Countdown
updated 9/22/2006 5:58:51 PM ET 2006-09-22T21:58:51

On Friday, "Countdown" host Keith Olbermann caught up with former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, and asked Clinton about his work in the international community, his advice for President Bush and President Musharraf's recent statements.

You can read an excerpt of their conversation below.  Tune in to "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" at 8 p.m. ET tonight to see the full interview.

OLBERMANN: Let me throw the craziest, unrealistic political hypothetical to you in our current environment.  The phone rings tomorrow and it’s the current president, and he says things aren’t go as well as they might, either for me or the country.  I need a piece of advice, and I’m asking you sincerely for it, for one thing that I can do tomorrow that will improve things.  You’re the genie now in the political realm again, as you were in this building these last three days.  What would you say to him if that request came through?

CLINTON: I would say that—I would give him, actually, two pieces of advice.  I would say, first of all, I think if you can find some way, consistent with our commitment to Israel’s security, to resume the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and move fairly quickly to a Palestinian state, I think that would do more to change the image of the United States and—than anything else. 

I think there’s so many Arab-Muslim countries that are frightened by this instability and all this violence, and I think you would find that Israel would actually get more credit and a more positive response from other Arab nations by doing this than ever before.  And I think we would have a chance them to stabilize a lot of other problems in the Middle East.  That’s the first thing.

The second thing I’d say is no American president can possibly please people all over the world all the time.  If you have an unusual political, military and economic position, you’re always going to do things that some people won’t like.

But there are two things that are important.  You should look like we prefer cooperation over unilateralism and act alone only when we feel we have to.  And you should let people know that we have no anger or animosity and we wish them the best.

I’ll give you an example.  I think the president did quite a good thing by going to the U.N. and trying to have a personal outreach to the people of Iran and while he plainly disagreed with President Ahmadinejad, he resisted the temptation to overly demonize him.

That’s the kind of thing I think we need to do more of.  People don’t really want to be mad at America.  They get mad when they disagree with our policies, but they also get mad when they think we’re too unilateral, when they think it’s not just Iraq, it’s the test ban treaty and the criminal court and the Kyoto climate change accord and all that.

So I think I see in the last couple months that this administration is trying to rely more on diplomacy and more on multilateralism and I would advise that.  But if I had two pieces of advice, it would be make more friends, tell your people you care about them, make them think you’re pulling for them.

And if we can do it consistent with Israel’s security, let’s get back to work on this Palestinian-Israeli peace process, because that’s half the juice that’s feeding terror all around the world.

OLBERMANN: Two last questions, one pertaining to the news of the day.  President Musharraf, who’s here, said something extraordinary, I thought, on Wednesday, that you can’t fight extremism with weapons.  You fight terrorists with weapons, but the extremism must be fought in a battle of hearts and minds.

And now we have this story quoting him in a book that he was pushed, bullied, threatened, verbally spanked in the days after 9/11 to cooperate or else.  The White House has denied that.  Mr. Armitage has denied that.

Is it possible that we were in a position where we had to verbally coerce people into helping us under those circumstances, do you think?

CLINTON:  Well, for one thing, I think we have to take the White House and Mr. Armitage at their word, especially if President Musharraf is more or less saying the same thing.

There is no question that he was asked in the strongest possible terms to support us after 9/11 or that we needed him.

There is no question that his support for the West in the fight against terror, including what went on in Afghanistan, has cost him dearly with some elements in Pakistan.  He’s, after all, had to survive two assassination attempts.

You do have the Taliban hanging around in Waziristan over the Afghan border and then trying to get back into Afghanistan.  You do have, as far as we know, Mr. Bin Laden and Dr. al-Zawahiri hiding in the caves over there. 

So it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some strong words, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the book hadn’t overwritten them.  But the main thing is I think President Musharraf has now made a choice to help us, but the question is can we find a formula by which we can save Afghanistan, not let the Taliban make these inroads, stop this increase in poppy production, increase the hunt for Bin Laden, all the things that the war on terror needs, and do it in a way that strengthens Musharraf’s hands in Pakistan instead of undermines them.

It’s a difficult thing.  You know, it sounds a little raw, the stuff in that book.  I don’t know.  But I think that we should be glad that he has been with us, more or less, in the war on terror, but we should recognize that it’s much harder for him than it is for us to be uncompromising against the Taliban, uncompromising against Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, and we ought to just keep working for the best until we win.

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