As ex-President Bill Clinton embarked on a media blitz designed to sell millions of copies of his highly anticipated autobiography, "My Life," “Today” host Katie Couric talked to the former chief executive about his eight years in office and life after the White House. Here is the conclusion of their conversation:
About John Kerry and the timing of his bookBill Clinton: "I was supposed to publish it about two months earlier. … I worked like crazy on this book [but] we had some unavoidable delays in getting some of the research up. Then we had some approvals we had to go through [concerning] national security….
“Secondly, I just simply disagree with [those who] say it would suck the lifeblood out of the Kerry campaign, I think it's an insult to the American people. They can walk and chew gum at the same time. They know that a book about my presidency is different than the decisions they have to make now."
Katie Couric: "Political consultant Dick Morris, who you thank in your book for his help, has said that this book is less the end of an era or closing a chapter in your life and more a launching pad for your wife's presidential bid (laughter) for 2008. What do you make of that?"
Clinton: "Well, I hope it's 2008.... I hope that Senator Kerry wins this time. And I'm going to do what I can to help him, and so is Hillary. She made a decision not to run. Because she told people in New York she would fill the term."
Couric: "But wouldn't that -- a Kerry defeat -- set the stage for her in 2008?"
Clinton: "That was the last thing on her mind and the last thing on my mind. We've done this enough to know that you just have to do what you think is right. So, he's just wrong about that. I think John Kerry will be a good president. I think the American people will conclude that. I think we have got a better than 50-50 chance to win."
Couric: "You are going to actively campaign for him?"
Clinton: "Yes, I have been, and I will. And I want him to win."
Couric: "What advice would you give him, Mr. President? I mean, you're widely regarded as a brilliant campaigner. But, I think a lot of people say, ‘Where's John Kerry? What's he doing? Why doesn't he seem to be breaking through to the American people at this point? Is he laying low?’ ”
Clinton: "First of all, he's not laying low … he's doing exactly what he should be doing. But if you're not president you can't be in the news every day. And you can't just be a commentator on what the incumbent does. It's just not human. It's not natural. So, I think John Kerry is marching to the beat of his own drummer."
About Iraq and terrorism
Couric: "I have to ask you a couple of questions about Iraq, because I think people would …"
Couric: "… be very interested to hear you weigh in on this. I know in a previous interview, President Clinton, when it came to Iraq, you said that you thought it would've been better of this administration to let the inspections process continue."
Clinton: "I do."
Couric: "Having said that, could you envision a time in the equation or on this scenario where you would have ordered that invasion?"
Clinton: "Yes. If [United Nations weapons inspector] Hans Blix had completed his inspection and said, ‘They are not cooperating, I cannot find out the truth, and they have refused to cooperate and I'm done,’ then I would have done so."
"Now, having said that, the most important thing about Iraq now is that we are where we are. All Americans, whatever their politics, and indeed the whole world, now has really a big interest in seeing Iraq succeed as an independent, stable and genuinely representative realm."
Couric: "Do you think it will?"
Clinton: "I think it might. And I …"
Couric: "‘Might’ and ‘will’ are very different words."
Clinton: "I think the chances are better than 50/50 that it will work over time … but we're a long way from it."
Couric: "President Bush has said the world is a safer place because of what's happened in Iraq. Your vice president, Al Gore, says [the invasion of Iraq] has taken everybody's eye off the real ball, the real war against terrorism. Which is it in your view?"
Clinton: "They both could be right over the [weapons of mass destruction]. That is, if there were any of these unaccounted for chemical and biological stocks in Iraq, they can't be given out [to terrorists]. So, that could make the world safer. If ten years from now Iraq is a democracy, it could be a positive impact in the Middle East and that could make the world safer. In the short run, Iraq is more vulnerable to terror because it's more open."
Couric: "What do you think about this connection that Vice-President Cheney continues to assert between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida?"
Clinton: "All I can tell you is I never saw it. I never believed it, based on the evidence I had. Now, he may have some evidence I don't have. But there's no question in my mind that the bigger threat to the world from terror comes from al-Qaida and Bin Laden and [Bin Laden lieutenant] Zawahiri and his crowd. Therefore, I think that it is more important to make sure that the government in Afghanistan succeeds and that we continue to work to get rid of al-Qaida...."
About whether the country was better or worse for his presidency
Couric: "Mr. President, in closing, many people say this book is an effort for you to shape your legacy. The country is so polarized right now it seems. Do you think you'll change any minds? And what do you ultimately hope your legacy will be?"
Clinton: "Well, first of all, what I try to do is to tell a story. This is a story of my life and a story of American life in the last 50 years. And I try to explain to people who want to read it why I think the country broke open in the 1960s. How the modern Republican Party came about, how the modern Democratic Party came about. And what the nature of the conflict is now, because I think the polarization is bad for America.
"One thing that can't change is that whether my presidency did more good than harm at home and around the world. And I believe it did way more good than harm. There are a whole lot more people with better stories when I left than when I started. And for me, that's enough."