BILL CLINTON ON LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN
DAVID LETTERMAN (DL): Ladies and gentlemen do me a favor, please welcome the 42nd President of the United States Bill Clinton.
BILL CLINTON: (BC): Thank you, thank you very much.
DL: You get a chance to play the saxophone much any more?
BC: I do. I set up a music room in my house up in Chappaqua and I blow away and sometimes I play Harlem Nocturne. Iím trying to help up in Harlem restore the Apollo and Iím trying to work up the courage to go play Harlem Nocturne up on amateur night but you know if youíre not any good they take a hook a pull you off. I see all these confirmations that Iím no longer president any more but that would be the ultimate humiliation. Iíve got to practice a few more months.
DL: Tell me about what your day was today. What did you do? What were you thinking, what did you feel?
BC: Well, I got up and sort of relived what I did a year ago today. I was in Australia and I got a call from two former staff members of mine who were in Tribeca and had a clear view of the world Trade Center. Then they called me back as the second plane was hitting and I just blurted out Bin Laden did this. I just knew. President Bush was kind enough to get me a military plane. I flew home, Hillary was in Washington working already to get the support for New York. So Chelsea and I went down to the crisis center and talked to some of the families and some of the people that were hanging around.
DL: Now when you say that you knew that it was Bin Laden, you knew this as more than a hunch? You had intelligence to suggest this?
BC: No, I didnít have any intelligence to suggest this. Of course, I had been out of office for nine months so I hadnít really seen any intelligence or eight months I guess. But I knew that it would require a sophisticated operation and I didnít think anybody but Bin Laden and perhaps the Iranians could do it and I didnít think the Iranians would do it because they have a country and targets and he lived in caves in Afghanistan.
DL: And when you were president, what did this man represent to you in your administration then? What did you know about him? And you actually planned ó there were two attempts maybe or strategies to go looking for the guy?
BC: Oh yes. Well, we thought he was responsible for the African embassy bombings. And we had only once really good intelligence about where he was at a meeting of his lieutenants at one of his training camps and we took the camp out but unfortunately he had left a couple of hours apparently before the missiles arrived. But we did our best to get him but we did a lot of other things too that I think are probably still subject to classification and I shouldnít talk about them. I thought he was a very serious threat always and we tried very hard to get him. We tried very hard to get the Afghans to give him up but the Taliban wouldnít do it and he and Mullah Omarís children were inner married and they grew closer and we were not able to do it.
DL: Is there a problem about getting the guy that people like me donít understand? Is it so far more complicated because I get a speeding ticket and people in Tokyo find out about it. What is the deal here?
BC: You show up here every night, if you hid in a cave it might be hard to find you. Especially if all the caves were inner connected and you had a lot of people protecting you.
DL: And honestly, it just comes down to that? Heís living in a cave and thatís why heís so hard to get?
BC: Well, I think we should not be funny here for a moment. We didnít have the option to launch an invasion of Afghanistan before September 11th. President Bush did with the support of an international coalition that he put together and I think he did a really good job of that. Our people have been there. Weíve got thousands of troops there and they still havenít found him as far as we know. But there are lots of caves and lots of sympathizers in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border and just across the border in Pakistan. If we had 100,000 people there maybe we could find him but as you see itís not very easy.
DL: And why is it that there were American targets of terrorism prior to a year ago? Why didnít we more actively understand what we needed to do and do it? Why did it take something this big?
BC: I donít think that is quite fair. I just think there was a limit to what we could do inside another country like Afghanistan. There were lots and lots of terrorists attempts that most Americans donít know about that were thwarted. An attempt to blow the Holland Tunnel and an attempt to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. An attempt on the life of the Pope. An attempt to blow up LAX airport. Two attempts over the Millennium weekend to plant bombs in cites in the Northeast and the Northwest of the United States. A lot of people who did terrorist acts, the first World Trade bombing, Pam Am 103, the CIA terrorist murders were actually captured and brought to justice. So a lot of people were working quite hard on this.
In terms of what happened on this particular incident and who should have done what, when, you know the Congress is looking into that and I donít think itís very fruitful for the rest of us to do anything other than to say we hoped people learned lessons from it. I basically agree with what former President Bush said this morning about that.
DL: In terms of public awareness though, it seems like it wasnít until a year ago that the average citizen understood that this threat was more than something that happened in the Middle East or in Europe or in Asia.
BC: I just think in a way that was almost inevitable until something came home because a lot of people talked about it. We spent time working on this everyday. I must have talked the last three years I was president several times a week we talked about Bin Laden in our security meetings. But you know, you canít expect ordinary citizens to think about everything and this wasnít a big issue until this happened. After all, the biggest terrorist incident in American history before September 11th was the Oklahoma City bombing which was a domestic act.
But I do think weíre making progress in improving our defenses against biological and chemical weapons. Improving the security of our transportation networks and our other basic infrastructure. I think the big picture issue, what did we really learn from September 11th? We learned that we live in a highly inter dependent world which has basically been good for us. That is, in the Ď90ís we got over 22 million new jobs, 30% of it came because of trade. We got closer and closer involved in the rest of the world. A lot of good things came out of that. We got more and more immigrants into America. A lot of good things came out of that.
Seventy countries had people who were killed on September 11th in the World Trade Center. I went to one school in New York where there were there were kids from 80 different racial and ethnic groups. Itís been good for us but the inter dependent world we live in is not yet an integrated community. That is we shared values, shared benefits, shared institutions.
So Americaís number one job now is to change this inter dependent world into an integrated global community. Part of that is fighting terrorism and part of that is building a world with more partners and fewer terrorists and it is going to take the next several years. But we canít go back and undo that, we canít put all the walls up again so our real job is to bring the world closer together around shared values and shared interests and I think we can do it.
DL: Is it easier to do it economically than ideologically or do they go hand in hand?
BC: They go hand in hand. Let me just give you an example, I was in Dubai twice this year. Itís the fastest growing economy in the Middle East. It is a Muslim country. All the signs are in Arabic as well as English. They have separate Islamic banking system that doesnít charge interest and is consistent with the teachings of the Koran. I went to the Internet city there, 25,000 employees. There were none there three years ago, 25,000 now. Average age 26. I went to one of the lunch pods where there were little cafes from seven different nations represented. I spoke at the graduation ceremony of American University in Dubai. There were kids from 60 countries there, a young Indian woman was the valedictorian and spoke. So Islam and Arabic culture are not inconsistent with economic growth and multi-culturalism. We just have to work at it.
One of the problems we have in the Palestinian territories is that the enemies of peace have been so successful in injecting terror every time we were making progress over the last ten years in the peace process that the Palestinians are on balance younger and poorer than they were when we signed the peace agreement in Ď93. So you canít really have ideological progress without any economic progress. The two go hand in hand.
DL: Letís go back again to a year ago you said you were in Australia, you got the news. A man in your position when something like that happens, I donít know, I donít have that perspective. Did you for a moment think I wish I still had the reigns? I wish I was still running the show or do you feel like thank God this is on somebody elseís watch?
BC: No, I didnít think that at all. I didnít think either one actually at the moment. What I thought was that Bin Laden was responsible immediately and I thought of all the things that would have to be done. Then I tried to get ahold of my wife because I knew she would be in the Senate and I did. I wondered about our daughter and Hillary spared me because I was so far away of the knowledge that Chelsea was in lower Manhattan at the time and was one of the throng basically running back up the island. I mostly thought about what it meant and what needed to be done. I didnít really think about me one way or the other.
DL: Weíll be right back here with President Bill Clinton.
DL: Iím going to ask you some questions here and Iím sure the answers will be more things I donít understand. Do we have any fighting chance to win the war on terrorism without peace in the Middle East? And if the answer is no then we have no hope whatsoever, is that right?
BC: No, thatís wrong. Let me say, unless and until there is at least a viable peace process in the Middle East, there will be more terrorism there than there otherwise would be. If there were a peace in the Middle East, it would remove a lot of the rationale for some of the people who finance groups like Bin Laden. His major objective and objection to us frankly, was that we abandoned Afghanistan where he had fought. And then after the Gulf War we left bases and troops and equipment in the Middle East because in the first Gulf War it took us four and a half months to move in there. In case we were ever called back we didnít want to have to take all that time to preposition.
Itís not true that all terrorism is routed in that. The biggest terrorist problem in our neighborhood is in Colombia. Iíve got this bracelet here that these Colombian Indians gave me when I went down there a couple of months ago when they had a change of presidencies and they had a big meeting to try to encourage the business community to stay in the country. The oldest democracy in South America, all of Latin America where 35% of the country is now in the hands of the narco traffickers and their terrorist allies. So it is a global problem.
On the other hand, the biggest festering wound in the Muslim world in the Middle East and in Asia as well is the continuing difficulties in the Middle East which is why I spent so much time on it. I donít think it is impossible that there will be a settlement. I think that both sides have been shaken by how many have died in this last infitada. There is going to be an election in the Palestinian areas in January and I wouldnít be surprised after that if there is not some real progress.
DL: You know what I think?
DL: I think you may still be president.
DL: Thatís what it sounds like to me.
BC: Why? No, no, when youíre president you learn to act like you know what youíre talking about. Itís a great skill and you donít loose it overnight. It sort of drifts away from you over the decades.
DL: It is serving you quite well.
BC: Those people, you know I know them all very well in the Middle East and I love them and Iím sick about whatís happened and I could scream at some of the stupid things that have been done and all of the innocents who have died. But it can be solved. They know what the deal is, there is not 3% difference in where it will come out and where we were when we almost did it in January 2001.
DL: Where do you start untangling it? Where does that begin?
BC: Well first, theyíve got to quit killing each other. You know that old adage, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you want to do is quit digging. I mean if you keep digging normally the hole gets deeper. Thatís whatís happened, each side got in a snit with each other and they just kept digging. I think that if there could be a dramatic reduction in violence and there has been some hopeful signs. Even one of the Hamas leaders said the other day for the very first time and said, if the Palestinians had a state on the West Bank and Gaza that that would be enough. They didnít want to get Israel anymore.
There have been all these Palestinians now come out against these suicide bombings. The whole world was turning against ó whatever you think about the miserable way the Palestinian people have been mistreated and I might say by their own leaders and the Arabs and not just Israeli policy over decades. There is no justification for having young 18 year old Palestinian honor students blow themselves to smithereens against targets like little kids Bas Mitzvah ceremonies, pizzerias, discotheques and the kind of stuff that went on over there. That has got to stop.
DL: And because of things like that, to the average person it seems more desperate now than ever.
BC: Well, it was more disparate but sometimes in a deal like this it is darkest before the dawn. If you look at Northern Ireland where I worked very hard and where we did make peace, there has been [applause]. A lot of Irish in New York. Even there, there have been riots in Belfast recently. Why? Because people really hate to let go of these old hatreds. The biggest sort of philosophical change, almost psychological change that has to occur in the modern world is that we have to all learn to define ourselves by our racial and religious and ethnic origins in a way that enables us to say our differences matter. They are really important but our common humanity matters more.
For most of human history, people have defined themselves in positive terms within their groups and by negative reference to people on the outside. We nearly destroyed ourselves in the first half of the 20th century doing that. You cannot live in an inter dependent world and do that anymore. Thatís what the Israelis and the Palestinians have to work out. They joke all the time about how they are both the children of Abraham. They are the descendants of Isaac and Ismael. They laugh about it in these peace meetings and then they go out and educate these kids particularly in these Palestinian schools where they still have textbooks that tell them to hate the Jews, to hate the Israelis. And not just in the Palestinian areas but even in some American Muslim schools, this sort of hate literature. This is nuts, they have to teach children that they can be proud Muslims and proud of their heritage. They can have honest political differences but they canít dehumanize people who are different from them. That is the single most significant psychological leap we have to make as human beings if weíre going to get to where we want to go.
DL: Let me see if I can stump you with this one. If we didnít use and need and require so much foreign oil, would that ease the problem of terrorism for us? Do you want to talk to Paul about this one?
BC: The short answer to that is no but it would uncomplicate our decision making. One of the things that I feel very strongly about is that this problem of global warming is real. We have to do more about it. There is nothing more dangerous in the world that a big idea is not true that people canít let go of. There is a big idea that people canít let go of thatís not true any more which is that you cannot get rich, stay rich or grow richer without burning more coal and oil and putting more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. When we had a primarily industrial economy, that was true.
It is not true anymore and America needs to do much more to develop energy conservation, alternative energy technologies and weíd actually create jobs, have more wealth and save the planet. And, weíd make ourselves more independent of foreign oil. There is right now today a one trillion dollar untapped market for existing alternative energy and energy conservation technologies never mind these cars that are about to developed that will get 100 miles to the gallon or run on electricity and be efficient and all of these other things that are going to be done. It is just crazy and weíre in the grip of this and if we donít set a better example, within 30 years the Chinese and the Indians will both be putting more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere than we are and weíll be suffering from what they do instead of the other way around.
DL: And Iíve talked about this before to almost everybody who will listen to me and thatís a pretty short list, but weíre talking about this in 2002. Doesnít that just seem preposterous to you.
BC: It does.
DL: Why werenít we talking about this in Ď82, why werenít we talking about this in Ď72? I know we were but why hasnít something happened? You know, when John Kennedy said letís put a man on the moon by God, there was a guy on the moon. Why canít we do something like that?
BC: Iíll tell you exactly why. Because the old energy economy is highly centralized. Itís centralized and oil companies and utility companies and coal companies with a lot of good people who work for them and a lot of money and a lot of political influence. The new energy economy with energy conservation, solar power, wind power and other things is highly decentralized. It is very difficult to get from here to there unless the government puts a huge amount of money in it or somebody else decides to do it.
I gave a speech in Saudi Arabia in January to 400 business people from the Gulf and I said, all of you are going to think Iím nuts. Maybe they did already. I said if I were you, I would stop trying to make Saudi Arabia the oil capital of the world and make it the energy capital of the world. You should take your cash right now and go out and buy half the solar capacity in the whole world and you should start at the equator. All the way around the equator and go north and south until you put solar power everywhere the weather will tolerate it. You will save the planet, get richer and youíve already got your oil wells drilled, it will be cheap. You can still get your oil out and sell it.
DL: This doesnít sound like a bad idea to me and I understand the economy and capitalism and jobs and stock prices and profits and on and on and on. But as you say why couldnít somebody, the Dave Letterman Oil Company, why couldnít we start...
BC: Iíll invest in that.
DL: Oh yeah. Well, why couldnít we start diversing and exploring and developing and we would still make enormous sums of money without killing the planet?
BC: Well, we should do it. You know John Bryson ran a very progressive electric utility out in California and they began to finance energy conservation. We built with the Energy Department and HUD and the National Home Builders Association which is a conservative group. We built a housing development out in the Inland Empire out east of LA for lower income working people and we promised them if they moved in these houses, theyíd save 40% on their electric bill with efficient lighting, good insulation and solar panels on the room which now look like little shingles. After two years, they were saving an average of 65%. Itís out there but itís not organized so weíve got to put some money behind it and build competing entrepreneurial organizations. Iím telling you there is more money in this, itís better for the economy, itís good for the planet and as you pointed out it would be very good politics for us.
DL: So youíre telling me and I want to understand this, people like Standard Oil, they would pursue this, they wonít pursue this?
BC: They wonít because look, the nature of it is to be decentralized.
DL: I understand that. ork and guaranteed earnings so itís a lot of trouble. All the government would hredits to people to do this and fund the research and development which is what weíve done every time weíve moved into a new era. Whether it was in the space program or new defense technologies or you name it. Or what we do now in biomedical research where we sequence the human gnome in 2000 for example. Everybody supports this kind of investment in research and development in other areas, we have to do this in energy and energy conservation. It is important politically but the environmental issues could hardly be greater.
DL: Weíre going to do a commercial and during that commercial I want you to think of something to say.
DL: Weíre really running out of time and Iíve got things to ask you. Are we going into Iraq? Do you want to go into Iraq? Should we go into Iraq? Iíd like to go in. Iíd like to get the guy, I donít like the way the guy looks.
BC: Short answer is he is a threat. He is a murderer and a thug. When heís felt his existence threatened twice he used chemical weapons. He has chemical and biological stocks and he kicked the inspectors out and America and Britain were almost alone in fighting it when I was in. There are two big questions that have to be asked and answered. Number one, what kind of precedent would it set if we with only British support took a unilateral pre-emptive strike instead of doing something with our allies? Thatís why Senator Dole and I said last week that we ought to go back to the UN and try these inspections one more time. People have forgotten the vast quantities of biological and chemical stocks we got and destroyed because of those inspections.
Number two, since he only used these things when he felt his existence threatened and there is no doubt we can do this. The American people should know the sanctions work. They cost him way over $100 billion, his military is less than half of what it was in the Gulf War. Weíre stronger, heís weaker. Youíre looking at a couple of weeks of bombing and then Iíd be astonished if this campaign took more than a week. Astonished. But if heís got these stocks of chemical and biological weapons and if he knows heís toast, donít you think heíll use what he can and give away what he canít to people whoíll be using them on us for years to come so he can have the last laugh. Those are the two big questions.
I think the President is doing the right thing to go to the United Nations to ask them to do something and I hope that whatever we do, I think we need to turn up the heat. I think it is just a mistake to walk away from this but I think that we should if at all possible try to take an approach that has broad international support because the precedent of our acting alone might someday come back to haunt in something somebody else does.
DL: And I heard right, you said the campaign would take no more than a week?
BC: No, I think the security problems people should be worried about is not a great problem for our Bmilitary. It is if he has these stocks and I believe he does have biological and chemical stocks of some quantity and he knows heís going to be killed and deposed, then I think heíll certainly try to use them and try to give away what he canít use. So thatís the big problem the military has to think through. The other problem is the political problem. How will we explain it if we do this without any international support? I think the Presidentís decision to go to the United Nations, make a case is a good one and I agreed with Senator Dole the other night. I would be opposed to trying these inspections one more time because I know that they did work even when he was trying to undermine us we kept getting tons of stuff out of there.
DL: What sort of things are you working on now? What consumes your time?
BC: I spend more than half my time already on public service mostly in my office up in Harlem. Also Iím orking on building my library down in Little Rock. I just finished the project I did after September 11th with Senator Dole and Andy McKelvie of Monster.com. We raised over $100 million so that we could guarantee a college education to the children and spouses of every single family that had a death or a disability after September 11th.
And let me just say, on the way in here tonight I met a man and his children who lost his wife and their other on September 11th. He was just outside your door and I shook hands with him. It reminded me that everybody is going to get some kind of award. The largest award weíve given so far is $28,000 to pay for a year. Weíve got enough money to pay this for over 25 year because we have pregnant mothers who lost their husbands on September 11th. But people have to sign up so I just want to urge people to sign up for the Families of Freedom Fund if theyíre eligible.
DL: Good for you. What happened to the talk show? You were going to come here to CBS to do a TV show?
BC: I knew you were ó I couldnít. Iím not as good as you are.
DL: Oh right.
C: Iím not as good as you are and besides that, I mean youíve got this slot locked up and the only thing that is available is daytime. I get up at about six in the morning but I donít wake up until four or five in the afternoon. Iíd be hopeless in daytime television and Iím not sure people would be interested in all this stuff you and I just talked about. Even my best teachers in college, I only had to go to class three times a week. I just donít think I could hack it.
DL: Why donít you show up tomorrow night and weíll see what happens.
BC: Well, Iíd like that but in the meanwhile, I really think former presidents should always have over half their time in public service. Thatís what Iím trying to do and I couldnít do that if I had to do this every day. So Iíll let you do it, youíre better than I am.
DL Thank you sir, pleasure to have you here. President Bill Clinton.
[End of interview]