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|September 11th 2002|
|David Letterman Interviewing Bill Clinton
LETTERMAM: Ladies and gentlemen do me a favour, please welcome the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton.
(Bill Clinton comes out and shakes Daveís hand and gives the thumbs up to the saxophonist in the CBS Orchestra)
CLINTON: Thank you, thankyou, thank you very much, thankyou.
LETTERMAN: You get a chance to play the saxophone much any more?
CLINTON: I do, I set up a music room in my house up in Chappaqua Ė
LETTERMAN: Is that right?
CLINTON: And I blow away,
(Audience and Dave laugh)
and sometimes I play Harlem Nocturne. Itís great. They Ė I really want -- 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 and pull you off.
I see all these confirmations that Iím no longer president any more but that would be the ultimate humiliation.
LETTERMAN: No, you donít need that, no.
CLINTON: I gotta practice a few more months.
LETTERMAN: Tell me about what your day was today. What did you do? What were you thinking, what did you feel?
CLINTON: 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 Centre. Then they called me back as the second plane was hitting and I just blurted out ďBin Laden did thisĒ. I just knew, and 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, and so Chelsea and I went down to the crisis centre and talked to some of the families and some of the people that were hanging around.
LETTERMAN: 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? What was --
CLINTON: No, I didnít have any intelligence to suggest this, and 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 had -- 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.
LETTERMAN: 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 -- there were two attempts maybe or strategies to go looking for the guy?
CLINTON: Oh yeah, 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.
LETTERMAN: Is there a problem about getting the guy that people like me donít understand? Is there Ė is it so far more complicated, because I get a speeding ticket, people in Tokyo find out about it.
Whatís the deal here?
CLINTON: (Smiling) You show up here every night, you donít -- if you hid in a cave it might be hard to find you.
LETTERMAN: But Ė
CLINTON: Especially if all the caves were inner connected and you had a lot of people protecting you.
LETTERMAN: And honestly, it just comes down to that? Heís living in a cave and thatís why heís so hard to get?
CLINTON: Well, you knowÖ
I think we should not be funny here for a moment. We didnít have the option to launch an invasion of Afghanistan before September the 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, and 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. And, you know, if we had 100,000 people there maybe we could find him but itís not -- as you see itís not very easy.
LETTERMAN: 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?
CLINTON: Well 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, an attempt to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel, an attempt on the life of the Pope, an attempt to blow up the L.A.X airport. Two attempts over the Millennium weekend to plant bombs in cites in the Northeast and the Northwest of the United States, and lot of people who did terrorist acts, the first World Trade Centre 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.
LETTERMAN: 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.
CLINTON: Well I just think in a way that was almost inevitable until something came home.
CLINTON: Because a lot of people talked about it, and an -- 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 that Ė I think weíre making progress in improving our defences against biological and chemical weapons. Improving the security of our transportation networks and our other basic infrastructure. I think the American people, let me just say -- 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, you know, in the nineties we got over 22 million new jobs,
we had -- 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 Centre. I went to one school in New York where 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 thatís fighting terrorism and part of thatís building a world with more partners and fewer terrorists, and itís 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.
LETTERMAN: And is it easier to do it economically than ideologically or do they go hand in hand or --
CLINTON: 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. Itís 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, but I went to the Internet city there, 25,000 employees. There were none there three years ago, 25,000 now. Average age 26, and 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 the
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 Ď93í. So you canít really have ideological progress without any economic progress. The two go hand in hand.
LETTERMAN: Letís go back again to -- you talk about 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? Or, I mean --
CLINTON: No, I didnít think that at all, I thought -- 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 thought about -- I tried to get a hold of my wife because I knew she would be in the Senate, and I did. And 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. But I mostly thought about what it meant and what needed to be done.
I didnít really think about me one way or the other.
LETTERMAN: Alright Iíll tell ya what, weíll be right back here with President Bill Clinton.
(Return from commercials with Paul and the Band playing music)
LETTERMAN: Weíre here with Bill Clinton, thankyou very much Paul.
(Bill claps his hands)
CLINTON: (To Paul) Great band!
LETTERMAN: Is it -- now Iím going to ask you some questions here and Iím sure the answers will be more things I donít understand.
(Bill and the audience chuckle)
But is it possible -- 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? Is that --
CLINTON: No, thatís wrong.
Let me say, unless there is Ė 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
left our -- 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, and in case we were ever called back we didnít want to have to take all that time to pre-position, so itís not true that all terrorism is routed in
that, the biggest terrorist problem in our neighbourhood 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, now 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.
LETTERMAN: You know what I think?
LETTERMAN: I think you may still be President.
(Audience laugh and applaud)
LETTERMAN: Thatís what it sounds like to me.
CLINTON: Why? No, no, when youíre president you learn to act like you know what youíre talking about.
(Dave and the audience laugh)
Itís a great skill and you donít lose it overnight. It sort of drifts away from you over the decades.
(Dave and the audience laugh)
LETTERMAN: It is serving you quite well.
CLINTON: 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 Ė
LETTERMAN: But where --
CLINTON: 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.
LETTERMAN: Where do you start untangling it? Where does that begin?
CLINTON: Well first, theyíve got to quit killing each other.
LETTERMAN: Well yes I would think that would be sound advice.
CLINTON: I mean, 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, and so thatís whatís happened, they -- each side got in a snit with
each other and they just kept digging but 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 -- whatever you think about the miserable way the Palestinian people have been
mistreated and not -- 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 honour 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.
LETTERMAN: And because of things like that, to the average person it seems more desperate now than ever.
CLINTON: Well, it was more desperate but sometimes in a deal like this it is darkest before the dawn, and even -- if you look
at Ireland, Northern Ireland where I worked very hard and where we did make peace, there has been.
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, you know, 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, theyíre 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, so 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 schools, American Muslim schools, there have been 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 dehumanise 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.
LETTERMAN: OK, 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?
CLINTON: The short answer to that, the short answer to that is no, but it would un-complicate our decision making, and,
you know, 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 and there is nothing more dangerous in the world that a big idea thatís 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.
LETTERMAN: But -- and Iíve talked about this before to almost everybody who will listen to me and thatís a pretty short list,
but why Ė I mean weíre talking about this in 2002. Doesnít that just seem preposterous to you.
CLINTON: It does.
LETTERMAN: Why werenít we talking about this in Ď82, why werenít we talking about this in Ď72? And 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?
CLINTON: Iíll tell you exactly why, because the old energy economy is highly centralized, itís centralized in 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
(Dave and the audience chuckle)
but 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.
LETTERMAN: 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...
(Some murmurs come from the audience)
(Dave turns his head and looks at them)
(The audience starts laughing)
CLINTON: Iíll invest in that.
LETTERMAN: Oh yeah.
CLINTON: Iíll invest in that.
LETTERMAN: Well, why couldnít we start diversing and exploring and developing and we would still make enormous sums of money without killing the planet?
CLINTON: Well, we should do it. You know John Bryson ran a very progressive utility, electric utility out in California and
they began to finance energy conservation. We built a -- 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 and 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.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. Yeah, and so now youíre telling me and I want to understand this, people like Standard Oil, they wouldnít pursue this, they wonít pursue this?
CLINTON: Well they wonít because look, itís the -- the nature of it is to be decentralized.
LETTERMAN: I understand that.
CLINTON: They gotta centralize the recovery and delivery network and guaranteed earnings, and so itís a lot of trouble, but if we Ė if the government -- all the government would have to do is provide adequate tax credits to people who do this Ė
CLINTON: 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 defence technologies or, you know, 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 Ė itís important politically but the environmental issues could hardly be greater.
LETTERMAN: All right weíre going to do a commercial and during that commercial I want you to think of Ė try and think of something to say.
(Bill and the audience laugh)
LETTERMAN: Weíll be right back here with President Bill Clinton.
(Return from commercials with Paul and the Band playing music)
LETTERMAN: All right, now weíre really running out of time, and Iíve got things to ask ya, and I donít know whatís gonna
to happen but what Ė are we going into Iraq? Do you wanna 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.
CLINTON: Short answer, short answer is, he is a threat, heís 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 thereís 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 so 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.
LETTERMAN: And you -- I heard right, you said, you thought the campaign would take honestly no more than a week?
CLINTON: No, I think the security problems people should be worried about is not a great problem for our military. It is that
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, you know, heíll certainly try to use them and try to give away what he canít use, and 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? So I think the Presidentís decision to go to the United Nations, make a case is a good one and, Iím -- I agreed with Senator Dole the other night. I wouldnít 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.
LETTERMAN: What sort of things are you working on now? What consumes your time?
CLINTON: Well Iím -- I spend more than half my time already on public service mostly in my office up in Harlem, and also
Iím working 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, one the way in here, on the way in here tonight, I met a man and his children who lost his wife and their mother on September the 11th, he was just outside your door and I shook hands with him, and 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, and weíve got enough money to pay this for over 25 years 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.
LETTERMAN: Good for you, and what happened to the talk show? You were going to come here to CBS to do a TV show?
CLINTON: I knew you were -- I couldnít.
Iím not as good as you are.
LETTERMAN: Oh right.
CLINTON: Iím not as good as you are and besides that, you know, the only -- I mean youíve got this slot locked up and the
only thing that is available is daytime. Now I wake up about 6 in the morning, I mean, I get up at six 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, I mean, even my best teachers in college, I only had to go to class three times a week. I just donít think I could handle it.
LETTERMAN: Why donít you show up tomorrow night and weíll see what happens.
CLINTON: 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.
LETTERMAN: Good to see you, thank you sir, pleasure to have you here. President Bill Clinton.
CLINTON: Bless you, thank you.
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