New York, Asharq Al-Awsat- Former US President Bill Clinton talks to Asharq Al-Awsat about the current state of affairs in the Middle East, the Bush administration and Hillary’s chances in the next US presidential elections.
The Following is the full test of the interview:
Q: Iraq! We both agree that we should not have gone there, however, how do you see us going out without hurting people who helped us and causing a total destruction in the region?
A: I don’t have an answer for it…. There will always be consequences to whatever decision we take. There is no guarantee… I don’t know any painless alternatives… If we stay in Iraq – there are bad consequences, if we leave in a hurry there are consequences too! Really, there are no good alternatives.
Q: So what are we to do?
A: I think Hillary has it right that we have to make substantive reductions in troop numbers and we have got to make it IMMEDIATELY. Because our troops are stretched too thin we have to pray… that if there is another war – we should be able to respond with Air Force and Navy alone. We should just pray…
Q: What about Afghanistan?
A: Taliban is going to land a “spring offensive” – if they ever come back to power! That will create space for Al Qaeda. And yes, I am afraid we have to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Q: While we are on the subject of Afghanistan, is Bin Laden alive?
A: Well I leave it up to you… I would say: “Never underestimate your enemy!!!” We knew at the time that he was sick. He had serious problems with his kidneys. We wanted to give him a dialyses machine and that way to track him down.
Q: My second question, regarding Iraq has to do with people’s perception that Hilary flipped flopped from supporting the war at the beginning — to now, leading the criticism against it.
A: (looks very happy about the question) I am very glad you asked this question. It is very important that you will get the word out… Hillary has not done at all. Nobody paid attention to the resolution that was presented before the House. It was not about supporting the war in Iraq or not. She reacted like everybody else from Joe Lieberman and others who voted in support. Don’t forget at that time Hans Blix and his team were still working to find out if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. If you read the resolution carefully you would see that its message was that we should go to war if Saddam did not collaborate with the UN resolution. So I am really glad you brought this up. BECAUSE IT IS NOT TRUE what they say about Hillary… I explained the misinterpretation and when the circumstances changed she moved to her next position and now she demands an “immediate troop reduction”.
Q: Concerning the Middle East. Do you think Hillary will be able to fix it after all the bloodshed since the peace process froze?
A: I first of all want to say if Rabin were still alive we would have peace by now. I am convinced we would because I am the one who hosted the handshake between Rabin and Yasser Arafat. I can tell you that Arafat really trusted Rabin. The assassination of Rabin killed the whole process. This one bullet not only killed Izhak Rabin but the whole process that we were working on. This is the best time we have had in a while… There is a Sunni anger to build upon. Sunnis have a real problem. If there were negotiations like the one which took place in Oslo (between Israelis and Palestinians) behind closed doors without media attention… that’s the only way it can be resolved. A solution will also change Iran’s calculations. Iranians are not earning as much money as they used to. Plus – they have devoted their resources to nuclear facilities. It puts extra burden on their economy. Once Iran is not playing a major role – I am telling you, it will take 35 minutes to resolve the problem between Israel and Syria. In 1998 – we were almost there. We could have had a deal! If Rabin wasn’t killed.
Q: Back to Iraq, are there any other dangers which we are not aware of?
A: We have to reposition some troops in Kurdistan or outside nearby. We have to protect the Kurds, and prevent Turkey to go into Kurdistan. That’s the biggest danger in the area right now. We have to watch out if Sunni Iraqis will become a beachhead. Although Turkey is our long time ally – and Turkey and Israel have good relationship – we can’t allow Turkey to enter Iraq! What Hillary is fighting for is, that no one should go into a preemptive war again.
Q: Looking at the Bush administration, do you have anything good to say?
A: Yes… North Korea! He gets my biggest compliments about the way he has handled it. You have got to give him that credit. President Bush also did a lot of good regarding the Darfur crises. You know I just came from meeting with Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, discussing Darfur. And I want to add that the Bush administration has been very good regarding the humanitarian aid after the tsunami devastation in the Southeast.
Q: It probably pleases you that global warming is getting more and more awareness.
A: Climate change is a very important issue. We have to do something about it FIRST, before expecting others countries like China to deal with it. We also have to do something regarding energy. Oil is undermining our independence… Let me throw another issue: We have to promote wellness! We don’t promote wellness. Although we are great in treating sicknesses.
Q: I interviewed Segolene Royal, the first French woman who is running for President. She has complained to me that the French are not ready for a woman president.
A: (laughing hard) The French should be OK with women… You know Jacques Chirac keeps asking me how Hillary is doing. When I was in Latin America people came to me and said: “Tell me, she is going win!” Hillary has worked for women rights for years and gave hope to many people around the world including Africa. She once said: “Woman Rights is Human Rights…” Hillary and I don’t always agree. Last month was exactly 36 years since we first met. I thought she was the most gifted person I had ever met. I still think so…
When she was debating if she should run for President, I told her if you believe you are the best candidate for the job – run for it! If you have doubts – don’t … If you decide to run and loose – we will have wonderful life traveling around the world. We have ahead of us, wonderful life.