September 21st, 2014
11:10 AM ET

Bill Clinton on Fareed Zakaria GPS

CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features an interview with Bill Clinton. As former U.S. President Bill Clinton prepares for the 2014 annual meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, Fareed Zakaria spoke with him about the recent plans announced by President Barack Obama on the U.S. contributions to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and what he feels the U.S. should do about the terrorist group ISIS.


Clinton on Syria: ​“I supported two years ago the proposal that Hillary and Secretary Panetta and then CIA director, General Petraeus, made to give more robust armed support to the Syrians. But I well understood why the president was reluctant to do it because, as you see in Libya, there’s still lots of militia groups there who like America.”

​Clinton on the fight against ISIS in Iraq: "the Iraqi government is now more inclusive than it has been since the fall of Saddam Hussein. And that seems to be awakening, if you will, the willingness of the Sunni tribal leaders to participate in fighting. We know the Kurds and the Peshmerga are willing to fight. If we can help them and support them, I think the larger fight against ISIS can continue as it should – as a local struggle for the freedom and liberty of the people"

Clinton on Russian expansion into Ukraine: "President Yeltsin, in return for Ukraine getting rid of all of its nuclear weapons and sending them to Russia, signed an agreement with me and the then president of Ukraine saying that Russia would always respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. President Putin said it was an agreement, not a treaty, therefore I'm not bound by it. I just think it's a bum rap that expanding NATO caused all this. You know, that - you made me invade Georgia and you made me invade Ukraine because they were the only two countries on my border that weren't part of NATO? I mean come on, it just - it's not a credible thing."

A full transcript of the interview is available after the jump.




FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN GPS: On Friday, I sat down with Bill Clinton at his offices in Harlem. He's in an interesting place in life. Almost 14 years after leaving the White House, he has settled in to a new way of effecting change around the world.   His Clinton Global Initiative will hold its 10th annual meeting next week.  The organization claims that in those 10 years they have improved the lives of 430 million people in 180 countries. He's also set to soon become a grandfather. We'll get to all of those matters later in the show, but first I wanted to ask him about the stories that are atop the news.

ZAKARIA: President Clinton thank you so much for joining us.


ZAKARIA: So I've got to ask you about ISIS. I saw you on "The Daily Show" say that you thought we had to respond to these brutal executions of Americans. But I want to press you. Isn't that what ISIS wants? Isn't –wasn’t the purpose of the executions to bait us?

CLINTON: No. But there's a difference in, for example, using targeted drones and airstrikes as we did against al Qaeda effectively for years to try to take down their leadership and infrastructure and let them know they can't just decapitate people for the cheap thrill of the global media response and horrifying people and get away with it and getting bogged down in the kind of war they would like us to get bogged down in that would cost us a lot of lives and a lot of treasure and inevitably lead to greater civilian casualties, which is why I think the president's strategy has a chance of succeeding, because the Iraqi government is now more inclusive than it has been since the fall of Saddam Hussein and that seems to be awakening, if you will, the willingness of the Sunni tribal leaders to participate in fighting. We know the Kurds and the Peshmerga are willing to fight. If we can help them and support them, I think the larger fight against ISIS can continue as it should as a local struggle for the freedom and liberty of the people.

ZAKARIA: You talked about the Iraq part of the strategy, which strikes - you're right, it's - it's viable. There's an Iraqi Army that could be better - made more effective if there were fewer loyalists and more professional officers in it and more inclusive. There are the Kurdish forces. The Syria part is the real puzzle.

CLINTON: It's much harder.

ZAKARIA: This is fierce civil war in which the stakes are very high. Generally moderates don’t do well in those circumstances.  Turks have been trying to stand up moderate Syrians for a long time.  How do you think we should handle it?

CLINTON: Well, I support giving the forces that we most closely identify with greater capacity to fight ISIS. The whole question about the Syrian government is really academic, between the Iranians and the Russians and others, they'll give them enough money and military capacity to do what they have to do.

ZAKARIA: So do you think Assad is going to stay?

CLINTON: I don't know. But I think that the worst enemy right now is ISIS. And I don't think we should be in a position of directly coordinating with or cooperating with Assad, but I think we all recognize what would happen if ISIS had like a monster like state that included most of Syria and Iraq. And - but I don't - I think, therefore, that when the president said we'd cooperate with the moderate Syrian forces, they're the only people we have to try to empower there, to do their part in this struggle.

ZAKARIA: Do you agree with the former secretary of State, who said that perhaps if we had helped them three years earlier, it might have been - it might have had or would this - would those funds and arms have ended up with ISIS?

CLINTON: I agree with her and I would have taken the chance. I also agree with her when she said we can't know whether it would have worked or not. And that's why you have to be careful when you make these commitments, because you can't know.  But since ISIS has plenty of money, is one of the great bank robbers in human history, among other things, they were going to get their weapons one way or the other. So I would risk it. And besides, when we were talking about doing it, there was no ISIS. However, it was a - an argument she lost within the administration and she admitted then and acknowledged in her book that she can't know that if her recommendation had been followed, it would have worked. That's one of those things you can't know. This - that's why all of these decisions are hard.


ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, much more with Bill Clinton. Russia, Ukraine and the West, and much more.

ZAKARIA: Back now on this special edition of GPS, more of my interview with Bill Clinton.


ZAKARIA: Ukrainian officials - high Ukrainian officials have said that Russia, in effect, invaded Ukraine over the last month, that somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 Russian soldiers crossed the border.  Do you think we should call this an invasion and act in a way, in a sense appropriately?

CLINTON: Well, really, there's no question they invaded Ukraine. And there's no question what Mr. Putin has tried to do. They've also armed the Eastern Ukrainians, as they've done all those things.  But I think Ukraine elected a very prudent and strong president. He's trying to negotiate an end to this that enables them to have a relationship with Russia without paralyzing their turn to Europe and their attempt to reap the economic and political benefits that would entail.  And I think the United States should support building Ukraine's capacity to defend itself, but even more importantly, we should be doing what we can, including groups like our Global Initiative, to help them succeed economically, to reward their choice to be free and independent.  I think it's very important that the world not buy the propaganda that is going over the Russian media that Ukrainians wanted to have an adversarial relationship with Russia. That's simply not true. All they wanted to do was to have a good relationship with Russia and a good relationship with Europe and the West and be a bridge between the two. Why he doesn't want that remains something of a mystery to me. I mean I think he's got an outdated view of how to get more influence and accumulate more wealth. But the - he's in these negotiations now and I think those of us who are outside it should not complicate his job by saying too much until we see what he can negotiate.

ZAKARIA: You know, a lot of Russians, including Mr. Putin, blame you, in a sense. They say NATO expanded, we were told NATO wouldn't expand, they expanded very close to our borders. Then the Clinton administration, intervened in Kosovo, over our objections. So they argue that you pushed out so now don't be surprised that you get a backlash.

CLINTON: If you can find one Polish citizen who agrees, I'll be glad to take that seriously. I mean, look, first of all, I never told them NATO wouldn't expand. I ran for president advocating the expansion of NATO in 1992.  And I had a conversation with Boris Yeltsin, whom I respected very much and who was a much better president than he got credit for, as we all now see. And I said, look, I don't think you're going to invade Eastern Europe, but you're not going to be there forever. President Yeltsin, in return for Ukraine getting rid of all of its nuclear weapons and sending them to Russia, signed an agreement with me and the then president of Ukraine saying that Russia would always respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. President Putin said it was an agreement, not a treaty, therefore I'm not bound by it. I just think it's a bum rap that expanding NATO caused all this. You know, that - you made me invade Georgia and you made me invade Ukraine because they were the only two countries on my border that weren't part of NATO? I mean come on, it just - it's not a credible thing

ZAKARIA: Coming up in a moment, more Bill Clinton.  If Hillary Clinton were to run and win, what would life be like as the "first man"?  I'll ask him to consider.

ZAKARIA: Welcome back to GPS. Here's more of my interview with Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States and Founder of the Clinton Foundation.  One of the foundation's main projects is the Clinton Global Initiative which brings together world leaders, business leaders, philanthropists and non-profits, to work on solving what it calls "the world's most pressing challenges".  Next week, the power-packed group will hold its 10th annual meeting.


ZAKARIA: Let me start with something that really affects The Clinton Foundation and The Clinton Global Initiative. You worked a lot on issues like disease and disease prevention.  What lesson do you think we should draw from this outbreak of Ebola and the speed and kind of pace with which its spread?  When you look at it, what is it that you - you can tell us about maybe the potential for pandemics or - or anything?

CLINTON: Well, first, like anybody else who's involved, we have a big presence in Liberia and three of our people, our top people, have stayed in Liberia to help organize the response. So we've all got to figure out, you know, how to coordinate it better. We're going to have a special session on it at CGI. But the lesson we should draw, the lessons are twofold.  One is we have to do a much better job in building the health care infrastructure in these countries. We have to increase their capacity, including the capacity to have community health workers go out in these villages and have credibility with people. You know, this tragic story of the health workers being killed in Guinea, it's just terrible.  But if we have more capacity, we can deal with it quicker. So that’s the first thing.  The second thing is we're going to have to get quicker and nimbler at developing biomedical responses, you know, the vaccines or whatever or cures.  And the third thing is the wealthy countries have got to reexamine how we fund the World Health Organization, because I think they do a marvelous job. But increasingly, as development ministries get more expertise in given areas, they want to fund specific projects in specific countries. And it's clear that the World Health Organization needs a pot of money that can be mobilized in a hurry for emergencies while we wait for the inevitable time delay when America and the U.K. and France and Scandinavia, we all kick in money.

ZAKARIA: I've got to ask you about some politics, are the Democrats going to hold the senate?

CLINTON: I think so, but it's going to be close. And it depends frankly on whether we can continue to match the money provided by all these outside groups. I think the Koch brothers are going to spend about $300 million in the last couple of months. And it depends on who turns out.  We have got somehow, sooner or later, to convince the people that vote in presidential elections for our side they have to vote in the Congressional elections. And if they don't, they can't complain when they lose governorships, state legislators and members of Congress and the senators who happen to be up in that year. We've got a lot more senators up this year than the Republicans do. And we have them up in states that President Obama did not carry in 2012. But they're running great campaigns and we seem to be doing reasonably well.  But it - if you look at all these polls, which are all over the place, they're all accurate - that is the real question in polling today is the sample you pick based on who you think will vote. And the question - the answer to that is, no one knows. So if we can get our turnout up, we'll be fine and they'll hold the Senate.

ZAKARIA: Along those lines, when I talk to Democratic grassroots activists, the one person who energizes them is Elizabeth Warren.  Do you think she's the future of the Democratic Party?

CLINTON: I think she's an important part of it. And I think the American people are - the Democrats, at least - are worried about people having an equal shot at prosperity. And, you know, when I was president, I’ve told you this before - one of the things I was most proud of is we moved 100 times as many people from poverty into the middle class as moved under President Reagan. The bottom 20 percent (INAUDIBLE) increased 23.6 percent, the top 20 percent increased 20.5 percent.  And everybody else in the middle did better than they did in the Reagan years.  You had to have more broad-based prosperity. So I think anybody who's arguing for that is going to find a receptive ear in the American electorate, not just among Democrats. I mean we - we're going to have a vote in my native state of Arkansas in raising the minimum wage and I'll be surprised if we don't get a majority of Republicans to vote for it, even though their politicians are, by and large, against it.

ZAKARIA: There are certain circumstances in - in the next presidential election that might produce a very unusual outcome. And I'm wondering have you given any thought to what it would be like to be back in the White House in a different role?

CLINTON: No. No, I haven't. I think that in general, if you're a spouse, you ought to support. If you're a former president, you ought to do whatever the current president asks you to do, if you can do it in good conscience. But I have given it no thought beyond that. I - this is my life now, this foundation. And I have poured my heart into it for 14 years and this is our tenth annual Clinton Global Initiative. We've raised, you know, $80 billion and helped 400 million people plus in 180 countries. It's my life now. And I do politics at election time if they want me for people I believe in I think I can help. But otherwise, I'm happy doing what I'm doing and if that's what I'm asked to me, I'd be happy as a clam if that were the case, too. I'll do whatever I'm asked to do.

ZAKARIA: And do you have any specific thoughts about being a grandfather?

CLINTON: Yes, I can't wait. And I'm - we're on watch now. I hope by the first of October, I'll be a grandfather. I - I...

ZAKARIA: Do - do you care if it is a boy or a girl?

CLINTON: No. And I don’t know.

ZAKARIA: Do you really not know?

CLINTON: No, no. And there are - my daughter and son-in-law decided not to know. They want to be surprised. So we're all just sitting around waiting.

ZAKARIA: Mr. President, we usually have an end segment where I recommend a book of the week. We are blowing it out all for you, so I'm giving you the last word, which is what book would you recommend? You're a voracious reader. You've read stuff. If you were to tell our readers what should they read?

CLINTON: If you'll give me two.


CLINTON: First, I'd like readers to read "Abundance," the Peter Diamandis book with his coauthor, because if they did that, they would see that while the headlines are really bad in the world today, the trend lines are pretty good. Extreme poverty is down. The health care is improving dramatically around the world. There are developments now which make me believe we might be able to do what we did in the 90s which is to use technological developments to create more jobs than we lose. For the last few months, for the first time in literally more than a decade, 40 percent of the new jobs have been in higher wage categories. I think people should read this and get some good ideas. The other book is "The Social Conquest of Earth" by E.O. Wilson.


CLINTON: He's a Nobel Prize winning microbiologist, but he writes as best he can from all the known evidence about the history of life on Earth from single-cells organisms to the present day. The reason I would like them to read that is that he said if you look at all the species that have ever lived on Planet Earth, the most successful were ants, termites, bees and people. Why? Because they're the greatest cooperators. And even - and I saw the other day a story about how there are 25,000 species of spiders on Earth and for reasons nobody understands, a couple of dozen of them have started cooperating and they build stronger, better webs. Cooperation will save the future. And America should lead it. Every time humanity has been in danger of extinguishing itself, our consciousness and our conscience have led us to come together. That's the big issue of the 21st century. That's the great fight of the next 25 years.

ZAKARIA: So Congress should learn from spiders, that - that's…


CLINTON: They will - I spent a lot of time with spiders in my early life. I just think, you know, the - "The Constitution" could be subtitled, "Let's Make A Deal." The founders understood it. We need to remember it.

ZAKARIA: Bill Clinton, a pleasure to have you on Mr. President.

CLINTON: Thank you.


ZAKARIA: That's all we have time for on this special edition of GPS. Thanks to my guests, Bill Clinton and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.






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