the
simplest way to do it, with low administrative costs.

You promoted regional and global trade agreements --
some would say at the expense of labor and
environmental standards. Is there a way that
globalization can enhance rather than diminish those
standards in both the developing and the developed

Sure. We don't have enough votes in Congress to do it
right now. When they had the World Trade Organization
meetings in Seattle, I went out there and said the
demonstrators in the street are wrong in saying that
trade is making the world poorer but they're right in
saying that you can't have a trade-only policy and
build the kind of world you want. I went to the World
Economic Forum in Davos and said the same thing to the
WTO and the International Labor Organization ...
They're going to have to open the process of the WTO
up, involve the nongovernmental organizations more,
and integrate the labor and environmental concerns
into their multilateral deliberations ...

We need to do more to make sure that the global
economy doesn't just make the rich richer and the poor
poorer. The problem is that without labor and
environmental agreements, and without significant new
investments in health, education and development, you
can lift a lot of people out of poverty with trade --
but all the population growth is occurring in the
poorest countries, so there will still be more poor
people every year. You cannot have a global economy
without some sort of global social compact.

People sometimes mention possible future jobs for you,
such as head of the World Bank or secretary-general of
the U.N. when Kofi Annan leaves. What do you plan to
do next?

I can't imagine that [those jobs] would ever be a
serious option. I haven't thought about it. What I
plan to do now is complete the book tour, do whatever
I can to help Senator Kerry, and then as quickly as
possible get back to work on my foundation.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Joe Conason writes a twice weekly column for Salon. He
also writes a weekly column for the New York Observer.
His new book, "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda
Machine and How It Distorts the Truth," is now
available. Join Joe Conason along with Ann Richards,
David Talbot and others on the Salon Cruise

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Posted by richard at June 26, 2004 05:37 AM