This is a partial transcript from Greta Van Susteren's interview with former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Presidential Center on June 4, 2005. It has been edited for clarity.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Mr. President, this building is a green building, isn't it?
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It is a green building. I’m very proud of that. When we settled on the design I was very worried that it would be hard to make it energy efficient, so we worked extra hard on the insulation. Underneath the floors there are miles and miles of tubing, and in the summertime we carry cold water, and in the winter hot water. And then we have over three hundred solar reflectors on the roof of the library just behind us, so that we cut the energy usage about thirty-four percent, which is really important to me.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is that, is that the, was that designed by you, or is this with the architect, whose idea was it to make this a green building?
CLINTON: Mine. I said, that was one of the requirements I imposed before agreeing on an architect, that we would do everything we could consistent with my desire to have this building be light and airy and a happy place to be, to make sure it was energy efficient. I did a lot of work on that at the White House. By the time I left we had taken the equivalent of six hundred cars a year off the road in reduced greenhouse gas emissions just in the White House complex. So, I believe in this.
VAN SUSTEREN: You say greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Treaty, that’s obviously in the forefront right now. The current president, has rejected it. What do you think about that?
CLINTON: Well, the Kyoto Treaty wasn’t perfect, but we signed it, in fact, helped to draft it. And I’m still very proud of it, it was the world’s first commitment to doing something comprehensive on greenhouse gases and trying to reduce global warming before we do irreversible damage to many civilizations around the world. I think that clearly we’d like the developing countries as well as the developed countries to be a part of it, but the rich countries are the main emitters of greenhouse gases now. China and India are quickly catching up.
But we need to set an example. And we also should want to be there first, because getting America off our role as the number one emitter of greenhouse gases in the world per capita would actually help us to create a new generation of American jobs. Maybe we’ll have to renegotiate it now because we’ve delayed so long that we couldn't meet our targets anyway now, because we went back to the old energy policy of relying too much on oil and coal. I still believe it’s the right thing to do. We, we have no option. Look, Jeffrey Immelt, the new chairmen of GE said the other day that his country, company was going to invest a billion and a half dollars in a clean energy future, and were going to try to set an example and lead the way. Uh, you’ve got, two big European petroleum companies saying they’re going to try to become energy companies, not just oil companies. It’s only in America where there seems to be this sort of systematic denial of the reality of global warming at the governmental level, and in too many sectors of the high, the private sector. But it looks to me, like with Mr. Immelt’s announcement, the business community may actually lead us toward a clean energy future almost in spite of government policy.
VAN SUSTEREN: How do you get people interested in that, though? That’s like a big, huge, it seems long term, it almost seems remote. But if you’re raising a family back in Wisconsin, for instance, I mean, global warming, or gasses, seems so far away. It seems generations away.
CLINTON: Well, I don’t think it, it may be two generations away, but in, if it has the power to flood whole island nations, to flood 50 feet of Manhattan island, which is what’s going to happen if the world warms up the next 50 years at the rate of the last ten. I think you have you to give people the facts, and then I have to, I think you have to tell them, this is not like drinking Castor Oil. There is a, an economically exciting way for us to create a whole new generation of American jobs, uh, without costing them an enormous amount of money or forcing them to change their lifestyle.
I think you have to explain that we simply have to transition from an economy based almost exclusively on oil and coal and natural gas to one that’s far more diversified, that uses solar energy, and wind energy, and the power of the tides, and bio-mass energy, and eventually, develops hydrogen. And, you know, the president has been good to support this hydrogen development project, but the way the government has done it has basically put everything else on hold until one day we achieve this hydrogen miracle. And what we should be doing is accelerating every year our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, have a cleaner energy future, have much more energy conservation. And this won't hurt anybody. This will create a new economy for America, if we’ve got the discipline to do it.
And, another thing we ought to say is, it will make us less dependent on foreign oil. It would, uh, make us more secure in our future. It would mean that our foreign policy could be a reflection of our values and our other interests, and not just that.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you talk about our, you know, the foreign policy, and being dependent on foreign oil, I mean, everyone has a gas guzzling car, everybody wants a gas guzzling car, Americans are troubled with the thought of spending lots of money in Iraq, not at home. What about the foreign policy and the direction it’s headed right now, this administration?
CLINTON: Well first of all, let me just say one last thing on the environment. Everybody has a gas-guzzling car because people like SUVs. They, they would like SUVs if they were hybrid vehicles that had the same horsepower and used less gasoline. Instead, what the auto manufacturers are doing is building SUVs that are hybrid vehicles that use the same amount of gasoline because they up the horsepower. Now, that’s a decision that they make to market irresponsible economic behavior. The American people like the SUVs, they have kids, they, they need them, they get around in them, but we have options.
And on the foreign policy, it depends on what area you're talking about. I think, you know, whether people agree with the Iraq policy or not, we have to hope it works, because 58 percent of the Iraqis turned out to vote, that’s a higher percentage than we had, even in 2004. And clearly a majority would like to have a country that is coherent and safe and free. Whether it will work or not, no one knows yet. But there’s, the key is giving the Iraqis the capacity and the will to defend themselves, and making sure they have, in that defense, the capacity to build a modern economy so people can look forward to something positive when they get up in the morning.
In the case of North Korea, I think eventually we’re going to have to, one way or the other, drive this in diplomacy if we’re going to get a non-nuclear North Korea. I still believe we can do it, because what the North Koreans really want is to eat and stay warm, be recognized as important, and be quite confident that they won't be like East Germany, they’re not going to disappear. They believe that the key to all that is having some sort of reliable relationship with the United States, and the certainty that we’re not going to attack them if they give up all their military weapons. The way, the reason we should care about it is not because I think North Korea will use nuclear weapons, because if they did they’d be immediately destroyed. It is that they can't grow food, they can't provide for energy, but they’re brilliant at making missiles and bombs. So, we’re just going to have to work our way through this. I feel that it can be. So, those are just two kind of hot button areas.
VAN SUSTEREN: But how do you do that? I mean, North Korea is hermetically sealed almost. I mean, we have, at least, very little, it seems like very little information about them. Uh, they seem, I mean, maybe it’s a media creation that we should be, have some fear of them. They have lied in the past. You know, how, how do we resolve it?
CLINTON: Well, they have lied and they haven't. I mean, they, they certainly weaseled around the 1994 agreement they made. But, let’s look at the consequences of involvement and the consequences of non-involvement. In the eight years I was there we basically, in 1994, said, we think you’re developing a substantial nuclear program, we think you want to build bombs with the spent plutonium coming out of this nuclear power plant. And if you don’t stop, we may have to take military action, because we can't let you become a nuclear power. We did it very quietly, we didn't threaten them publicly, we offered them a good deal if they turned away. So they, they stopped production of plutonium, spent plutonium fuel rods, they put all the rods they had up for inspection in one site, and they had enough, they were on their way to having enough plutonium to build six or twelve bombs a year.
When the Bush administration came into office, Secretary Powell and his deputy, Mr. Armitage, admitted that the agreement we struck in ’94 and the international monitors had avoided the development of dozens of nuclear weapons. Now, in ’98 we got them to stop testing their long-range missiles. In 2000 we were on the verge of getting them to stop producing long-range missiles, but I would have had to go there, and in a last ditch attempt to salvage the Middle East peace, I didn't.
We now know that in 1998 they started a much, much smaller nuclear program in a laboratory, not using plutonium, but trying to develop highly enriched uranium. But I might be enough to produce maybe a bomb a year. When we found out this, that is, no one in America knew it until after I had left office, that program was in its infancy. We refused to negotiate with them except through these so-called six party talks. And they haven't gone well, and the, you know, now they, the North Koreans say we’re not going to let the inspectors, we’re going to use the plutonium, and it’s just gotten worse and worse. But if you think about it, what have they got to gain by pushing this to the brink? What they really want is to be respected, not go away, eat and stay warm, build a modern economy. If they wanted to engage in a conflict with us, they’d have to be literally totally irrational.
VAN SUSTEREN: But how do we know they’re not irrational?
CLINTON: Oh, they are irrational to some extent, but I don’t think they’re totally irrational. I mean, I think they watch American cable channels. I think they watch the European cable channels. I think they, their decision makers keep up more than we know. And I think they want us to think they’re a little crazy.
But, you know, what’s the alternative? We could take military action. And if we’re lucky we could take out their facilities. But for all we know a lot of their lab facilities are in deep underground caves. There’s a lot of development inside mountains in North Korea. We could run the risk that they could counteract by lobbing conventional missiles into Seoul or Japan or farther away. Uh. Until we have exhausted all diplomatic means, I don’t know why we would just let the thing get worse. I understood in the beginning. In the beginning President Bush was focused on the 9/11 and the aftermath, and I think the administration was afraid it would look inconsistent to be fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, running the country up toward a war with Iraq, and talking to North Korea.
But the truth is, countries have to do what is best in each instance to pursue both their interest and their values. And it seems to me that’s in our best interest. So yes, the Chinese can help us, yes, others can help us, these six party talks can be valuable, but sooner or later we’re probably going to have to take more initiative. And I see that, the administration has basically been saying that. Just kind of read between the lines, that’s pretty much what they’ve concluded, I think.
VAN SUSTEREN: It’s a tough job, isn't it, being president?
CLINTON: It’s a hard job. And you know, I'm very sympathetic with the president’s problems on Korea and Iran. The Iranians, you know, two-thirds of the Iranian people would like to be reconciled with the West. You know, they don’t like the fanaticism of the governing religious council. They don’t like shaking candidates off the ballot, and invalidating laws the parliament passed. It’s the only place in the world where the last six elections have been won by the more progressive candidate, two for president, two for the mayors, two for the parliament. So most people there in a way are sympathetic to the world we Americans want to build, whether we’re Republicans or Democrats. On the other hand, almost everybody there wants them to have nuclear power. They see it as a status symbol, and a sense of their own security.
And we see the same thing in India where, you know, the United States is quite popular now. I sort of broke the ice after 40 years, we were talking about foreign policy, I want to say something good about President Bush’s foreign policy, he’s continued to try to have a good relationship with India without giving up our friendship with Pakistan. I think that’s exactly the right thing to do. So, the Indians like Americans now, 90 percent of them like their nuclear power. They want their nuclear powers. So, this is, these are tough problems for the President, Iran and North Korea. And, I think in the case of Iran he has done exactly the right thing to rely on the British and the other European diplomatic efforts working together. We have to have exhausted all other efforts before we even go to the U.N. for sanctions. Our military resources are stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, so we did the right thing there. And on North Korea, I think unlike Iran, the North Koreans would actually like to have us kind of nudging away and taking the lead, and that seems to be where America is going.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you talk with President Bush about these matters? I mean, I know that you have a relationship with his father, but do presidents — current presidents and former presidents — talk about this stuff?
CLINTON: Well, I wouldn't say on a regular basis, but if I hear something when I’m traveling around the world that I think they should know, then I call either Secretary Rice of Deputy Secretary, or Mr. Hadley at the White House, and I tell them. Sometimes when I’m with the President for some other reason, he will ask what I think or what I know about some area, and if he does, then I share it with him. But I, I don’t, I rarely bother him with something unless I think it’s important. And then once in a while he’ll call me when, uh, I have volunteered to do something I think they want done, or they’ve asked me to done, to do something, and I’ll give them a report. So, I do that, and when I’m doing those things, I think I should keep it confidential. I think if the White House or the President want to say anything about our conversations or anything I tried to do to help our country with their support or at their request, then I think they should be the ones to do that. But I think that former presidents should do that.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it’s sort of interesting that, you know, we have the impression that there are, like, these huge political wars, that presidents don’t talk to each other, except of course we’ve seen you with President Bush forty-one, that there is no relationship, that politics is, you know, which jersey are you going to wear.
CLINTON: Well, it has been that way a lot in Washington, increasingly I’d say starting, oh, maybe in the mid-70s, kind of in the reaction to what happened at Watergate. But it really got going, I’d say, in the 1980 election with the rise of NITPAC and other things, and it’s just gotten more and more intense. But, it can be counteracted.
When I was the governor I had very close friends among the Republican governors. Senator Lamar Alexander was a friend of mine. Former governor Tom Payne, who is the co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, was as good a friend as I ever had among the governors. Uh, and I regret that political differences have dissolved personal relations. I think it’s hurt the county. So, I just made up my mind when I left office that I would try to, you know, give President Bush the benefit of the doubt, and I would try to understand what he was doing, and he was uncommonly gracious to me and Hillary and our family, at the portrait unveiling, so we’ve established what I think is a very good personal relationship. I don’t ask him to give up his political convictions, he doesn't ask me to give up mine. He makes his position clear, I make mine clear. But when we work, when we can work together, we do. That’s how I think the country should work.
When I first came to Washington in the 1960s, even at the height of the Vietnam War, until the end there in ’68 there was a certain climate of cooperation. And then in the late sixties and in through the seventies, politics began getting more mean. And then from the eighties on it seemed to be institutionalized, this personal attack business. And I just hate it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well what’s the, what was the catalyst for the mean?
CLINTON: Well, I think the Republicans and conservatives generally were alienated by America’s unsuccessful effort in Vietnam, and a lot of them, as Henry Kissinger admitted the other day, never got over President Nixon’s impeachment, and didn't think, even though there was a pattern of illegal conduct there, uh, sanctioned by the White House and proved by the tapes and other documentary evidence and testimony, they didn't believe that the impeachment was justified, and they didn't think he should have resigned. And so, and then there was the rise of the so-called religious right, and also the, the groups like the, the NITPAC, and these other groups that basically began to attack the opposition as people. Not to say, even falsely, their position is this, that, or the other thing, but attack them as people: they have no values, they have no strength, they don’t love America, just, and do it in a very intense way. And that sort of thing inspires a reaction.
Now, the Democrats weren't entirely blameless on this, I thought, in some of the confirmation hearings, for example, when Judge Bork was up for the Supreme Court, I didn't support Judge Bork, I filed testimony in opposition to him, even though I liked him, he’d been my constitutional law professor at law school, but they looked at the movies that he rented. When John Powell was up for defense secretary, you could have asked a question about whether he was too close to the defense department, they were talking about his drinking habits at dinner in Switzerland. You know, I thought that was wrong, too. So, we were not entirely blameless. But largely it was the organized success of the personal attack machine of the extreme right wing that sort of changed all this.
And I don’t think the press was blameless. I think, you know, it was pretty heady, I guess, when it appeared that a president was, was removed from office partly because of the work of the press. And I think a lot of people in the political press began to think that, you know, that was the measure of success, how much you could chip away at the authority of people in elected office. But we got to come back from that brink. And we did briefly at 9/11. In the last election we were very polarized, but I thought it was largely over policy. A lot of Americans who voted for Senator Kerry, for example, gave the president the credit he deserves for running the country and uniting us after 9/11 and going into Afghanistan in a prompt and efficient way with a broad-based global coalition. So that’s what I want to see. I don't mind the debates, they’re good for America, but we shouldn’t be out there attacking each other all the time.
VAN SUSTEREN: So, how do we twist it around? Because I think many Americans care about getting food on the table, educating their children and it still is mean. I mean, people, there still are personal attacks.
CLINTON: Well, I think, you know, all we can, all anybody can do is be responsible for his or her own behavior. But, you know, it’s like I’m really proud of Hillary because she’s sponsored more relationships, more legislation, excuse me, across the party lines than any other, uh, first term member of the Senate in either party. She took those long global warming trips with Senator McCain and other Republican senators to try to, you know, build the consensus about what to do about climate change. And she just keeps working and she has really good relations with the Republican House members in the New York delegation. That’s the kind of thing I think we ought to do.
When, when President Bush asks me to go with his father to the Tsunami impacted areas and help raise money, I was thrilled to do that, because I think we have to always keep looking for common ground. That way, when we have a difference of opinion, over should we cut taxes or reduce the deficit, you know, or, or should we have a different energy policy, or a different health care policy, people can actually hear us. But, you know, a lot of these policy debates, we’re talking about getting change, a lot of these policy debates are almost irrelevant now because people are so agitated on both sides with the, the attacks that they can't hear the arguments. And that's a paralyzing thing, both for people in office, and for citizens in general.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I know that when, when Senator Clinton and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently joined together on health care legislation, we all sort of thought, my god, what are these two doing together?
CLINTON: I loved it.
VAN SUSTEREN: And we wondered about that. But even with you and president Bush forty-one, after, you know, change, exchanging, you know, strong debates in ’92, how do you, I mean, that seems strange to us.
CLINTON: Well, first of all, I give him a lot of that credit. I think you’ve got to give him a lot of the credit. Because the election went my way, so I couldn’t blame him if he never got over it. And because I ran against him after he had been uncommonly nice to me as vice president and president, I was an active Democratic governor, I was the senior governor in the country at the time in terms of service, I always tried to work with the White House, I had a particularly good relationship with him, I liked and admired him very much, and, I became really despondent in 1991 by the direction of the country and what was and wasn’t being done. And so I ran, really, I was fifth in the polls in New Hampshire when I started, so I didn't know I was going to be nominated. But, you know, I give him all the credit there. Because he just decided to repair the relationship.
But I think it began kind of in the White House years when he was really always willing to do things that I asked him to do to help me on trade issues, to go on important delegations to other countries when, you know, had to go on state funerals that were, where we all needed to present a united American front. And I always liked him. So, we’ve had the time of our lives. I like that. But, it didn't surprise me that Hillary and Newt Gingrich did that together, because I know him, you know, I wrote some pretty nice things about him in my book, and I told the truth about the nature of our conflict and the way he saw politics, and how he beat my brains out in the ’94 election.
But, you know, Newt Gingrich has got a good mind, and he’s always thinking about the future, and it doesn't surprise me that they agree on the need to basically computerize all the medical records in the country, and give appropriate privacy protection, or that they agree so much on military reform, which is another thing, I think, that would surprise people. If, if, if two people have good minds and they’re looking at problems, if they agree all the time it means one of them is not thinking. If they disagree all the time, it means one of them is not thinking. They’re just allowing their political position to dictate their position on an issue. And I think that’s unhealthy. And the public knows better.
We’ve had periods of meanness in American politics. Actually, the, the dawn of partisan division in America was basically in George Washington’s second term, when it was obvious that he would be the first and only consensus president. Sort of. Although James Monroe was elected without substantial opposition in 1820. Re-elected. But it, you know, they were personally mean to each other in the early 1800s. But the echo chamber was smaller because only white male property owners could vote, not everybody could read, everything that was said that was mean was in newspapers or in parlors, you know… But the agitation was almost as great because of how personally hateful they were. So then in the McCarthy-era there was a lot of sliming of people. Didn't last long. But it was awful while it lasted. But the systematic, one of the key elements in the rise of the, the right wing of the Republican party has been the ability to convince substantial numbers of Americans to vote against their economic interests and their social views by believing that the Democratic opponent had no values, no personal strength, no redeeming characteristics. So I think we’ve got to try to change that. But people in my party have to try and make sure it doesn't work anymore. I mean, I hold us responsible. You can't ask for the Republicans to change their tactics if they work every time. We have to prove that there’s an alternative way.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think if Senator Clinton runs in 2008 it’s going to change? Whether the personal attack will get cranked up?
CLINTON: I don’t know, because you know, I'm superstitious, first of all, and intensely determined to keep my focus, and she’s determined to keep hers on her getting re-elected. If she, it’s foolish for her to entertain any kind of serious discussion about whether she should or shouldn’t run for president until the voters of New York ratify her service for the last six years and renew her contract. I believe they will because she has done such a good job, and because she has such high approval ratings among Republicans and Independents as well as Democrats. But I think it would be a great mistake for her to look beyond this next election, and I know she feels that way. So, I don’t know.
But in, let me go back to the general thing, I think that, you know, when you can have a Republican conservative who didn't serve in Vietnam defeat a man like Max Cleland, who lost two legs and an arm there by running an ad comparing Max Cleland to Saddam Hussein because he didn't vote for the president’s Homeland Security Bill, even though he supported the president in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even though the president himself had opposed the Homeland Security Bill for eight and a half months before, and it works, you can never expect them to change that strategy until it doesn't work anymore.
So we have a responsibility there, we Democrats, every one of us, both to try to treat the Republicans with respect and as human beings to try to work with them on every issue we can, and then if those cannons are fired at us, we’ve got to stand up and fight back. If, you know, if you lay down and you look like a deer caught in the headlights, then you will confirm the assault. And so we have to fight back.
VAN SUSTEREN: But does that mean negative ads? Because the thing is that, negative ads, as ugly as they are, work.
CLINTON: Well, it depends on what the negative ads are. For one thing, if a negative ad is an honest comparison of your position to someone else’s in the light most favorable to your opponent, to the average voter that's not a negative ad, that’s a piece of information, that’s just like Greta getting on the news program and giving people information. And as long as it’s accurate and makes the best argument available to the other side, we shouldn’t be complaining about that, even if they say the sky will fall if our position.
If you go against someone, you say, you know, you can't vote for these Democrats, they don’t have good values, they’re not good people, they’re weak, they’re spineless, they’re, you know, don’t love America, they’re giving aid and comfort to Saddam Hussein, that’s the kind of thing I think is bad for America, because it stops the voters from thinking. And uh, any time you stop thinking in a free society you get in trouble.
But again, I don't blame the Republicans for doing it in every election if it works every time, if you can just say your opponent is not a patriot, your opponent is spineless, your opponent doesn't stand up for America, your opponent doesn’t have good values, you know, won't support the family, and all those things they say, why in the world should they stop if it works? And so we have a certain responsibility there both to reach out to them as people to make the debate more civilized, and then when we’re subject to these tactics, to counter them. And we can do so, but you have to, you’ve got to have the hide of a rhinoceros if you're going to do a lot of this stuff. But if you do it in good humor, it’s survivable.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do Democrats do that back at Republicans?
CLINTON: Not nearly as well. Oh, not nearly as well. And we’re normally not comfortable attacking people as people. You know, or making innuendoes about whether they’re really decent human beings, or stable human beings, or patriotic human beings. You know. We Democrats, we, we like policy, we believe in policy. We don’t mind fighting over the issues, but uh, if still after twenty-five years of doing this with great success, when it’s done in every election it seems like we’re always surprised. We’re surprised when they do it and surprised when it works. And there’s no excuse for that. That’s our fault, not theirs. They’re in business to beat us, and they’ve got a, if they have a business plan that works at every election, why should they change it until it doesn’t work anymore?
You know, I’m at a different point in my life, I realize that, but even when I was in office I expressed admiration and respect and even affection for Republicans that I knew and liked and cared about, and I tried to find ways to work with them. I think the Democrats should do that, and just keep trying to lower the temperature. And then when they get in campaigns, if they’re subject to these personal attacks, they just have to be, you know, composed enough and strong enough to answer in a way that shows they trust the American people with the, with the information.
VAN SUSTEREN: Who do you think is going to run in 2008 for the Republicans? Who’s going to be their nominee?
CLINTON: I have no earthly idea. I mean…
VAN SUSTEREN: McCain?
CLINTON: Well, I think he’s a very good man. I probably shouldn't say that, that’ll probably hurt him in his efforts to win…
VAN SUSTEREN: Newt Gingrich?
CLINTON: I think that he might run. And you know, ever, ever since he left there’s been nobody else who is smart with as many ideas.
VAN SUSTEREN: As Newt Gingrich?
CLINTON: He’s really smart, you know, he’s always thinking about things. That’s how he and Hillary both got interested in medical technology, they thought about the problem, came to the same conclusion, that we could save a ton of money by automating our records. Uh, they’re both on this military reform commission the Pentagon has now, they’ve come to a lot of the same conclusions. So, you know, they’ve got some talent on their side. And, many others. I mean, I presume Senator Frist will run, and maybe Senator Allen of Virginia, and they, you know, presumably they, they’ve got other people, other Senators who could run.
VAN SUSTEREN: This fall, this fall you have a global initiative where you’re bringing together lots of interesting people: Rupert Murdoch who owns News Corp, of course, Governor Schwarzenegger, King Abdullah. What is this forum that you’re doing?
CLINTON: Well, I’m trying to get a substantial number of people, but nowhere near as many people as go to the World Economic Forum. I want to get a small enough group where we can talk, to come together with world leaders coming to the U.N. for the opening of the U.N. with American political leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, with leaders of the media and the business world, and a lot of emerging young entrepreneurs around the United States and around the world, trying to get all these people together to talk for two days about four subjects every year at the opening of the U.N. The issue we’ll talk about, creating economic opportunity and alleviating poverty in the developing world. We’ll talk about improving the governance of poor countries, some will invest money there. And we will talk about, resolving racial and other problems to create an opportunity for wealth and democracy. And we’ll talk about climate change, and how it can be made good economics and not bad economics. For two days. Then at the end of that period everybody who comes will be asked to make a, to sign a card, I mean, make a specific pledge to take action in the next year, and what they can do.
One of the things that I realized when I left office was that in the 1990’s citizens across the world applied more power than they had ever had, as compared with the government, because of more people living under democracies than dictatorships for the first time, the power of the internet, which the young Chinese used to basically change China’s policy on the SARS epidemic, and shut it down, and because of the rise in non-governmental organizations like my foundation. The biggest one is the Gates Foundation. All of the wonderful work they’ve done in health care around the world, and in education at home. But there are thousands of small ones that do great things. So, I figured if I could get really good people who were going to be able to have a big impact in the world over the next decade to come together once a year for ten years and actually sign a pledge to take action themselves, if we did that every year for ten years we could do a lot of good in the world. That's the difference between my meeting and any other. If you don’t want to promise to do something, don’t come to my meeting, stay home.
VAN SUSTEREN: Who is invited? How did you determine that?
CLINTON: Well we, we’re still inviting people. You know, we’ve never done anything like this before, so I'm sort of just basically starting with the guest list of, I tried to get, first, a bi-partisan group, as you mentioned, in America, and then a representative group of people around the world, from Tony Blair to King Abdullah, to some heads of African and Latin American countries that are going to come. We have people on every continent represented. And then I’m just kind of adding, going through business lists, and lists of labor and academic leaders, and other interesting people in America and around the world trying to invite people. So we, we just, I approve various lists all the time, and then sometimes somebody comes up to me that I’d never thought of, or I didn't have their name, and they say, I want to come, and so we arrange for them to come. I'm not trying to make it exclusive, I'm just trying to keep, as a matter of fact, I want it to be inclusive, but I don't want it to be so big nobody can ask a question or really learn anything. So the trick is to make it big enough to be fully representative, but not so big you just feel like you’re at a meat market.
VAN SUSTEREN: Your book is coming out paperback?
CLINTON: Yeah, I’m excited about that. I wanted it to come back in paper back right now because I felt guilty last summer, I probably dislocated some people’s shoulders trying to carry it to the beach or other places on summer vacation. So I said, you know, there’s nothing I can do about making it shorter, but at least I made it lighter. And it can be carried around this summer.
VAN SUSTEREN: Any differences? Is there an Afterward that’s changed at all?
CLINTON: Well, I tried to write, uh, both a little Forward and a longer Afterward to talk about what I had done since I left the White House, how I set up my foundation and library, why I was working so hard on AIDS in particular and what progress we’ve made. And talked a little bit about my heart surgery, and uh, what came out of that, both for my family and me personally and, and the work I hope to do for improving health care. You know, I’ve got this great project with the American Heart Association, and the Republican governor of my home state, Arkansas, trying to reduce childhood obesity. So I'm excited about that.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Why are kids fat?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, some kids are more prone than others. That’s always been the case. But the obesity rate (search) is three times what it was 30 years ago, and there are two reasons for it.
One is, there is very little physical education left in most school programs. It’s a casualty of the budget wars. But far, far more important is young, the children are eating food that has more fat and more sugar in it and often bigger portions. And this is directly tied to the change in eating habits of Americans. Thirty-five years ago the average family spent seventy percent of the money on food buying food to be prepared in the home, and 30 percent of the money eating out. Now the average family spends 47 percent of their money eating out. And over half of that is at fast food places. Now, food is a big bargain in America today, and you can go to these places, we all like them, and you get big portions, and they taste good. But they’re higher in fat than ever before. And we now have, same thing has happened, by the way, though, to school menus. A lot of school lunch menus have more fat and more sugar than ever before. Then you’ve got vending machines in all the schools that offer unhealthy foods, and the local PTA gets a cut off the profits of the vending machine. And I don’t mean to make it sound nefarious, I mean, everybody thought it was a good wholesome thing in the beginning, you know, kids could get things at break, and it would fund the PTA.
What we have to do is change both the eating and exercise habits of our young people. And we have to have help in the schools, we have to have help from the restaurants individually and the big food chains. I think they want to do it. I think, you know, I know that McDonalds is looking at this, and other food restaurants are. I know that PepsiCo had good results with two health foods it brought out last year, increasing their profits. So, I think we can change it, but you know, it’s horrible, 16 percent of the kids are obese. In the south here where we are, where we eat more fried foods, it’s 20 percent. Among poor populations it’s over 25 percent. And we have for the first time in American history substantial number of children with type two or what we used to call adult onset diabetes. We’ve never seen it in any significance in the children’s population before. So, and this is a big part of our health care cost problem. No one ever wants to talk about this. Our lifestyle decisions impose enormous burdens on the American health care system that other countries don’t impose, and we’ve got to change it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Every time you get sick, we have music and graphics. I was thinking, it must be horrible to be a president — we know every health thing about you. It must be bizarre. It’s a crazy world we live in. Isn't it?
CLINTON: Yeah. But in this case, I want people to know.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Oh!
CLINTON: Because, you know, I really think I can help people. Even, you know, I talk about how I had to go back and do that second surgery and it was just a fluke that, you know, it, what happened to me happens to fewer than 1 percent of the people that have heart surgery.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Have we gotten sufficient credit in the world, even today, for what we did for Muslims in Bosnia?
CLINTON: I can't say that, whether, among ordinary people, because the Bosnian War was, in modern terms, a long time ago, even though it was just ten years ago. But the Kosovo population was almost entirely Muslim as well, but we did among leaders. They thought we, we proved the United States and NATO generally, the West, we cared about Muslims in our midst. I think that for those who disagree with the American policy in Iraq, the feeling was, well, maybe they’ll be nice to European Muslims, but not to Arab Muslims.
However, I do believe we’re in better shape now than we were a few weeks ago, first because so many Iraqis voted, which is a fact other Arab Muslims have to take note of. And secondly, and even more important, because of, uh, the military and civilian assistance that the President ordered be given to the victims of the Tsunami. Keep in mind, Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world, two hundred million Muslims. Sri Lanka has a Muslim population. And the Maldives is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. India is the second or third biggest Muslim country in the world. So you’ve got a record here, where everybody knows America went out, the American military and the American civilian workers, and all these American non-governmental organizations, they just tried to help people for purely human terms. It did enormous good for us. Our image in Indonesia went up, Mr. bin Laden’s image went down, and it proved a point I’ve tried to make for years now which is, I’m all for having a security and a military policy against terrorism, but if you can't kill, jail, or occupy all your terrorists, you have to keep making more friends and fewer terrorists.
And that’s what the president did by ordering the military first and then the civilian resources of the country to these nations. They knew we didn't have a political motive. They knew there was no oil benefit, they knew there was no political benefit, they knew it was nothing but human beings caring for human beings, and it caused America’s image to soar. And I think they knew that about Bosnia and Kosovo. You know, they knew America could go on perfectly well, but we just couldn’t bear the thought of those innocent people being slaughtered. So that’s where we are. We ought to look for opportunities to appear that we’re acting for no motive other than a humanitarian one.
VAN SUSTEREN: The president, by selecting you and his father to be in charge of this, sent an enormous message.
CLINTON: He did send a big message, and I thank him for doing it, and I'm grateful that he gave me the chance to do it. But before he asked his father and me to do it, he had sent the military there. And the USAID. And all the other American religious and non-religious organizations that showed up to help. That’s what really did it. I mean, I hope that former President Bush and I made a difference, too. But I think that the President deserves credit for being really, you know, quick to send the military, and the, the AID to the area, and then of course our, our citizens gave over a billion dollars. And all those people showed up. So, it was the American people saw the American, government, the Bush administration in a different way, they saw the military in a different way, they saw the face of our civilian government in a different way, and then they were overwhelmed by what the American citizens had done. And it turned out to have an unbelievably positive effect in the Muslim world, because we didn't do it for that reason. For the very reason that we didn't do it with any guile, with any strategy, we just did it because we thought it was right. And uh, I was elated to be asked to be a small part of it.
It’s amazing. I remember I took that poll that was done in Indonesia into the Oval Office and gave it to the president. Our approval rating went from 36 to 60 percent.
VAN SUSTEREN: That’s huge.
CLINTON: And when they asked the respondents, it was nothing but the Tsunami. Among people who liked bin Laden in Indonesia, 71 percent of them said they had a more favorable opinion of America after the Tsunami.
VAN SUSTEREN: Amazing.
CLINTON: Bin Laden’s approval went from 58 to 28 percent, and, and all these people said we know he didn't do anything, but that’s just the point, he didn't do anything. It’s amazing.
VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Mr. President. Nice to see you.
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