Bill Clinton on War & Peace

President of the U.S., 1993-2001; Former Democratic Governor (AR)


ISIS would not be in Iraq if we had not invaded

Q: Iraq is back, unfortunately. A terror threat from this group known as ISIS is back and perhaps poses the biggest threat we've seen to the West since Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Former V.P. Dick Cheney, said that al Qaeda is on the march, and that America is less safe under President Obama.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I believe if they hadn't gone to war in Iraq none of this would be happening.

Q: It wouldn't be happening in Syria?

BILL CLINTON: Well, it might be happening in Syria, but what happened in Syria wouldn't have happened in Iraq. Iraq would not have been, in effect, drastically altered, as it has been. But Mr. Cheney has been incredibly adroit for the last six years or so attacking the administration for not doing an adequate job of cleaning up the mess that he made. And I think it's unseemly. And I give President Bush, by the way, a lot of credit for trying to stay out of this debate and letting other people work through it.

Source: Meet the Press 2014 interview by David Gregory , Jun 29, 2014

1998: Signed Iraq Liberation Act calling for Saddam's ouster

In 1998 Saddam Hussein insisted that international weapons inspectors stop work and leave Iraq. In response, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act, making regime change in Iraq the policy of the United States government and approving nearly $100 million to fund Iraqi opposition groups working for Saddam's ouster.

That December, President Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox, a four-day air strike campaign meant to diminish Saddam's weapons capabilities. "If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we will face a far greater threat in the future," President Clinton said. "Mark my words, he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them." There was bipartisan support for the operation.

Source: In My Time, by V.P. Dick Cheney, p.365-366 , Aug 30, 2011

1993: NATO air strikes on Serbs only with European support

convince Pres. Clinton, who balked at acting alone, without European support. He did accede, however, to Biden's plea to send Secretary of State Warren Christopher to sound out the British and French on a strategy to "lift [the embargo] and strike" the Biden introduced into the conversation the concept that Milosevic was a war criminal. A visit to Sarajevo by Biden reinforced his view that the US should back a policy of lifting the arms embargo and supporting NATO air strikes. But Biden was unable to ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, and with Clinton's approval NATO air strikes began. At one point Clinton told Biden he was considering halting the bombing, but Biden urged him otherwise; shortly afterward, Milosevic pulled his forces out of Kosovo. Serb forces, but Christopher was summarily rebuffed.

Three years after Biden had called for action, the Senate finally voted to lift the arms embargo. In 1999 Biden introduced a resolution in the Senate authorizing Clinton to take action against the

Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by Jules Witcover, p.325-327 , Oct 5, 2010

1998: Seriously diminish threat posed by Iraqi WMDs

Two years before Bush was even elected to the White House, his predecessor told Americans that their purpose should be to "seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's WMD program."

Bill Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, called the ability of states like Iraq to use their weapons "the greatest security threat we face." Clinton's national security adviser agreed, stating with certainty that "Saddam will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983."

Source: The Last Best Hope, by Joe Scarborough, p. 36-7 , Oct 5, 2010

1994 North Korea Framework Agreement largely observed

In 1994. neither the US nor North Korea was fully in accord with its commitments, but the Framework Agreement was largely being observed. North Korea had stopped testing long-range missiles. It had perhaps one or two bombs' worth of plutonium, and was verifiably not making more. After seven Bush years of confrontation, North Korea has 8 to 10 bombs and long-range missiles, and it is developing plutonium. The Clinton administration had also worked out a plan to buy out, indirectly, the North's medium and long-range missiles; it was ready to be signed in 2000 but Bush let it fall by the wayside and today the North retains all its formidable missile capacity.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p.138-139 , Jun 1, 2010

1998: They called me 'obsessed' for going after bin Laden

Fox News's Chris Wallace asked [Clinton], "Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business?" The former president said, "I think it's very interesting that all conservative Republicans, who now say I didn't do enough, claimed that I was too obsessed with bin Laden. All of President Bush's neocons thought I was too obsessed with bin Laden. All the right-wingers who now say I didn't do enough said I did too much--same people."

Needless to say, no "right-wingers" or anyone else ever said Clinton was "too obsessed with bin Laden." The Washington Post declared on August 21, 1998, "President Clinton won warm support for ordering anti-terrorist bombing attacks in Afghanistan and Sudan from many of the same lawmakers who have criticized him harshly as a leader and critically weakened by poor judgment and reckless behavior in the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal." [The article quoted] Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Source: Guilty, by Ann Coulter, p.244-245 , Nov 10, 2009

Claims he opposed Iraq war from the beginning

Bill Clinton said he had opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning--a statement that raised eyebrows because he did not seem to take a strong public stance against the war when it started in 2003. “If he did, I don’t think most of us heard about it,” Barack Obama told reporters. [News reports said] Clinton had been briefed by top White House officials privately about war planning in 2003 and he told them he supported the invasion.

For some experts, Clinton’s insistence he was always against the war

Source: Steve Holland, Reuters, “Reason to hope” , Nov 30, 2007

1991:Claimed he wasn't drafted; 1992: induction notice found

A serious affront was his lying to the press about his avoidance of military service during the height of the Vietnam War. In 1991, Bill told reporters that he didn't get drafted, [giving the impression it was just coincidence]. When his induction notice surfaced on April 5, 1992, it emerged that Bill had gamed the system by signing up for a Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Arkansas School of Law. While he was still at Oxford, a lottery to determine eligibility for the draft assigned his birth date a high number, putting him out of danger. Shortly afterward, he withdrew from the ROTC program and applied to Yale Law School. In a letter, a copy of which was released 8 days before the NH primary by the colonel who had supervised the ROTC program, Bill described his decision in moral terms but admitted he wished to ensure his future "political viability." He also revealingly wrote, "I want to thank you, not just for saving me from the draft."
Source: For Love of Politics, by Sally Bedell Smith, Chapter 1 , Oct 23, 2007

1969: Navigated draft maze; never quite clear on deferment

In Oct. 1969, Bill was reclassified as draft-eligible. In December, after receiving the high lottery number of 311, he formally withdrew from the ROTC program he had never actually joined & applied to Yale Law School. Like some members of his generation, Bill managed to navigate the draft maze.

Bill’s draft status burst onto the campaign stage in Feb. 1992, when the Wall Street Journal reported on his dealings with the university’s ROTC program. Soon afterward, ABC discovered a 1969 letter from Bill to Col. Eugene Holmes, head of the University of Arkansas ROTC, describing Bill’s opposition to the war and his gratitude for “saving me from the draft” with a deferment.

More than a decade later, Bill conceded it was a “misstatement” for him to have claimed, “I had never had a deferment.”

Bill’s campaign possessed including an “Order to Report for Induction”; an induction postponement; and a notice of cancellation on July 23, 1969, a few days after Bill agreed to join the ROTC program.

Source: Her Way, by Jeff Gerth & Don Van Natta, p. 97-100 , Jun 8, 2007

2000 plan: Palestinians retain 97% of West Bank

[Initial the Israeli-Palestinian] talks ended on a sour note, but Bill Clinton, understanding the stakes, was not about to give up. He knew that the Camp David meetings would probably not result in an agreement but could move the ball forward. He ordered his team to keep negotiating and pressing for more creative solutions to the intractable problem of forging Middle East peace. The Israeli and Palestinian delegations capped off months of additional work when they met in Washington on December 23 to go over the latest version of what came to be known as the Clinton plan. Unlike the deal being discussed at Camp David under which the Palestinians would have had to give up more than 9% of the West Bank, the Clinton plan provided for them to retain the equivalent of about 97% of the West Bank. Through Clinton's efforts they were also able to resolve most of the territorial and neighborhood issues as well as questions relating to holy sites.
Source: What A Party!, by Terry McAuliffe, p.251-252 , Jan 23, 2007

1998: Rejected overthrowing Saddam as US policy

On January 26, 1998, President Clinton received a letter urging him to use his State of the Union address to declare the overthrow of Saddam Hussein to be the "aim if American foreign policy" and to order "military action as diplomacy is failing." Should the president agree, the signers all pledged, they would "offer their full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor." And, they warned, "the security of the world in the first part of the 21st century will be determined by how we handle this threat."

Signing the letter were Donald Rumsfeld [and other neoconservatives]. Four years before 9/11, they had publicly called for an invasion of Iraq, 9/11 would be the pretext for a war they had been devising for a decade.

Source: Where the Right Went Wrong, by Pat Buchanan, p. 46 , Aug 12, 2004

Unexpextedly, Kosovo bombing worked

After the raids on Kosovo succeeded, John Keegan, perhaps the foremost living historian of warfare, wrote a fascinating article in the British press about the Kosovo campaign. He admitted frankly that he had not believed the bombing would work and that he had been wrong. He said the reason such campaigns had failed in the past is that most bombs had missed their targets. The weaponry used in Kosovo was more precise than that used in the first Gulf War; and though some bombs went astray in Kosovo and Serbia, far fewer civilians were killed than in Iraq. I’m also still convinced that fewer civilians died than would have perished if we had put in ground troops, a bridge I would have nevertheless have crossed rather than let Milosevic prevail. The success of the air campaign in Kosovo marked a new chapter in military history.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.859 , Jun 21, 2004

1992: Bombed Iraq to retaliate for Bush assassination plot

In June 1992, I ordered the military into action for the first time, firing twenty-three Tomahawk missiles into Iraq's intelligence headquarters, in retaliation for a plot to assassinate President George H. W. Bush during a trip he had made to Kuwait. More than a dozen people involved in the plot had been arrested in Kuwait on April 13, one day before the former President had been scheduled to arrive. The materials in their possession were conclusively traced to Iraqi intelligence, and on May 19 one of the arrested Iraqis confirmed to the FBI that the Iraqi intelligence service was behind the plot. Most of the Tomahawks hit the target, but four of them overshot, three landing in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood and killing eight civilians. It was a stark reminder that no matter how careful the planning and how accurate the weapons, when that kind of firepower is unleashed, there are usually unintended consequences.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.525-526 , Jun 21, 2004

Bombed Iraq on eve of impeachment vote

Bill continued to monitor closely the defiance of Saddam Hussein, who refused to agree to a resumption of UN arms inspections in Iraq. From a political point of view, this was the worst possible time for a military response against Hussein. With the impeachment vote looming, any action by the President could be challenged as an attempt to distract or delay Congress. On the other hand, if Bill put off air strikes on Iraq, he could accused of sacrificing national security to avoid the political heat. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan was imminent, and the window of opportunity for an attack was closing. On December 16, Bill's defense advisers informed him that the time was right. Bill ordered air strikes to knock out Iraq's known and suspected weapons of mass destruction sites and other military targets.

An openly skeptical Republican leadership postponed the impeachment debate when the bombing started. But on December 18, as bombs fell on Iraq, the impeachment debate began again.

Source: Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, p.488-489 , Nov 1, 2003

Most Democrats supported Bush on Iraq

Democrats have been virtually unanimous in supporting the fight against terror and additional defense spending to get it done. Most Democrats have supported the president in Iraq. They've said yes to unlimited inspections and the use of force if the UN resolution is not honored. And the Homeland Security bill was Sen. Joe Lieberman's proposal, one that Bush opposed for 7 months. But we failed to get that message out, or to emphasize our party's ideas for achieving greater national security.
Source: Crossroads, by Andrew Cuomo, p. 35 , Oct 14, 2003

Cruise-missile attack on Sudan & Afghanistan praised by GOP

Clinton's cruise-missile attack on Sudan and Afghanistan [occurred during Whitewater]. The funny thing was, it sort of worked. Pentagon officials suddenly were stealing airtime from [Whitewater] prosecutors on the evening news. The overwhelming, and rather surreal, assessment was that the President had done the right thing. The public supported the bombings. And so did many Republicans. Moreover, Clinton's decisiveness gave pause to those who had been saying that his presidency was crippled.
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p.175-176 , Feb 11, 2003

Accepted Bush policy: Saddam better than instability

Clinton never figured out how to thwart Saddam's apparent efforts to create a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. It should be noted that the Clinton national security team tacitly accepted the first Bush administration's implicit policy in Iraq: Saddam in power was better than the instability that might occur if he was removed--Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds splitting off into states of their own, which might, among other things, greatly strengthen Iran and pose a serious threat to Turkey.
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p.189 , Feb 11, 2003

Regrets tactics used in Somalia

On Somalia, Clinton told me in July 2000, when he was still President, that he agreed to Powell's final escalation, the use of Delta Force guerillas in the hunt for the Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. "There was an operational decision made there which, if I had to do it again, I might do what we did then, but I'd do it in a different way," the President said. "General Powell came in and said you ought to do this--and then he retired. He left the next week. And I'm not blaming him, I'm just saying he was gone. So what happened was we had this huge battle in broad daylight where hundreds of Somalis were killed and we lost eighteen soldiers in what was a UN action. I think I'll always regret [that]. I don't know if I could have saved those lives or not, but I would have handled it in a different way if I'd had more experience. I know I would have."
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 71 , Feb 11, 2003

1995: Launched aerial assault against the Bosnian Serbs

The administration's uncertainty overseas, especially in the Balkans, continued to be an embarrassment. It wasn't until 1995, when the UN peacekeeping mission appeared to be collapsing in Bosnia (and Clinton found out that the US was committed to the extremely expensive, potentially dangerous, and politically disastrous mission of extracting the peacekeepers--and thereby, presiding over a historic international defeat at the hands of ethnic thugs) that the President was convinced to take action. He launched an aerial assault against the Bosnian Serbs, who capitulated soon after cruise missiles were fired into the city Banja Luka--the Serbs were astonished and terrified by the ability of the missiles to navigate the local street grid & pick out specific targets. He coaxed a more permanent power-sharing agreement from the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. It was the first, most intricate, and, arguably, the most significant foreign policy success of the Clinton administration.
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 73-74 , Feb 11, 2003

OpEd: Aided Saddam even after he gassed the Kurds

The reasons for the invasion of Iraq, you can be absolutely certain, have nothing to do with the official statements. That is not even a question. It is another service of the educated classes that they manage to keep this quiet. They all know, of course

When you read George Bush, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, or all the rest of them, they tell you, "We have to go after Saddam Hussein; this guy is such an evil monster that he even used chemical weapons against his own people. And how can we let someone like that survive?"

It is true. He used chemical weapons against his own people, but there is a phrase missing: "with the aid and support of Daddy Bush," who thought that was just fine. He continued to provide aid and support for the monster, and so did Britain. Long after the worst atrocities that Saddam carried out, including the gassing of the Kurds and the rest, the US and Britain happily gave him aid and support, including aid that enabled him to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p.130-131 , Mar 19, 2002

Legal ban on assassinations doesn’t apply to bin Laden

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hinted that the government has evidence showing there was state sponsorship of last week’s attacks. He said that the campaign against terrorism “will not be quick and it will not be easy” and that the goal is “to drain the swamp they live in.” He added: “We have a choice, either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live, and we chose the latter.”

Rumsfeld said the legal ban on government-sponsored assassinations restricts what the government can do in its pursuit of bin Laden, who is described as the prime suspect in the attacks. But former president Bill Clinton, in an interview with NBC News, said the ban should pose no hurdle. The ban applies only to heads of state, not terrorists, he said. “I can assure you we’ve been trying to get Osama bin Laden for the last several years.”

Source: Dan Balz and Alan Sipress, Washington Post, p. A1 , Nov 19, 2001

Visited Vietnam to “honor sacrifice on both sides”

As he watched, the lachrymal president bit his lower lip and teared up. Perhaps the tears were genuine. Perhaps the president was experiencing the same kind of sentiment that affects those who visit the Vietnam Memorial, whatever their views about the war during the 1960s. Beyond these rites and the presidential tears, the president’s views on Vietnam and American military action were revealing. Clinton said, “When we look back on it, the most important thing is that a lot of brave people fought and died in the North Vietnamese army, the Viet Cong, and the South Vietnamese army, and the United States army. And the best thing we can do to honor the sacrifice and service of those who believed on both sides that what the were doing was right, is to find a way to build a different future.”
Source: The Final Days, by Barbara Olson, p. 29-31 , Oct 25, 2001

Claimed it a “fluke” he wasn’t drafted in 1968

In 1992, Bill Clinton told the Los Angeles Times that ‘it was just a fluke’ that he had not been drafted. In fact as everyone in America except Bill Clinton still remembers, the facts were quite the reverse. In 1968, the looming draft was young Bill Clinton’s first political crisis, and he handled it in the same way he would respond to future crises: a crafty combination of lying, evasion, and using others. Clinton claimed, “I certainly had no leverage to get special treatment form the draft board.”
Source: The Final Days, by Barbara Olson, p. 28 , Oct 25, 2001

Support Wye River Accords & other peace talks

[The Clinton Administration] advanced peace in the Middle East by brokering peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinians and Jordan; negotiating the Wye River Accords; supporting the launch of final settlement negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians; and revitalizing peace talks between the Syrians and Israelis.
Source: WhiteHouse.gov web site , Dec 1, 2000

Combat terrorism; contain Iraq; develop oil

Source: WhiteHouse.gov web site , Dec 1, 2000

Kosovo: led NATO alliance to end ethnic cleansing

[The Clinton Administration] ended a decade of repression and reversed ethnic cleansing in Kosovo by leading NATO alliance to victory in 79-day air war against Serb forces, forcing their withdrawal, ushering in international peacekeepers, and launching the Stability Pact to strengthen democracy, prosperity and integration throughout the Balkans.

[We supported] enlarging NATO, integrating Southeast Europe, and strengthening our partnership with Russia.

Source: WhiteHouse.gov web site , Dec 1, 2000

Reluctant but willing to use round forces in Kosovo

[U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair] said if we didn't win this, it was curtains for his government. He laid out the argument to Clinton- if we the politicians say we cannot afford to lose, and they the generals say they cannot do it without ground troops, then we have to go for it. Invasion. Simple as that. Blair laid out a very tough case:
  1. NATO is a mess.
  2. The air campaign is OK but not much more than that.
  3. The military say air power alone won't do the job. It would require an invasion force of 150-200,000, the bulk of them from the US.
Blair said the bottom line was he had to win, and if the military said it couldn't be done just by air, we had to listen. Bill chewed on a cigar, and grumbled about the French a lot. Bill said the Republicans would probably support him on ground forces 'because it might destroy me.' They may not think it is Vietnam, but they think we will be there for a long time and with a lot of casualties. [The campaign was won without a ground invasion.]
Source: The Blair Years, by Alastair Campbell, p.380-382 , Apr 21, 1999

Bottom line on Saddam: unfettered repeat inspections

I listened to [British Prime Minister Tony Blair] and Bill Clinton talking about military action. Both were deliberately sounding a bit vague. The main thing was that they wanted to get a new UN resolution, which would allow a military attack for material breach of the resolutions. They were both worried that [UN leader Kofi Annan] would get a deal that would allow Saddam to diddle around. The bottom line was still unfettered access. The problem is Saddam does know the detail [of the UN deal while we don't], and he could outspin and outsmart us on that. Blair said a lot of this now was about who got their line out first and Saddam had the upper hand. We had to keep the focus on repeat inspections, not just a one-off inspection regime. Neither Clinton nor Blair liked being in this position where it was being said a deal was done, that Kofi had got everything he wanted, so we were meant to look and sound pleased, but we had no idea what the deal was.
Source: The Blair Years, by Alastair Campbell, p.280-281 , Feb 22, 1998

Today, not a single Russian missile is pointed at America

This is the first State of the Union Address since the beginning of the cold war when not a single Russian missile is pointed at the children of America. And along with the Russians, we're on our way to destroying the missiles and the bombers that carry 9,000 nuclear warheads. We've come so far so fast in this post-cold-war world that it's easy to take the decline of the nuclear threat for granted. But it's still there, and we aren't finished yet.

This year I'll ask the Senate to approve START II to eliminate weapons that carry 5,000 more warheads. The United States will lead the charge to extend indefinitely the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enact a comprehensive nuclear test ban, and to eliminate chemical weapons. To stop and roll back North Korea's potentially deadly nuclear program, we'll continue to implement the agreement we have reached with that nation. It's smart. It's tough. It's a deal based on continuing inspection with safeguards for our allies and ourselves.

Source: Pres. Clinton's 1995 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 24, 1995

No troops to Bosnia, but no-fly zone & blockade

Q [to Bush]: How can you watch the killing in Bosnia and not want to use America's might?

BUSH: We are helping. American airplanes are helping today on humanitarian relief for Sarajevo. But you have ancient ethnic rivalries--it isn't going to be solved by sending in the 82d Airborne, and I'm not going to do that.

CLINTON: I agree that we cannot commit ground forces to become involved in the quagmire of Bosnia. But I think that it's important to recognize that there are things that can be done short of that. There are two million refugees, the largest number since World War II, and there may be hundreds of thousands of people who will starve or freeze to death in this winter. The US should try to work with its allies and stop it. I urged the President to support this air cover, and he did, and I applaud that. I applaud the no-fly zone. I think we should stiffen the embargo on the Belgrade government. We can't get involved in the quagmire, but we must do what we can.

Source: The First Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate , Oct 11, 1992

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