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Interview with Former President Bill Clinton

Aired June 1, 2005 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, President Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States. His first live primetime in-depth interview since his quadruple bypass heart surgery in March. It ain't funny.
Former President Clinton exclusive for the hour, as our 20th- anniversary week continues next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Twenty years ago tonight, this show began. Twenty years later, we welcome the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, who -- by the way, the paperback version of his enormous best-seller, "My Life," is now out in three versions. You can buy the complete version, the total package. Or you can buy an abridged -- not abridged version. You can buy a shorter version -- it's the actual version, but in two books, right? The presidential years and the early years. So you can buy the whole package or two packages.

And he's just back from Thailand, right?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I went to -- actually, I didn't go to Thailand. I went to the other South Asian tsunami countries. I want to Aceh in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and India, to southern India.

KING: What time is it to you now?

CLINTON: Some time tomorrow morning.


KING: Last night, President Bush was our guest. We were up in Kennebunkport. And he said, not only is he great friends of yours, which I'll ask you about, but he's worried about you. You're doing too much.

CLINTON: Well, I called him today to give him a report on the trip, because, you know, we raised a lot of money together and are spending on some specific projects there. So I wanted to tell him what I saw.

And he was chiding me. He said, "You're just nuts, you know, doing all this." But I told him that, you know, I lost a lot of time during my recovery. I had two different operations.

So I had to make up some time on my AIDS work. And I made up a book signing I promised in Denmark. And I went to Romania to give a speech because I support the emerging democracy there. So I had a lot of stuff going on in this trip.

But it was really good. And I won't do another one like that this year.

KING: Are you as tired as you've been?

CLINTON: No, I feel great. I feel much better. After the second surgery, after we found out that my lung was closed because of this fluid buildup, I got a whole new burst of energy. And I feel quite good.

I mean, I'm a little jetlagged. But I walked through the park tonight on the way down here. It's heavenly now, you know. This is the best time of year in New York, Central Park at late afternoon and early evening.

KING: How do you explain the friendship with President Bush?

CLINTON: Well, I just like him. First of all, I've always liked him. I've always admired him. I mean, he gave his life to public service. He comes from a family who did. His father was a distinguished senator from Connecticut.

And so I share an interest in public service. He likes sports. I like sports. He likes people. And I think he's a genuinely good man. I like him. I like his wife. I like his family. I've liked him since I first met him in 1983, two years before you went on the air here.

KING: In fact, you're going to his house.

CLINTON: I am. He invited me to come up to Kennebunkport where I have not been for 22 years.

KING: Beautiful.

CLINTON: And to play golf with him and ride in his boat. And I'm looking forward to it.

KING: You talked to us the night before the first surgery. Was it what you thought it would be?

CLINTON: Well, pretty much. I think, you know, by the time I got to the point of doing the surgery, I realized that probably the greatest danger had passed. I was very close to having a serious heart attack. I had big time blockage.

And I felt very grateful to be going under the surgery without serious damage to my heart so that I thought I could make a recovery. But still, it was kind of a mystical, interesting experience, which I wrote about in the afterward in the book.

KING: That's right. You've done a new afterward, right?

CLINTON: Yes. Then I just talked about what I did in the years after I left the White House, including the surgery. And I felt very -- I didn't feel afraid, but I was kind of interested and awestruck to see what was going to happen.

KING: How about the second surgery, about which we know little?

CLINTON: Well, what happened is, about 10 percent of the people who have this surgery, as you know, have some fluid buildup.

KING: I didn't have any.

CLINTON: Only 10 percent do. Most of them, the fluid either goes away or you just inject a needle in your side with local anesthetic and you take it out, you basically suction it out. In less than 1 percent of the cases, people with a particular susceptibility to inflammation have a latent inflammation, like, when I took Motrin for six weeks, you know, for the pain, after it was over.

And when you stop taking it, the inflammation can flare up again and begin this fluid buildup. And I walking everyday. I was doing fine. People said I looked a little pale, but I felt great. And you know, I was keeping my weight down, doing all that. I passed the stress test.

And the doctor said, "You're in the top 5 percent of fitness for men your age." I said, "That's very not good, because I'm not young anymore. So I want to do better." And he said, "Well, how do you feel?" I said, "I feel fine, but once in a week, I have kind of shooting pain in my ribs."

So they just took an x-ray. And they said, "The good news is you don't have bone cancer. The bad news is half your lung's closed because you have got six eight-ounce glasses of fluid between your rib cage and your lung."

KING: Did that scare you?

CLINTON: Well, it bothered me that I didn't know. I mean, I guess I did know something wasn't right. But it bothered me. And then they explained how it happened, and they explained the surgical procedure. And they said, in all probability, a rather thick rind had formed to keep the liquid in place and they'll have to peel it off, which meant they'd have to cut a scar in my side, and then pry my ribs open, and then peel this thing off.

So you know, I don't have any middle-aged temptation at tattoos now, because I have got more scars than the guys who has been in a tiger fight, so I feel all right about it.

KING: What do you make of all the stories that you're very sick?

CLINTON: I don't know. I think...

KING: Where do they come from?

CLINTON: This deal on the trip, when I said I was tired, the U.N. -- when I got to the Maldives, it was my 11th country in 13 days. I'd made 15 stops in 13 days in 11 countries. And I just asked if we could start a little later. And then, the next day it rained like crazy. And we couldn't take a helicopter to our first stop. So the U.N. person just said I was tired. But it got all blown out of proportion. As far as I know, I'm healthy as a horse. I've been very lucky.

KING: You think the weight-loss leads people to think that? You know when people lose a lot of weight, they say, "Gee, he looks -- what's the matter?"

CLINTON: I don't know, but it's good. I'm not as thin as you are, but I'm working on it.

KING: You're pretty thin.

CLINTON: I'm working on it.

KING: Are you as thin as you've ever been?

CLINTON: Oh, no. But I'm about -- I weigh just a little more than I did when I graduated from high school, not much. You know, three or four pounds.

I feel good. And I actually wouldn't mind losing a little more. But what I've got to redistribute it a little bit, because, as you know, when you have the surgery, you lose a lot of your upper body strength. So I'm just now getting that back.

KING: New book out. I haven't read it yet. It's partly critical, but they ran -- one of the articles was that you want to be secretary-general of the U.N. True?

CLINTON: No. I like the U.N., you know. And I found it interesting working with it. And I tried to make it more efficient and accountable when I was president, in working with the people there. I really am honored to be doing this job for the secretary- general on the tsunami. I'm flattered that some people think I should be.

But you know, there's never been an American secretary-general, or, indeed, a French, or British, or Russian, or Chinese secretary- general, nobody on the permanent Security Council. And I can't imagine it's a realistic possibility.

Furthermore, I don't know that it's the right thing for me to do. You know, we have -- one member of my family in public office might be enough. And I'm very proud of what she's doing.

And I like doing this work for the U.N., but I've got this massive AIDS project that my foundation's doing. And we're now giving medicine to 110,000 people around the world in 38 countries at very low cost, under $200 a year for the medicine and the test. We hope to be at 2 million people by the beginning of 2008. And that's important to me.

KING: So, you didn't... CLINTON: So I've got a lot -- I just started, you know, this project with the American Heart Association, which you ought to be really interested in, to combat childhood obesity. We've got adult- onset diabetes showing up in our kids for the first time. That's an important thing.

I have a lot of freedom to do things that I believe in and care about now. So I don't really think this U.N. thing's on the horizon. It's flattering to have been -- to be talked about, but it's not -- I should be doing what I'm doing, I think.

KING: We'll be right back with former President Bill Clinton on this, our 20th anniversary.

Tomorrow night, Woodward and Bernstein, and Dan Rather. Two hours tomorrow night. Don't go away.

CLINTON: That will be interesting.


GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America's 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. But we come together, and politics is aside, and we're doing the right thing.



KING: The president is Bill Clinton. He's our guest on this, our 20th anniversary. The trade paperback is out of his book, "My Life," just out today, in fact.

There are two organizations he's involved with, and We'll ask about both of those in a while.

What do you make of the Mark Felt story? Is he an American hero?

CLINTON: I think he did a good thing. And I think it's -- it was an unusual circumstance. I think Felt believed that there was the chance that this whole thing would be covered up. Ordinarily, I think a law enforcement official shouldn't be leaking to the press because you should let criminal action take its course.

When he did that, he obviously believed there was a chance that the thing would be covered up. And there was some evidence -- we now know that there was also a problem with trying to use the FBI, and the IRS, and other agencies of the federal government for political purposes back then. So there's some reason to believe he was right.

I don't think that -- he always felt ambivalent about it, apparently. And I think that's good. Because, on balance, you don't want law enforcement officials leaking to the press, even the truth, much less some vendetta or something that's not true. But under these circumstances, I think he did the right thing.

KING: You think it's good that it came out now?

CLINTON: Yes, sure, while he's alive. I just think -- you know, apparently his family encouraged him to do it. I'm just reading between the lines, but he looked pretty sprightly and pretty spiffy there, you know, at 91.

KING: Did you used to think about, who was Deep Throat?

CLINTON: Sure, I did. For a long time, I figured it must have been somebody that worked in the executive office complex, you know? I really had no idea. But apparently, according to the article, there were people in the Nixon White House that figured out it was probably him...

KING: Yes.

CLINTON: ... which I thought was interesting. I had not...

KING: On one of the tapes, I think Haldeman says...

CLINTON: Yes, I never had any idea that they knew that much about it, but it was interesting.

KING: Concerning the wife, you want her to run for the presidency? Now, I'll tell you this: Everyone is saying she is going to run, as you know. President Bush said last night that, if she wants to, if she wants the nomination, it's hers. Barbara Bush said she will get the nomination. She'll be formidable.

Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney -- Lynne Cheney said the other night she'll get the nomination and thought that Laura should run against her. You want her to run?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, I'm superstitious. And she has another race in front of her. She has to get re-elected to the Senate from New York. In the last survey, she had a 69 percent approval rating. She had strong positive ratings among Republicans.

She's been, I think, the best senator upstate New York ever had. She's worked very hard upstate trying to get economic projects and work with the defense establishment up there with her work on the Armed Services Committee. I think she's been an immensely effective senator.

But I've been in -- I was in politics a long time. And I know, if you look past the next election to one ahead of you, you may never get there.

KING: Let's ask it this way. Let's assume...

CLINTON: If she gets re-elected?

KING: If she gets re-elected, you're her husband. What do you think? That's an if question. CLINTON: I think what I have always thought. I think she's the ablest person I ever worked with in public life. I think she has the best combination of mind and heart, of policy knowledge and leadership skills, and just old-fashioned passion and common sense than anybody I've ever known.

I know you can say I'm biased, and we've been married forever, and all that kind of stuff. But she just -- she's just got something special. And so if she wishes to do it and wishes to undertake the ardor and the pain of running, that's all her business and her decision.

I mean, we'll talk about it. I will strongly support her. I'll support her in whatever she does. But if she did run, and if she won, she'd be magnificent. That's the thing I can tell you.

KING: What would life be like for you?

CLINTON: I don't know. I'm not sure it would be much different than it is now. I mean, I'm sure -- you know, I haven't really thought about it.

But I'm doing this foundation work that I think former presidents should do. I think we ought to get out here, and those of us that got a chance to live our dreams, and America gave me the life of an unbelievable life, I think I should give the rest of my life to public service. But I'll do it in whatever way is appropriate.

But I tell people that I have no idea whether she's going to run and that she doesn't know yet. And they look at me like I'm crazy. But I know that, because she's been in so many elections with me since 1974, even before we were married, and she knows that you cannot look past the next election.

KING: What would be against her going? Chelsea's grown.

CLINTON: Chelsea's grown. And you know, I'm gainfully employed.

KING: That's right.

CLINTON: I can pay the mortgages.

KING: There's no negative other than I don't want to go through...

CLINTON: No, I guess -- well, maybe not. She really likes what she's doing.

KING: Likes the Senate?

CLINTON: Yes, and she's good at it, you know? And she's got more patience for it than I think I might have had. I mean, she's really good at it.

You know, I liked being a governor. I liked being an attorney general. I liked, you know, running my own shop. But she has really proved an enormously able person, at like working through complicated issues, working with Republicans.

You know, she and John McCain, and Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham have this global warming thing they do together. They went to the northernmost outpost on Earth, in an island 600 miles north of Norway, where there was a sign on the door that said, "You can't go out at night without a gun because the polar bears will eat you."

I mean, she's sponsored more legislation across the aisle than any other freshman of either party. She's just good at that. And you know -- and she got some amount of freedom she wouldn't have if she were to run and be elected.

But I just don't know, because the main thing I keep telling everybody, including her most ardent supporters is, "Don't look past the next election. The people of New York have to ratify her service and say they want her to continue first. There's nothing else that matters."

KING: When she runs, does she have to be honest and say, "I would think about the presidency"?

CLINTON: I think she has to -- I think, if she wants to entertain that, she ought to do pretty much what President Bush did when he was re-elected governor of Texas. He said he would serve -- he didn't rule it out. And he shouldn't have ruled it out.

But he wanted to be in a position to continue his service as governor, and he had things he wanted to accomplish there. I think he was truthful and candid with the people in Texas, and they knew he might run. And so that was...


KING: She should do the same?

CLINTON: I don't think she should rule it out, even if she doesn't think she's going to, just because I think, you know, people are skeptical about that. But I think there are many New Yorkers, including a lot of Republicans, who may think, "Well, I couldn't vote for her for president because I'm a Republican and I always do. But she's the best senator we've ever had and I want her to stay on."

So I think she just ought to do what she does. She's refreshingly upfront and does her job.

KING: We'll be back with former President Bill Clinton on this, our 20th anniversary. Don't go away.


KING: One thing about -- I know you haven't read this new book. Neither have I. There's a book out about you. I guess you...

CLINTON: The John Harris book? Yes, I have not read it.

KING: The John Harris book. And he says that you looked at the polls and said women wanted to know why Hillary stayed with you during your tough times. And you said, "Because she's a sticker. She sticks no matter what." Is that true?

CLINTON: Yes, in general in life, it is. I mean, independent -- it has nothing to do with me. You just look at her whole life. There's a remarkable consistency in her life. She decides what she believes. She'll change her mind, if the evidence warrants it. I mean, she's not a dunderhead or any -- you know, she's not...

KING: She was a Goldwater Republican.

CLINTON: Yes, but -- she was a Goldwater Republican. And Hillary used to joke with me that Goldwater carried her hometown 3 to 1 and the others thought he was too liberal where she grew up. But you know, and we liked Barry Goldwater a lot. We went to see him when he was ill in Arizona before he passed away.

But she has always been somebody who was just convicted. I mean, she lives by a conviction. And...

KING: Stays the course?

CLINTON: She stays the course, you know? She was a -- and she's meticulous about it. I mean, she was that kind of mother and still is. She was that kind of lawyer. She was that kind of public servant.

She started, when we were young, just starting out in politics in Arkansas, she started this Arkansas advocates for family and children. She headed up the effort to build an intensive care neonatal nursery at our children's hospital. And now the Arkansas Children's Hospital is one of the ten biggest in America. I mean, she just does stuff out of conviction, and she stays on the thing she believes in.

KING: Well, in a sense, Mr. President, you were lucky to have her...


KING: ... when things went bad, that she was there.

CLINTON: Oh, yes. Well, I told somebody the other -- tonight, I gave a speech to a bunch of young people. And they asked me about my thinking process and how I'd kept it alive over life. And I told them stuff about my childhood. And then I said, "Then I married somebody who was smarter than me, and I recommend that course to all of you. It kind of keeps you going."

But I think I'm lucky to have her. And the people of New York are lucky to have her. That's the most -- and she belongs to them now in a way that's, I think, really beautiful. I love watching it happen.

KING: President Bush told us last night that he's very appreciative that you are non-critical of his son. Why are you non- critical of his son? CLINTON: Well, I think he appreciates the way I disagree with him, too. I made up my mind when I left the White House, you know? And they've been pretty tough on me, the Republicans had. And I just kept on working with them.

And I made up my mind when I left the White House that I was going to figure President Bush out as a person. I always thought he was a very formidable political talent. I told all of our crowd in 2000, when I saw him give his first speech, that he was capable of winning, that he was an extraordinary talent.

And he'd never been particularly friendly to me, and I didn't blame him. I defeated his father, and I didn't think he should like me. You know, it didn't bother me a bit. But I just kind of kept working at it. And then he was so nice to me, and to Hillary, and to our families when we had the portrait unveiling.

KING: I'll never forget that.

CLINTON: It was really nice. And I said, you know, there's got to be a way for me to disagree with this man when I disagree with him, to support him when I can support him, and to express my personal goodwill toward him.

As I said at my library dedication, I was beginning to think, at the end of October, that I was the only person in America that liked both John Kerry and George Bush. But I think that's important.

I mean, you know, this idea that somebody we disagree with on economic or social policy or something we have to turn into some kind of ogre or demon, I think, is a mistake. I mean, it's like telling the American people or half the American people that don't agree with you they're all fools. That's just not true.

Most of the people I've known in politics, by the way, in this country and in other countries, before I became president and when I was in the White House, most of them have been good people. They'd been smart, hard-working, well-motivated, and they pretty well did what they believed was right.

So this image that most politicians are dumb, or lazy, or self- centered, or without conviction is simply not true. Whether they're conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, American or foreign, there was the occasional dumb person, the occasional lazy person, and the occasional crook, but they were very rare.

KING: We'll be back with more of President Clinton live on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, our 20th anniversary.

Mario Cuomo was our first guest 20 years ago.

CLINTON: Really?

KING: Don't go away.

CLINTON: We're going to see him? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Some said that you even liked the bad days. I mean, you like this job, right?

CLINTON: I like the job. I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve. The bad days are part of it. I didn't run to have a pleasant time. I ran to have a chance to change the country. And if the bad days come with it, that's part of life. And it's humbling and educational. It keeps you in your place.



KING: We're back with President Clinton.

There's two foundations he heads. His book "My Life" is now out in paperback. It's in three versions. The full version -- it's got a new afterward, a new foreword. It's got a new everything in it. (INAUDIBLE). And you can get it shorter versions as well. It's available everywhere starting today.

There are two foundations he's involved with, and Can you briefly tell us what each does?

CLINTON: Well, the other one -- the is just a Web site for my foundation. And what I do with my foundation, which is based in Harlem and in Little Rock where my library is, is we obviously have the big presidential library. And we have a school of public service down there.

And here we run our programs. We have programs to help economic empowerment in poor communities, both in America and in Africa. And in India, I've had projects. We have programs to promote racial and religious reconciliation. There's a Peace Center in Northern Ireland in my name.

KING: You can learn all about this on the Web site?

CLINTON: Yes. And then we help the AIDS thing.

KING: That's global initiative?

CLINTON: Yes, and that's really important.

Now, the Global Initiative is totally different. It is a meeting we're having around the United Nations for business people and other distinguished citizens in America and around the world with world leaders who will be coming here for the opening of U.N.

And it's -- I got the idea of going to Davos, the world economic forum. Both from the strengths and what I thought we still ought to do, that is Davos is a great forum to share ideas for thousands of people to meet and talk. What I decided to do was to have a smaller meeting around the opening of the U.N., discuss just four topics every year. And then tell everybody that comes at the end of the two days, you have to make a personal commitment to take some action in one of these four areas.

In this case, we're talking about dealing with new energy policy and fighting global warming by developing a clean energy economy. Promoting religious reconciliation in troubled places. Building good governance so businesses will invest. And fighting poverty and health and education problems associated with it.

And at the end, we're going to have two days on just those four subjects. Then everybody will be asked to make a specific commitment to take action in one of these areas.

And I figure, if we can have this meeting at this time once a year for a decade, after ten years we will have done a lot to change the world for the better.

KING: How many do you want to come?

CLINTON: Oh, somewhere between 500 and 1200. I don't care if it's big. I want it to be people who are only interested in learning more so they can do something.

You know, the big difference between now and 20, 30 years ago is -- in terms of public problems -- is that before you really had to try to convince a politician in power to do something. Today, with the growth of the Internet and nongovernmental organizations, people have unprecedented power.

Look at the tsunami thing. 30 percent of American households made contributions, over half of them over the Internet.

Look at the last presidential election. For the first time, small contributions raising more money than big ones.

Look at the nongovernmental organizations. Look at what Bill Gates has done for education in America and for healthcare around the world in India and Africa. But also what countless other NGOs have done.

My little foundation, we cut the price of AIDS medicine to the lowest part of the world. Now we're giving drugs to 110,000 people that are going to live because of that. So we -- all of us citizens, we don't have to wait now for the government -- doesn't matter if I agree with everything that President Bush does or not, there are things I can do. And everybody should think about that.

KING: That's the and

Speaking of whether you agree or not, what do you make of private -- of allowing people to invest in their Social Security?

CLINTON: The private accounts? KING: Yes.

CLINTON: Well, first of all, let me back up and say when I was president what I wanted to do -- and we couldn't get it through the House, didn't want to deal with it, either party. We had a surplus then. So, what I proposed to do was pay down the debt, take the savings and interest payments the government would realize, put it into Social Security trust fund. And run it out until 2052 -- on today's assumptions 2060. And then create a savings option on top of that to subsidize the savings of low income people and make it easier for middle income people to save.

I still think that's better, because while you -- on balance over the long period of time, the market usually has better returns than government bonds. If we go to a private savings account -- here's what I see is the problem. If you let people set aside 2 percent, we'll have to borrow $1 trillion over the next several years to pay for it, because right now when Social Security checks come in, we just pay them out. If we set aside 4 percent, we'll have to borrow $2 trillion. And we're already up to our ears in debt.

So I don't know that the economy can stand the borrowing costs, first of all.

Secondly, I think it's better to have both a solid income that you get on Social Security, totally reliable and savings on top of it.

The third thing is, if we stop buying the government bonds through Social Security, then somebody else is going to have to buy the government bonds, because the debt will still be there. And we'll have to offer higher interest rates to them, which will increase the deficit. It will make us spend more money on government interest then.

So for those reason, I think it would be better. I'm sympathetic with the president's desire to let people have ownership. I like the ownership society. We let welfare recipients when I was president save more of their money without losing their welfare payments to cars or example.

But I think it would be better to have it not as a carve out of Social Security, but to find a way to let people save and still keep Social Security the way it is.

And we can make it solvent for not very much money.

KING: More with former president Clinton.

Tomorrow night, Woodward and Bernstein together. Their only first live prime time appearance. And then we're going to do an extra hour with Dan Rather. And that's his first appearance since all the problems. And then Friday night, Barbara Walters will interview me. And we'll be right back.

CLINTON: Is that right?


KING: Back with former President Clinton. Before I ask about Iraq, I would guess -- I don't like to guess -- that you disagree with the president on stem cell research?

CLINTON: Yes, I think the more moderate proposal put forward by Mike Castle, the Republican from Delaware -- who was once a colleague of mine, who was once governor of Delaware -- and some of the Democrats and Republicans together that passed the House, I think that's the right position.

You know, I understand where the president's coming from. You can draw up all these kind of scary scenarios with stem cell research and, indeed, you may have seen the private scientists recently -- that panel issued-ethical guidelines, and they said, for example, you can't put human brain cells into an animal because of the odd chance that you could have a human brain in an animal. It was really, you know, kind of scary stuff.

But the truth is that, as long as you're not essentially, you know undermining potential life solely for the purpose of harvesting these stem cells, which is not what we're talking about doing here, there's really no problem. We're talking about cells that will not be used for other purposes, that will not be fertilized, and I think they have unique medical properties that adult cells don't have. So I favor the position adopted by the House of Representatives.

KING: You supported the president when he went into Iraq. Do you still support him?

CLINTON: Yes, I felt, as I said then, I felt that we should have let the U.N. inspectors finish their job. But once he made the decision to go forward, I thought all Americans should have said, well, we're in this thing now. We've got to back our troops and we've got to hope that the enterprise succeeds because there's no question that Saddam was a bad guy. The Iraqis would be better off without him, if we can build a coherent country here.

When -- I think former President Bush would tell you that a lot of people were afraid in the first Gulf War that if Saddam were deposed, that the country would fall apart and it might be even more unstable, and we see some of that difficulty.

But whether you were for or against the decision when it was made, I keep telling everybody, I think it is largely irrelevant now. We should -- I mean, it can affect your voting if you want in the next election, but we should all want this enterprise to succeed now. If Iraq succeeds as a democracy that encompasses the Shiia and the Sunni and the Kurds and all the various tribal elements, with a sense of representative democracy and fairness, respect for the minorities as well as the majority, and they're capable of managing their own security and dealing with the insurrection, then I think that's in the best interests of the Iraqis, the people of the Middle East and the peace of the world. So we should all be out there trying to do it.

We should also never forget that, you know, a lot of fine young Americans have given their lives there and countless others. Tens -- lots of them. Thousands have been seriously, seriously injured, and thousands have more -- paid great economic prices because they were in the National Guard and Reserves.

KING: Are you surprised that the public is -- appears, now, is slightly more than 50 percent against?

CLINTON: No. I think that they sympathize with what the president did, but I think they're beginning to think well, maybe we didn't think enough about the price we'd have to pay, and that's not uncommon. That's a common miscalculation made throughout history. And if you look at -- since the second world war, every time a foreign government has gone into another country to help, you know, to change the government and an insurgency has followed -- or to support a government and an insurgency has followed -- the insurgency is, in the end, prevailed in every case except the British and the Malay Uprising where the -- in Wasanamu (ph), Malaysia. The British prevailed but the insurgents were ethnic Chinese, not Malays and the British stayed 15 years.

So, if you look at the experience in all other countries where we or any other country within another country and they all came to naught, I think that this experiment is doing better than the others have, and I think that we can't forget that 58 percent of the Iraqis showed up to vote. That's a higher percentage than we had in our record turnout in 2004. So, I'm pulling for them. I want it to work.

KING: You think a lot of people aren't pulling for them?

CLINTON: No, I know they are, but I just think they're afraid it won't work and they're tired of our kids getting killed, and I get that. But, you know, if you talk to a lot of these young service people -- my daughter has a wonderful friend who is a young Marine officer who led one of the first groups into Falluja and helped the Iraqis develop their own security skills -- they believe it's a worthy mission and they believe it can be done.

And, of course, there's some doubters and we may not succeed there. If we don't succeed, it'll be like most similar efforts. But my view is, we're in it. I do think if we'd have more allies, had we let the U.N. inspectors finish their job, even if we'd to say, look, we want to go in for other reasons other than the weapons. But we are where we are, and we got to hope it works now.

KING: We'll be back with more President Clinton right after this.



KING: Las Vegas, Nevada. Hello.

Caller: Hi, Larry.

KING: Hi. Caller: How are you?

KING: Fine. What's the question?

Caller: I don't have a question. I have a statement, please.


Caller: I want to say hello to my son, Bill Clinton.

CLINTON: Hi, mother. What are you doing out there?

KING: Wait a minute. What are you doing in Las Vegas?

Caller: I'm here with Governor Bob Miller, with Mayor James Jones and a world of Clinton supporters. We've been working very hard.



KING: That was a great night in Ocala (ph).

CLINTON: We were in Florida that night, remember? North Florida.

KING: That was something. That was some night, and your dear mom.

CLINTON: She called.

KING: Never forgot that.

CLINTON: No, that was a great night. I remember it like it was yesterday.

KING: That was some night. Other areas, are you worried about the religious conservative movement in America and their power?

CLINTON: I think they should be worried about it.

KING: They should be worried?

CLINTON: Uh-huh. Because I think whenever religious people try to exercise political power in God's name, and to say that they have the whole truth and they can impose it, and know what I think, that's always hazardous, that's -- you know, our country is become the most religious, big country on earth, with more different faiths flourishing and more regular observance because we haven't had a state religion. And we haven't had politics as religion. And we haven't had politicians claiming to be in possession of the whole truth. So I think they should worry about it.

And in terms of the political influence, it kind of comes and goes. I think you know, we Democrats, because we believe in the separation of church and state, have become sometimes too secular in our language, too uncomfortable with the language of faith, too uncomfortable with the honest discussions of the moral dilemmas that a lot of religious people feel. And so we have ceded the ground of too many voters to the religious right.

But that's our fault. We should engage in this debate. We should involve them. And we should share our feels about what our values are. But I don't think that the American government or the government of any great country should become the exclusive province of a particular religious movement. And in the end, it's bad for the religious movement.

KING: Billy Graham stands apart from that, does he not?

CLINTON: He does.

KING: What are your thought on him? He's going to be here this month preaching again.

CLINTON: Well you know, I adore Billy Graham. I've known him for a long time.

He came to Little Rock when the schools were closed in the late '50s. You know, almost -- well, over 45 years ago, the first time I went to hear him. I was 10 years old, I think, or 11, something like that. And he refused to speak to a segregated audience when the schools were shut down.

He said that his message of Christ's forgiveness and redemption went to everybody without regard to race. And he wouldn't come if he had to speak to a segregated audience. And I loved him ever since then.

And you know, he was -- he came again when I was governor. And when my pastor, who was an old friend of his, was dying. And we went to see him. And I stayed in touch with him over the years, saw him in the White House. He was uncommonly kind to me and Hillary. And always wise in his counsel and firm in his guidance.

And you know, unlike a lot of people, Billy Graham has really lived his faith for a long, long time now, you know. Whether you agree or disagree with everything, he is a man who lives his faith. And that's, to me, the source of his enormous power. I just adore him. I'm delighted that he's still out there going.

KING: Do you respect Karl Rove?

CLINTON: Absolutely. Yes, I think old Carl's out there stirring trying to get Hillary an opponent now. You know, he's good at what he does.

But, you know, he'll stir around on you. And he's smart. He's smart as a whip. And he'll think things through. And -- but I think that, you know, we've made it a little easy for him on a couple of these elections. In 2002, I thought -- that was maybe one of his most brilliant achievements, the 2002 congressional elections. Because I think he was largely responsible for the fact that, you know, the Americans were concerned about security.

It was shortly after 9/11, but they also thought the White House was too far to the right, and they wanted a correction. And were inclined to vote for more Democrats for Congress. But they really supported the president on 9/11 and how he handled Afghanistan and terror. And so they said, well, what are we going to do? Two-thirds of the Democrats were for Iraq, 100 percent were for Afghanistan. How are we going to make them look weak on security? That's the only way because we don't agree with them on the domestic issues.

So, they come up with this Homeland Security bill, which the president had opposed for eight and-a-half months. All of a sudden they decided they're for the bill, then the next day if you're not for it you're Saddam Hussein's ally. And they beat Max Cleland, you know, who was profoundly wounded in Vietnam and a lot of other people.

But I think that's our fault. We let them get away with that. We've got to learn to stand up engage in those debates.

But Rove is very good. He's a good grassroots politician. He knows the numbers. He knows the precincts. He knows the votes. He's good at mobilizing the base.

But he's also serious about policy. He's interested in these ideas. So, I think the president is lucky to have him. And, you know, he's like James Carville was for me except James didn't want to come to the White House. I wish he had now. And you see the -- I mean Rove's really done a good job for him.

KING: We'll be back with some more moments with former President Clinton. Don't go away.


KING: Don't forget, the book My Life" by Bill Clinton, the No. 1 New York Times best seller is now out in trade paperback. Both the complete version and one version that has the presidential years in one, the early years. And the information you can go to on the Web site is and All of them one word.

Before we wind things up, you mentioned childhood obesity and heart disease. Why do you think -- I've only got about a little over a minute. Why are kids fat?

CLINTON: They're exercising less and eating more. And the food they're eating has higher sugar and fat content. And it's true in the -- school cafeterias, vending machines. Working people have to eat more fast food restaurants and they eat out more.

And so what we need to do is not offer -- not just offer healthier meals, we need to change the way we prepare a lot of these meals. We've got to cut down on the fat and sugar content of the food our children are eating and the size of the portions and get them to exercise a little more. We cut out 50, 60 calories a day, and they'll lose 20 pounds over a high school career.

KING: It is all education, isn't it?

CLINTON: Yeah. It's education and habits and also making it easier for working people. You know, food's a good value in America. And you can't blame busy working parents who have to eat out for eating things that taste good and are in good volume. But it's dangerous for the kids and it is tough. We've got to change it.

KING: We have a minute left. Do you miss power?

CLINTON: No. Once in a great while, you know, when there's a problem that comes up that I either have a difference with the administration on or where I really wanted to do something when I was president and nobody was interested in it then, like energy. I wish I had the chance to do the job again for a little while.

But I love what I'm doing. I love this work on my foundation. And frankly, I'm delighted to see Hillary in public life. I get such a kick out of seeing her do so well.

And I feel so grateful to have my health and my life. And I love this foundation work. I love doing the tsunami work, the AIDS work. So I'm happy.

KING: Are you going to campaign for her?

CLINTON: If she wants me to.

KING: I mean, you miss that, don't you?

CLINTON: Not miss it, but I enjoy it when I can. I did a little for John Kerry. And I enjoy it. I don't miss it, because I did it for so long. And I loved it. But when I do it, I still like it.

KING: Thank you, Bill.

CLINTON: Happy anniversary.

KING: Thank you so much.

CLINTON: Thank you.

KING: Thanks for joining us.


KING: Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, came here right from the far east.

Tomorrow night, we'll have -- Dan Rather will be with us. What an hour this has been. And we'll also have, of course, our two friends from "The Washington Post." And they're big story today. Right now, more of a retrospective of 25 years of CNN. See you tomorrow night. Good night.


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