Former President Clinton Reflects

ByABC News

Nov. 17, 2004 -- -- If former President Clinton has been more absorbed in his thoughts than usual lately, it shouldn't be a surprise.

His presidential library has opened in his old hometown of Little Rock, Ark. Its collection is drawn from 630 tons of materials -- 80 million pages of presidential records, 79,000 museum objects and almost 2 million photographs -- more material than any president has had to date.

Earlier this week, Clinton sat down with ABC News' Peter Jennings to talk not only about his past and his legacy, but the future -- of his beleaguered party, his country, and even himself.

Some excerpts of the Nov. 16 interview follow.

I think that even I underestimated the level of opposition, at least given the troop strength we had there. You know, my position on the Iraq War was different from almost everybody else's that I've heard talk. I supported giving the president the authority to take action against Saddam Hussein if he did not cooperate with the U.N. inspectors, or if he was found to have had weapons of mass destruction he wouldn't give up. I did believe that the administration made a mistake going to war when they did, and that's what alienated the world. Most Americans still haven't focused on this.

We as America, we don't need to look like an occupying power. We don't need to be trying to rig the outcome. But if they're capable of both self-government and security, then I think, in the end, it could still be a net plus for the region. And that is what I think our goal ought to be. You know, I don't follow it on a day-to-day basis. I'm not there. I'm concerned about it.

If you look at the 9/11 Commission's report about what we did, and how we prepared for, we had 9/11-style threats for the millennium. And the extent of our preparations, and the work we did, the number of terrorists we brought to justice, the 20 al Qaeda cells we broke up, if you look at all that, and the fact that we apparently still came closer to getting bin Laden than anybody has since, even though they have a lot more options -- military options -- than we had -- I wish that I had gotten him.

As far as I know, I'm doing well. I'm walking a mile a day, uphill, vigorously. I still get tired easily, I haven't recovered my stamina. But everybody who's done this says I will. So I'm just waiting, and after the library dedication, Hillary and I are going to try to get a little rest between now and Thanksgiving, and try to get my strength back.

I was always working too hard and too long. And so, today, when I take these hourly walks that are part of my recovery, you know, and I walk past 40 trees, I can probably tell you what color 30 of them were. You know, I find birds that I used to know, I'm more alive to just the pace of daily life than I used to be, and I'm very grateful for things that are easy to take for granted.

We saw it in 2002 when Max Cleland, who left half his body in Vietnam, was put in a television ad with Saddam Hussein and compared to Saddam Hussein because he wouldn't vote for President Bush's version of the Homeland Security Bill, a bill the president himself had opposed just a few weeks before they were comparing Cleland to Saddam Hussein. That's what they do. I didn't do that. I've never done that.

[He's] better at some things. He's a really good politician. I told him back in 2000 when he ran the first time, I called the Gore people and I said, "This guy can win." This compassionate conservative is a great idea. It's like saying to the moderates, the swing voters, I will give you everything Bill Clinton did with a smaller government and a bigger tax cut.Wouldn't you like that? You get the same results with lower taxes. I mean, he's very good.

No other president ever had to endure someone like Ken Starr inviting innocent people, because they wouldn't lie, in a systematic way, and having respectable news outlets treat them like they were serious, and parroting everything they leaked. No one ever had to try to save people from ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and people in Haiti from a military dictator that was murdering them, and all the other problems I dealt with, while every day, an entire apparatus was devoted to destroying him.

And still, [there's] not any example of where I ever disgraced this country publicly. I made a terrible public-personal mistake, but I paid for it, many times over. And in spite of it all, you don't have any example where I ever lied to the American people about my job, where I ever let the American people down, and I had more support from the world, and world leaders, and people around the world, when I quit than when I started.

Turkey or vegetarian chili.


Of the ones still living, I like Tony Bennett. I like Bono... I like Judy Collins, I like Sheryl Crow... I love Aretha Franklin.

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