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Interview With Former Presidents Clinton, Bush

Aired January 3, 2005 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, former Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton, here. Live for the hour, an historic interview on their unique response to an unprecedented disaster, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
A lot of great moments in close to 20 years of doing this broadcast. Tonight is another one of them. Two former presidents on together. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, joins us from Houston. And Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, joins us from his home in Chappaqua, New York.

President Bush, how did this come about?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Larry, the first thing I heard of it was when somebody from the White House called -- it might have been the chief of staff -- and asked if I would be willing to participate in a fundraising effort to help the people over there, the victims of the tsunami.

And, of course, I said yes, and they said, well, President Clinton will be side-by-side with this, and that made it all the more attractive for me and, I think, for the country, and, I think, for the relief effort itself. So it just evolved.

And so, today, President Clinton and I met with the president in Washington, and we got our marching orders, you might say, in a sense. And then we've gone out and began talking about what we think we can do in encouraging others to the give, private-sector giving.

KING: We will get to that.

President Clinton, how were you asked?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, about the same way. I was talking to Andy Card, and then Condi Rice called me. We just talked about it. And we were talking about the kinds of things that had been done in disasters in America and then the kinds of things we tried to do for disasters when I was president in Central America and other places, and how the private sector is always very generous but always needs a little better organization, little better direction.

And the overwhelming response to this tsunami, I think partly because of the magnitude of disaster, and frankly partly because of the terrific way that the American press has covered it, and the press throughout the world, made this kind of organized effort make more sense to -- the president and the White House, they asked us to help. I was glad to do it.

KING: In retrospect, President Bush, should former presidents be called upon more?

BUSH: Well, I don't know about more, but when you have a disaster that brings the American people all -- regardless of politics -- brings them all together, clearly, there might be a useful role for presidents.

But I wouldn't say there ought to be organized function for calling on former presidents. It depends what the problem is. But in this one, Larry, it is so universal, and people so desperately want to help, that if President Clinton and I can help mobilize that support and encourage, and maybe build on that support, why, we're doing the right thing.

KING: There is a...

BUSH: But I wouldn't formally formalize it. I don't think we need to formalize the role of former presidents.

KING: There is a website -- it will be given to you frequently throughout the show --, What happens, President Clinton, when you punch into that site?

CLINTON: Well, that will give you a pretty exhaustive list of the nongovernmental organizations and the charities that are collecting money and spending it in the countries that are affected.

The White House has gone over this. They've vetted, if you will, these operations. And if people give money to them, there is, you know, a certainty that the money will go where it's intended and will help people.

So what we're trying to do -- we're not going to set up a separate account. We're just going to try to increase the level of giving to those accounts, identify specific problems that perhaps can be addressed by President Bush and I by calling and helping to raise money for, let's say there's not enough antibiotics of one kind or another or there's not enough of the materials that give clean water. Something like that.

Or three months from now, if the giving lags and they need something else, we might do that. But we'll still be doing it through these established groups. We don't want to reinvent the wheel here. We just want to increase and help to target the level of needed giving.

And so if you do the Web site, you can have a whole range of options there. And you know that, whichever one appeals to you, you can give money to them and you know the money will be well spent.

KING: President Bush, this program is being seen live around the world. Is this a worldwide effort or an American effort?

BUSH: As far as President Clinton and I are concerned, it could be worldwide. It could be all-inclusive. But I'll tell you something: What is being seen around the world is something that a lot of people in these afflicted countries might not realize happens, and that is that, when there's a tragedy outside of our shores, America comes together.

America is a generous, giving country. And I think the fact that President Clinton and I, once opponents -- you remember he defeated me very soundly in 1992 -- we're not talking about that.


BUSH: But we come together, and politics is aside. And we're doing the right thing. It feels good to give. It feels good to try again to help others.

KING: The president said today, President Clinton, that the greatest source of America's generosity is not our government, it's the good heart of the people. Are they not the same? Isn't the government the people?

CLINTON: Yes, but I think one point that he made that's important is our government is giving about $350 million in emergency aid, plus an enormous amount of delivery capacity with the American military. You saw those wonderful pictures of the helicopters going to those remote villages in Aceh, which were destroyed, and delivering life-saving supplies.

But it's not enough. In the short run, the need runs into the billions. And, between public and private commitments now, we're up to about $3 billion. The American government will probably be called upon to do the most for long-term reconstruction.

I just think of what happened, for example, when Central America was devastated by the hurricanes when I was president. We spent almost a billion dollars of the taxpayers' money for long-term redevelopment. And we helped in the emergency, but an enormous amount of that emergency help came from Americans, including many of Central American heritage, who gave out of their pockets.

And if I could just make one other point about that, because you asked if it was a worldwide effort. Because of the Internet, and because you can make contributions over the 'net, a small amount of cash pooled with others can do an enormous amount of good.

You have AOL and Apple, for example, using their position on the Internet to help collect small contributions. I think AOL put together about $7.5 million in small contributions in a day and a half, or two days.

So I want people here at home and America, and throughout the world who are listening to this program, to know that, if you only have a dollar, $5, $10 to give, if a million of you do that, you'll make a huge difference. And it will make a difference. And because of the technology today, you can you give it and direct it.

KING: And President Bush, it's cash over items, right? If you're going to give, give money?

BUSH: Right now it is. Larry, right now, that's true. President Clinton and I accompanied the president when he went to pay his respects. We all did, signing the books at the various four embassies of the countries that were affected. And all of them made clear that the best thing you can do is to send money at this time, as opposed to goods, because there's no delivery problem.

Sometime the goods can be acquired in a neighborhood nearby, or sometimes goods that might be sent from here might not be exactly what's needed. The medicine might be different. So we've concluded that the best thing to do is, as President Clinton said a minute ago, to give to these organization or send it to and let them help distribute it.

But the main thing is, it's better, at this juncture, to send cash. And I think they all agree with that, the embassies.

CLINTON: Yes, Larry, let me just give you an example. If you look at pictures of the airport in Colombo, in Sri Lanka, it's full. You literally -- I don't know how they're going to get all the crates off of the airport site that they have.

There's a wonderful Buddhist temple here in New York where the monks have been collecting -- with the help of citizens from Queens, primarily, and throughout the city -- massive amounts of supplies to send. But we have to figure out how to get it there and then how to get it to the temples in Sri Lanka. Then they can distribute it.

So we'll all do what we can with the goods that have been given, but in the short run, when they've got to clear away all of this debris, they have to worry about getting clean water, they have to worry about kids getting diarrhea, they have to worry about malaria. It's the summer season. It's better to give the aid agencies the money, and let them spend it as is most needed for the next several weeks. Then they can -- the government may say, "OK, here are the supplies we need. And then people can give those." But now, the more cash, the better.

KING: We'll be right back with Presidents Bush and Clinton on this Monday night, into the second week of this tragedy. Don't go away.


KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. Let's begin this round with President Clinton.

Kofi Annan says that major pledges for disaster are routinely left unfulfilled, because of the major problem that's worldwide. What do you make of that, and what can we do about it?

CLINTON: Well, I think that it happens because the emotion tends to fade, you know, after a while. The networks can't be expected to give this level of coverage, the cable channels, for a long time. And it takes a long time to recover.

But my instinct is that it's less likely to fade now. And the United States is pretty good about keeping its long-term commitments. When we helped Greece and Turkey, we kept our commitment. So when we helped Central America, we kept our commitments.

But one of the things President Bush and I are trying to do is to get more private giving. And we may, three months from now, we may ask you to let us on again, because there may be some problem that has to be addressed that the governments can't address at that moment.

And so I think that, you know, when I was involved -- after I left office -- they had the terrible earthquake in Gujarat in India. And the American Indian community raised about $15 million, and I helped, and we built hospitals and schools and homes, and rebuilt economic development networks and all that. All that's going to have to be done there, but I believe there's a very good chance that the commitments will be kept. And I think the fact that the secretary- general has put down this marker actually makes it more likely that everybody will do what they say they'll do.

KING: President Bush, Colin Powell said the United States always delivers what it promises, but that the money is frequently fanned out over a period of time in a sensible manner. Do you buy -- is that a reasonable explanation to you of why it all doesn't go right away?

BUSH: Well, I think it is. And one of the things that I'm looking forward to, and I expect the same is true of President Clinton, is to hear what Secretary Powell says when he comes back from this survey trip he's taking to this devastated area. And other people are there, congressional people. I think I heard the leader, Bill Frist, say he was going.

KING: Last night, he was on the show.

BUSH: Yes. OK. I think we can learn a lot from what they find on the ground. But certainly I would not disagree with what Secretary Powell said there. It's important to get the money, but it's important that it be delivered properly and that it go into the hands of those who have limited overhead but are willing to deliver the money to the -- get the goods and get them into the areas that are required. I think they're going about it in the right way.

KING: President Clinton, President Bush's other son, Jeb, is there with Colin Powell. This is always, I guess, a tough decision for a president. He weighs it a lot. Should the president go to this area, do you think, President Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I think that's his decision. But, you know, I know what he's thinking now. If he went now, he would just be in the way. And I know he would, because, you know, you'd have to take all the Secret Service people. You'd have to take up all these helicopters that could be otherwise out there delivering supplies. And I think it's the wise decision now to send Secretary Powell and Governor Bush and the FEMA director, and whoever else went, and let them look, make reports, and then provide the help that's necessary. It might be that sometime in the next couple of months, he would want to go.

I went to the refugee camps in Turkey, but not right away. If I had gone right away, I would have been in the way of the emergency. Look at the pictures that CNN is showing of all the debris, of all the problems. You know, you don't need someone who can't clear debris or deliver medicine or otherwise perform a valuable service too much in the way there.

And so I think he did the right thing to send Secretary Powell. If he wants to go after things settle down a little bit, when the longer term reconstructions under way, to get a more direct view and to show the support of the United States, then I would strongly support that. But I think his decision not to go now is the right one.

KING: President Bush, this was, of course, everyone will agree, a brilliant show of unity today to have the two distinguished people like yourselves to combine together. There are some people who are saying that maybe some of the inaugural events can be -- the balls and the like -- can be canceled or tempered down. What do you think?

BUSH: I think life goes on. I don't think we can give up, should. I don't think it will help anything in Sri Lanka if the balls were, you know, peeled back in terms of the inauguration. I think they're separate questions, and the country, our country, can do a lot of things at the same time.

But what we're interested in doing is seeing that we get as much help as possible to the area. And so I don't buy into that. I mean, I think that's the decision of the president and the White House and the inaugural committee. And I don't like to see it get mixed.

You know, Larry, today, I was asked, well, "Did the president -- who is stingy" -- somebody accused him of being stingy, or somebody said he should have got this thing going two days earlier. That's beltway stuff. That's all, in my view, inside the beltway. It has little to do with whether we're going to succeed in what President Clinton and I are trying to do and what the president's trying to do. And so I don't...

KING: President Clinton, do you agree with what President Bush just said?

CLINTON: I do. I don't think that the -- you know, I voted for the other fellow, but President Bush won this election fair and square. And he ought to -- he ought to be able to have his inaugural. And his supporters should be able to celebrate it, however they see fit. And I don't think that it will detract one red cent from the money that we will give privately or publicly to this relief effort.

Whenever you launch a new presidency, even if it's a reelected president, it's a moment of national reaffirmation, a dedication to our democratic process, and it's also a moment of celebration for the fellows that won and the women that won. They won it, and they ought to be able to celebrate.

But let me give you an example of why I don't think it will hurt. When President Bush and I got in the car to start going around to visit the embassies, he had his BlackBerry. You know, when we get out of office, we have to carry a BlackBerry or get somebody else to help us. We don't have all the help we used to.

He immediately had a guy BlackBerrying him saying he was going to give him another million dollars. By the time I got home, we had several million more dollars and commitments from business leaders. So, from the time we made this announcement, approximately 11 hours ago, until this moment, we've already gotten millions of more dollars in commitments.

So I think that we shouldn't get the inaugural into this. We're going to do our job and we're going to do some good. But they're entitled to their celebration. And we ought to let them have it.

KING: We'll be back with Presidents Bush and Clinton. The Web site again is Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the coming days, President Clinton and Bush will ask Americans to donate directly to reliable charities already providing help to tsunami victims. Many of these organizations have dispatched experts to the disaster area, and they have an in-depth understanding of the resources required to meet the needs on the ground. In this situation, cash donations are most useful. And I've asked the former presidents to solicit contributions both large and small.



KING: We're back. Same question for both. We'll start with President Bush.

What does something like this do to you personally? What does it do to you emotionally? How does it make you feel about faith or pessimism and optimism? What goes through you?

BUSH: Is this to me, Larry, or to President Clinton?

KING: This goes to you, President Bush.

BUSH: Well, I'm kind of getting emotional at this age in my life, 80-years-old. I kind of choked up when I saw a little duck, a little bathtub duck, under the greeting wall at one of the embassies. And I thought of the children. And my heart was overflowing with it. And you can't help but be moved. I noticed President Clinton talking to a woman in one of the embassies who'd lost both her mother and her father and a brother, I believe it was, President. And, you know, it just breaks you up.

And what we're doing, I'm sure, people will say, well, this is show business or something like that, but it's not. You feel, Larry, like you're helping. You feel like you can be, what I used to call, a point of light. But you feel like can you make a difference. And it's very rewarding. It's very rewarding. We've just gotten started.

KING: President Clinton, what does it do to you?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, it reminds us that we are not fully in control in this life. It's a humbling experience. You know, when I was governor of Arkansas, we suffered from tornadoes more than any other state in the country. I've seen a lot of people who lost everything, including their loved ones.

And then when I was president, we had that 500-year flood in the Mississippi River Valley, and terrible hurricanes in Florida. And then, of course, around the world, we've seen these things. But this is of a magnitude that we haven't seen in decades, and it reminds us that we're not in control.

You can say whatever you want. We should have had a better warning system, this, that, or the other thing. There are a lot of things that can be analyzed later. But the truth is that the earth is a complex organism. And it operates in ways that are not entirely predictable.

And it's a manifestation that, for me at least, that God is still in control of life, ultimately, and that we're not. And there are a lot of things in life we can't understand. But I think that -- I feel the same way President Bush does.

You know, if you've been as lucky as we have -- you just think about it. We got to do work we love. We didn't have to work to live. We got to live for our work, for our public service. We got to live our dreams.

When you reach our age and you're done with all the things, and you've been so lucky, and then you see a guy clawing in the sand trying to get his fishing boat out because his wife and three children have been killed and he wants to get his livelihood back to have some reason to live, then you realize that, you know, about all you can do is to try to do whatever you can to help people have the blessings of a normal life.

And for me, I've reached the point in my life when my number-one goal is I don't want to see anybody younger than me die who doesn't have to. You know, I just hope we can keep more people alive by doing this and help them get back to normal life.

KING: You feel blessed, President Bush?

BUSH: Yes, I do, Larry. And, you know, sometimes as a father, identify with the problems that our son, the president, is facing. I mean, I wouldn't be much of a dad if I didn't think of the burdens on his shoulders. Just the regular day-to-day burdens of the office, which are enormous today, and then this coming on top of it, because he feels in his heart the same thing President Clinton just talked about. And he aches for all these people. And he spoke very well of it at these four embassies today.

So everybody -- you know, it doesn't matter whether you are president, whether you're the head of AmeriCares or one of the other marvelous charitable organizations, you feel it in your heart. And think that's what we're talking about.

And the thing I hope -- what I hope comes of this is that some of our friends abroad that may have been disillusioned, or for one political reason or another, or the war or something, are going to see our country unified, all politics gone out of this effort here, and willing to step up and help those less fortunate than ourselves.

And that sends a strong message around the world, of our own true compassion, our own true heartbeat as a country. And I think a lot of good can come out of this horrible disaster.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Presidents Bush and Clinton on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: We're back again. The website is www.USAfreedom.corps -- that's all one word -- That website will -- not only you can contribute to it but give you so much information about areas you can go and what you can do and where you can give. Our guests are former presidents George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, and Bill Clinton, the 42nd president. President Clinton, do you plan on calling upon others, like I know president Ford is not feeling 100 percent or former president Clinton -- former president Carter, do you plan on making calls to other top officials now retired who might be involved?

CLINTON: Well, I think it depends what course this takes. We want to do what we can in the next few weeks to get the giving up. Former president Ford sounded great when I talked to him not long before my library dedication, but he's not supposed to fly, and I think president Carter is about to go with the NDI to monitor the Palestinian elections. So he's got his hands full right now. But you know, two, three, four months from now, we may need a whole new infusion of help, because as I said, I saw where Kofi Annan said he thought it might take ten years...

KING: Yes.

CLINTON: ...for the area to recover. It may not take ten years, it might take two or three years, but we're all going have to help over the long run. One thing President Bush said that I thought was interesting is that, you know, maybe this will help to bring the world together and helping this area -- these areas. I also think it might help to bring them together. The hardest hit area in Indonesia, Aceh, has a very vigorous separatism movement, which has threatened the independence of that country that has 17,000 islands, and I hope that they'll find a peaceful resolution to the political differences they have while they're rebuilding life.

If you look at Sri Lanka, the peace process that's been under way there was kind of stalled, and the whole island's been devastated. The Buddhist temple in New York, where Hillary and I visited, is committed to giving its supplies and aid not just to Buddhist but to Hindus, including those who were supporting the Tamil movement and the Muslims and the Christians on the islands.

So it may be that they will come together in Sri Lanka as a result of this human tragedy in ways that haven't happened before. If that happens, that's good. But to go back to your original question, in order to get that done, we're all going have to stay with them and do whatever we can for months on end, and I just think the most important thing is -- the best thing for America is just to do right, just do the right thing, and give people a sense that we're pulling for them. We want the best for them. And if that happens, and if they see that in our hearts from the president on down to all the rest of us, then whatever benefit will happen will happen. We just need to follow the do right rule here.

KING: President Bush, do you think it can help the American image worldwide, and in the Muslim nations?

BUSH: Yes, I do. I'm sure of it. My mind goes back to Desert Storm where we fought there, and I think a lot of people in that area never thought we would fight for their freedom. I think a lot of people in that area that were scared to death after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait really thought that the United States cared enough to come in and help, and that was military. But here, I think, this projects an even better image, if you go in there just giving of yourselves because you care, and I think it will help the United States in every one of the countries that have been devastated. I'm absolutely convinced of it. I felt it -- I don't know whether you did, president Clinton, in these embassies today. But I felt it. I really did feel that they were grateful, and in some of the areas we've had difficulties, no question about that.

KING: Do you feel it today, president Clinton?

CLINTON: Yes, I agree with that, and I agree with what President Bush said. You know, when I was president, and we were involved in Bosnia and Kosovo, the people whom we were trying to help and protect were primarily Muslims. We celebrated the feast of Eid el-Fitr at the end of Ramadan in the White House for the first time. One of the best things that the president did after 9/11, was to go to a mosque and meet with Muslim leaders and say our enemy is not Islam, our enemy is terror. This is a way of reaffirming this, to say that we want to be on good terms with the Muslims throughout the world, we honor their faith, we honor their right to pursue their faith, and we want them to have good lives wherever they live.

So I think, again, if we just do the right thing, then we'll be on better terms with our neighbors, and it will really help, I think, not only the United States, but more importantly it will help us to build a more peaceful, more integrated world.

KING: President Bush, do you plan to pick up the phone and call previous contributors, the kind of major people that you know and ask them personally to give, businesses and the like?

BUSH: I'm sure we'll be doing some of that. I've never been much of a fund-raiser, but for this purpose, I would. We're trying to get it all coordinated, and there's going to be a meeting in Washington, I understand, Thursday or Wednesday or Thursday, so we'll get it more wrapped up as to what we should be doing. There's another area, I don't know whether president Clinton has heard it yet. But the Ad Council has stepped up and they want to help put forward to get both him and I -- him and me working on PSAs, public service announcements to go out around the country.

So there's all kinds of things including phone calls to prospective donors or those who care. I guess our mission is not really fully defined to crossing every T and dotting the Is yet.

KING: President Clinton, you smiled when President Bush said he didn't like fund-raising. I guess you rather liked it. Will you be involved?

CLINTON: Well, I don't know that I liked it, but I found it a necessary evil. I think, first of all, let's give credit where credit's due. There's been an extraordinary outpouring of generosity from Americans at all income levels and from people throughout the world. I noticed in either I think Hong Kong or Singapore, the cab drivers took up collections and just amazing things like that being done all across our country and all throughout the world.

But I think that we may well have to get on the phone and try to raise some more money, particularly if we're told, let's say, the U.N. is coordinating some of this work, and working closely with the United States. The president has announced that all the major donor nations are going to start working together more. Suppose they come to us and say, look, we need another $50 million for antibiotics or for the kind of -- the materials that keep the children from getting diarrhea, or for the anti-malaria medicine. Then I would have no hesitation getting on the phone and calling 50 people and saying, look, we need to do this, and I think that we're -- we just started, we're going to get a better idea of what the specific needs are in the next couple of days and what they're likely to be two weeks from now, what they're likely to be a month from now.

And when we know that I expect we'll be raising some more money. As I said I've been really gratified that President Bush got his first million dollars on his Blackberry within an hour of the announcement and by the time I got home we already had several million dollars more commitments. So maybe we won't have to make too many calls. If we're lucky we'll just gather up the money and target it where it needs to go.

KING: Health wise, you did say you are now 80, President Bush. I had the honor of emceeing your big birthday bash in Houston. It was a great night. Are you up to this? BUSH: What do you say?

KING: I mean, you're entitled to go out and watch the roses grow. I mean, it's going take a little out of you, isn't it?

BUSH: No, well, pretty good physical shape still, but what it takes out of me is emotionally.

KING: I know.

BUSH: I don't think I'd be very good if I had to embrace a mother who had just lost two babies in this tsunami. I'd break up and stuff. That has nothing to do with whether we ought to be doing what we're doing. But physically, I'm up for all this stuff. Maybe someday we'll go off to the area if that's what they expect of us or want us to do.

KING: What about you, president Clinton?

CLINTON: Come on, Larry, you ought to be asking me if I'm up to it. He's in better shape than I've been. I'm having heart surgery, he's jumping out of airplanes. I don't know if I'm up to it. I'm just going to try to -- my whole goal here is to learn how to be in the shape he's in when I'm 80. That's one of the things I tried to do. All I ever want out of this personally is to learn that while we're doing this.

KING: Now, he just said something, would you back up that, if you are asked to go there, would you go, President Clinton?

CLINTON: Oh, in a heartbeat, yes. And I think that at an appropriate time we should go, and I'd be prepared to do that.

But again, we want to help. We don't want to go just to go. We want to go when we can see some of the fruits of our labors and get some idea of what we should be doing for the longer term. All of us, every person in the world, should be saying, what is it that I can do that would have the most positive effect on human beings, on their lives, to try to help them deal with their grief, or put their lives back together, or avoid further illness or danger? And then we should do that.

And when going to the region is a part of that, and the answer to that question is yes, that would help, we ought to be willing to go. Until then, we ought to sit here and do our work.

KING: And you would go, right, President Bush?

BUSH: Absolutely. Not seeking an invitation, but, of course, I would, and I hope by the time we're asked to do something, enormous progress would have been made, because President Clinton made a telling point. You know, the more big shot visitors you have in these places, that sometimes can interfere with the work getting done on the beaches, on the ground, in the cities, or wherever.

So we wouldn't want to get in the way. But -- and we don't want to go just for the sake of saying, I was over there, let me tell you -- guys, have a cigar and let me tell you what's going on in Sri Lanka. It's got to be something more profound than that. But I'd be perfectly prepared to.

I think President Clinton tell me had -- planned a trip to that part of world, anyway. Didn't you, Bill?

CLINTON: Yes, I had to cancel a trip right before my heart surgery. So I'm obligated to go back and do some work to promote my book in Asia. So I have to go back anyway, so I intend to go, and make some of these countries when I am there. But I hope we can go together, and I hope I can do it after we've done something so that we know what our efforts are doing. We go in there to see what we did and to see what still needs to be done.

KING: We'll be back with more of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, and Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States. Don't go away.


KING: We're back, urging you to connect in with this Web site, Usafreedomcorps, one word.

We know that both of you are men of faith. When something like this happens, President Bush, I'll start with you, do you grapple with the question of why a caring God would allow this? Do you question faith?

BUSH: I don't -- my faith isn't shaken by it. Don't want to get too personal here, but when we lost a little 4-year-old daughter many years ago, I must confess, I said, why, God, why this innocent child? And I expect many, many thousand fold would be asking the same question about the children and the families that are lost in this devastating tsunami.

But my faith is not questioned. It doesn't come into question, or I wonder about it at all. God does act in mysterious ways, and you can't tell what's going to happen. But faith sustains the people. Faith -- whatever their faith, whatever denominational faith there is, it is keeping a lot of those devastated, broken homes together, keeping people -- giving them hope.

And so my faith is never shaken by a personal tragedy, or even a tragedy of this enormity.

I've got to confess, you wonder why, but it doesn't get to shaking my very faith, Larry.

KING: And you, President Clinton?

CLINTON: No. I think that we all know that life is not fair in a million ways, and some of us, like President Bush and I, we got more out of life than we deserve, perhaps. We were very fortunate. But we've all had our fair share of tragedy as well. Nothing to compare with what these people have lost, their children, their grandchildren, their spouses, their brothers or sisters are facing today. It's staggering.

But you know, it's been part of the nature of human life from the very beginning. And as I said, to me it's humbling. It reminds us that we're not in control, that our faith is constantly tested by circumstances, but it should be deepened when we see the courageous response people are having, and the determination to endure. To me, in the end, it's -- it's -- deepens your faith when you see the triumph of the human spirit in the face of this kind of adversity.

KING: In other words, tragedy isn't the opposite of deepening it, President Clinton?

CLINTON: Excuse me?

KING: Shouldn't tragedy, when you think logically, tragedy would cause you to move away from it, wouldn't you, rather than go back to it?

CLINTON: Well, only if you believe that being a child of God entitles you to a free ride in life and nothing bad ever happens to you, or being a total innocent means that life is a free ride. But we know it's not like that. We know there are horrible political tragedies, like the Holocaust. We know that every day if there's a terrorist incident, that completely innocent people get killed, and we know that in highway accidents, we know that in tsunamis and hurricanes, that innocent people die. We know that something I care a great deal about, where I'm also working in Asia and India and China, we know the AIDS epidemic is carrying away people who never did anything wrong in their lives.

So these things happen, and the obligation of human beings is to try to minimize the impact of tragedy, prevent it wherever you can, and learn to accept the burdens of it with a humble heart. I don't think there is -- you know, life, the nature of life is not to be free of tragedy. If it were, if that were the test, then no one would believe anything, and life would be much poorer.

KING: But, President Bush, you do, as you said, question it?

BUSH: I don't question particularly. But I can understand people questioning where is, you know, where is thy loving God? Why my child? And I will confess that on a very personal basis, I wept and wondered about that when my own child died. But I just totally agree with what President Clinton said, and I don't mean to say that this questioning that I'm sure some of the religious families have -- different religions -- will give way, I think, to a recognition that there is a loving God, and that he does, you know, that you can't predict the good times and the bad. My own faith would not be shaken by, it but I can understand people questioning why, my child. Why this little innocent girl?

KING: We'll take a break and be back with our remaining...


KING: I'll be right back when we'll get another comment from each president, with presidents Bush and Clinton. And we'll pick up with what president Clinton had to say. Don't go away.


KING: Before we pick up with what president Clinton wanted to say there at the end of the last segment, will you gentlemen agree in the weeks ahead to come back and give us an update as to how this progress is doing? President Bush, will you come back? President Clinton?

BUSH: Sure, Larry.


KING: President Clinton, what did you want to say?

CLINTON: I was going to suggest that -- you were asking us some very profound questions about how people of faith deal with tragedy and apparently senseless cruelty and loss. I think that you could have a profoundly positive program, if you would get representatives of the faiths of the people who have been affected by this tragedy, bring a Buddhist, bring a Hindu, bring a Muslim, bring a Christian on your program from Sri Lanka or the other countries affected, and ask them how their faith teaches them to deal with this kind of tragedy. Ask them. I'll bet you'd have a huge audience of people who would like to know how the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Muslims, Christians deal with this differently, and come to the same place and you could do a great service for the world if you did that.

KING: We are doing such a show like that on Friday. By the way, do you want a job as a producer?

CLINTON: You know, sure.

KING: OK, we'll call you. I know you both -- we only have a couple of minutes -- have been critics of the media a lot in your careers. What about this in this instance, president Bush?

BUSH: I think for this part very positive, for the most part bringing the true story to the American people, and I suppose that's true of worldwide media. So I think the press has been very responsible in reporting, I'm sure, with accuracy...

KING: You agree, president Clinton?

BUSH: The one thing I don't like is...

KING: I'm sorry...


KING: President Bush, what don't you like?

BUSH: Well, I was just thinking that we got asked a whole bunch of questions today and inside the beltway, is the president too stingy, did he not move fast enough? That's not what this is about, and that's not the result the world is seeing. But that's an inside question I never get asked in Houston, Texas.

KING: President Clinton, about 35 seconds.

CLINTON: I just think the media coverage of this whole thing has been unbelievably positive. It's been in-depth. It's been educational. I've learned a lot from it. I've seen it on all the networks, all the cable shows, and I think one of the reasons you're seeing the response that you're getting from the American people and from people throughout the world is that the media's heart has been touched by this, you've tried to get to the bottom of this story and you've tried to explain it to the American people and the people throughout the world. I think it's been terrific, and I couldn't be more positive in my feelings about it.

KING: Our continued best wishes to both of you and good health and good luck on this project. Let me repeat the website number, www.USAfreedomcorps -- that's one word --

Our guests, I guess in a rather historic night, have been president George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, the father of President George W. Bush and of Governor Jeb Bush, who is now in that region with Secretary of State Powell. And the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton. And we thank them both profusely very much. And we'll be back in a couple of minutes to talk to you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: Here's Anderson Cooper now in Sri Lanka. Anderson, carry on, my man.


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