[Marxism] Bill Clinton in Amsterdam: excerpts from two press interviews

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Mon Jul 19 17:59:39 MDT 2004

While visiting Amsterdam to promote his bestselling autobiography,
ex-president Clinton gave interviews to two of the dailies here as well as a
women's magazine. I haven't got time to translate all of it, but here's a
few clips worth a thought.

Q: What is your unique talent with people ?
A: They have contact with me, because I have contact with them. I learnt as
a youth, that everybody has a story that is worth listening to. And if I
cannot listen to it, then I look for it in their eyes. People feel if
somebody in public life is on their side, or on the other side, whether they
make an effort for them, whether they understand what life looks like for
others. And that is what I do, much more than most who speak to them in
politics, in the media and elsewhere. That is not to my credit, that is how
I was raised. I belonged to the last generation from before television,
which grew up in a rural culture without much money. The most important
leisure pursuit was conversation. It is naturally easier for me because of
my family, my background, what I experienced.  I never think about it. I
just do it. I love people, I think it's great to relate to all sorts of
people. And I respect all of them equally. And they recognise that. (...) As
I say in my book: how you see the 1960s, depends in America mainly on your
political perspective. People who think that the 1960s brought more good
than harm, are probably Democrats. People who consider that that time on
balance was mainly harmful, are probably Republicans. I am proud of the fact
that I am a child of the 1960s. (NRC-Handelsblad, 17 July).

Q: In the last year, there has been an amazing flood of books and films in
which Bush has been depicted as the "great liar". The Republicans hate you,
the Democrats hate Bush. How will it all end, with this polarisation ?
A: The difference between me and Michael Moore is that I ask my public not
to detest our political opponents, even if they have hated me. Anger works
to our disadvantage. High-running emotions typically favour the Right.
(Volkskrant 17 July).

Q: Does polarisation favour the Right ?
A: It is their conscious strategy. They have to. When I was President,
globally I had the support of two-thirds of the electorate. But if you asked
people about their judgement about topics like abortion rights and gun
control, the relationship changed to fifty-fifty. So if the Republicans want
to have a good chance, they must shift the emphasis to a culture war. Often
the Democrats are no match for the fighting mentality of the Republicans. I
am glad that our people are harder this time round. But we don't have to
abuse President Bush. We are on stronger ground, if we say: here are the
facts, this is our solution, that is their failure. We shouldn't forget that
progressives win when they are able to get people to think. (Volkskrant 17

Q: As regards personal life, do you think the lovelife of the presidential
candidate should be a topic for political debate ?
A: No, I have never believed in that. Personal life is relevant only if you
have reason to assume that somebody's capacity to take decisions is at risk.
If somebody has a serious drinking or drugs problem, or violates the law.
The rest should be left alone. It's an illusion though, to think that it
won't happen. We live in a culture now in which everything and everybody is
laid bare. Many media people also pretend that they serve a higher cause by
showing how shoddy politicians are. The sad thing is that this work of
exposure is often carried out by people lacking any principles. Just like
what the Republicans did to me, they do it for power. Even so I have the
impression that people are somewhat less inclined now to pry into the
private lives of politicians, because I survived what I had done, and
because 11 September reminded people that politics is really about
something. The eagerness for cynical revelations has declined somewhat.
(NRC-Handelsblad, 17 July).

Q: After ten years of "attack politics""by the Right it turned out that,
with the rise of Howard Dean who nearly became presidential candidate, and
Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" that Democrats can also get really
angry. Is America more polarised than ever ?
A: Yes and no. The politics is more polarised. But in America you can easily
get a two-thirds majority for a sensible progressive domestic and foreign
policy. When I resigned after eight years two-thirds of the population was
satisfied. The Republicans took over power in 2001 with militant offensive
rhetoric. They had distracted the elections from traditional social themes
by hammering on abortion and other immaterial themes and by promising
eternal tax cuts. They will continue doing that so long as it works. These
people try to keep America divided. That is something our friends in Europe
should never forget. (NRC-Handelsblad, 17 July).

Q: James Mann, author of "The Rise of the Vulcans" (about the power of
Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and other "neo-conservative" politicians
which have determined American foreign policy in recent years) wrote that
they don't have any ideas anymore. Have the neocons had their time, or are
they still governing ?
A: Oh, they are certainly still in power. They are perhaps somewhat
humiliated by the events. They were really surprised that there was so much
opposition against our intervention in Iraq. In an opener Iraq the problems
turned out to be greater than they were. All sorts of terrorist groups were
able to cross the borders and set up shop. I hope the neocons have learnt
their lesson. In the abstract, the theory of Wolfowitz, which was embraced
by Minister of Defence Rumsfeld and vice-president Cheney, was not
incorrect. The thought was: if you can replace Saddam by a democratic,
non-aggressive, representative government, then the Iraqi population is
better off. The new Iraq would be a healthy contrast with the authoritarian
regimes in the Middle East. The Israeli's would see, that they were saved
from that threat. America would get more authority vis-a-vis Israel, and
would be able to tell Palestinians that it was time for peace. The neocons
deserve applause for the passion with which they championed more freedom for
the Iraqis. It's just that they totally underestimated how difficult it all
would be. (NRC-Handelsblad, 17 July).

Q: If you had gained a third term through a constitutional or electoral
miracle, would Saddam still be there ?
A: It would depend. All reports about the dysfunctionalities of the
intelligence services, in America and Great Britain, cannot obscure the fact
that, around the time of 9/11, every government in the West received
intelligence reports which considered it probable that Saddam had biological
and chemical weapons that could be used at short notice. Don't forget that
in the mid-1990s two sons-in-law of Saddam told us that he had weapons of
which he had not admitted their existence. When we confronted the Iraqi's
with that, they said: yes, we have never said that we had them, but we have
destroyed them meantime. I would have gone to the Security Council to demand
the completion of the weapons inspections, but I would have given
UN-inspector Hans Blix the time to finish his research. You cannot instigate
a regime-change in Iraq, without a legal basis. If Blix had said: I cannot
say anything definite because of all the non-cooperation, and everything
pointed to stocks of biological and chemical weapons, then I would have gone
again to the Security Council, and I would have asked for permission to use
force. And I would would have had almost everybody with me.
(NRC-Handelsblad, 17 July).

Q: Did the theory of the pre-emptive strike become inevitable after 9/11 ?
A: No, it is an exceptionally dangerous doctrine. It is a dodgy business.
When Blix begged for four to six weeks to finish his work, and he did not
get that time, the ground for a preventive strike was not there.
(NRC-Handelsblad, 17 July).

Q: Has that theory died after the setbacks in Iraq, and not usable for
countries like North Korea and Iran ?
A: Yes, even though they were potentially greater threats than Iraq. North
Korea has nearly a million people under arms. They have powerful missiles
and if we attacked them preventatively, then they would not have any more
reason not to attack South Korea. There are circumstances in which I would
support the president if we attacked North Korea. In Europe maybe nobody
would do so, but I would. We are talking about the most isolated country in
the world, that cannot even feed its own people -soldiers flee to South
Korea and weigh not even fifty kilo. The country is under great pressure to
sell lethal weapons to unsavoury people.  I made agreements with the North
Koreans in '94, '98 and nearly in 2000. We can end the current situation if
we leave them the space to be an independent country, not dependent on South
Korea, if we help them to feed and warm their population and understand that
they ask for international recognition. I think that in exchange we can
bring them to abandon their whole nuclear programme. (NRC-Handelsblad, 17

Q: Why have you been consistently so mild about the Bush administration,
which deliberately humiliated you, without obtaining better results ?
A: I judged them fairly harshly in the area of domestic policy.
(NRC-Handelsblad, 17 July).

Q: Does a top position force you to be more restrained in the area of
foreign policy ?
A: A little. I think for example that abroad I should explain to our friends
in Europe that they should not despair about future cooperation. America
continues to want closerelations with Europe. Most Americans prefer
cooperation to unilateralism. That is proved by every poll. I don't think it
is my role, or that I can be more effective, if I take a tougher line on
Bush. Analytical criticism is more useful. In my own country I think it is
my role to explain how the Democrats should conduct policy. We give
preference to cooperation where possible, and intervene only if there is no
other option. The Republicans prefer to intervene only, and cooperate if
there is no other way. The Republicans think that they are in the right
because we have to use our power to solve the problems of the world. They
think that they could not do that if we are no longer a superpower. But we
think that if you cannot make the world do what you want, if you cannot
imprison or kill your opponents, or occupy their country, then you need more
partners to conduct war. I am a great supporter of the EU. If the EU
continues to expand and strenghtens its ties and economically and
politically continues to grow - you are economically already bigger than
America - and if you spend your money in a more coordinated way, then you
have the choice as to whether America remains the sole superpower or not. In
two years China will have an even greater economy than America. If it gets
to that it is their choice whether we remain the only military superpower.
Two years later India will go through the same process. There will sometimes
be cases, where all of us will have to intervene. In Kosovo and Bosnia, I
didn't get the whole Security Council with me, but the Russians knew we were
right; they helped as soon as it was needed. We should aim for a world in
which military compromises are made, not one in which terrorists can make
gains. I say this rather not in a high falutin' way. My role now is to
support Americans. We have in America a gigantic discussion about it. The
epilogue of my book explains why the debate in America is so political, and
so tough. I have thought about publishing that three and a half pages as a
pamphlet... (NRC-Handelsblad, 17 July).


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