January 27th, 2009
09:40 AM ET
9 months ago

Clinton, Bush 41 reflect on regrets

CNN

Watch Clinton and Bush 41 name their regrets as president.

(CNN) - Two former presidents reflected on their greatest regrets in office Monday, each looking back to issues that continue to plague the nation years later.

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton appeared together at a question-and-answer forum before the National Automobile Dealers Association in New Orleans.

Asked his biggest regret after leaving office, Bush said he now wonders whether he should have tried to get Saddam Hussein to leave office at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. He told the gathering, "I've thought a lot about it, but at the end of Desert Storm the question was should we have kind of kept going on that road to death and all this slaughter until Saddam Hussein showed up and laid his sword on the table, surrendered. And the common wisdom was he wouldn't do that."

But he said a conversation with an FBI agent who interrogated Saddam after he was captured has made him reconsider. Bush recalled their talk, "I said, what if we just say he has to come to surrender, would he have done it?

And this guy said, I'm absolutely convinced he would have. My experts tell me he wouldn't have."

Bush said, "We ended it the way we said we would" as a military success, but noted a cleaner ending "would have been perfect."

He added, "If we had tried to get Saddam Hussein to come and literally surrender and put his sword on the table, I think it might have been avoided some of the problems that we did have in the future from him."

On a day that President Barack Obama dispatched George Mitchell to the Middle East as the latest U.S. envoy, Clinton discussed the failure to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He said, "my No. 1 regret is that I was not able to persuade Yasser Arafat to accept the peace plan I offered at the end of my presidency that the Israelis accepted."

He said, "If he had done that ... we had had seven years of progress toward peace. We had one year in 1998, the only year in the history of Israel where not a single soul was killed in a terrorist act. The Palestinians had more control over West Bank then, than they do today. And if he had taken that deal, we would have a Palestinian state and we would have had I think now normal peaceful relations with Israel and all of its Arab neighbors."

Clinton said a deal would have helped the U.S. handle other issues in the region, saying, "We'd be much better positioned to deal with problem of Iran and we would have taken away about half the arguments of terrorists around the world by giving the Palestinians their state and creating a cooperative, positive interdependence in the Middle East, not a negative one. And so, I think that would have done more good to save more lives and help more people, and I wish I had been able to do that. "

Clinton also said he regretted not doing more to "stop the Rwandan genocide," and succeeding on a new health care plan.

He said "presidents should share freely … the mistakes they made" with historians, because it teaches lessons. He said he shared problems during the lunch with Obama and the four living presidents, saying, "You want each new president to make new mistakes, not the same ones."

Clinton added, "all of us know if you make enough decisions, you're going to make a few of them aren't right."


Filed under: Bill Clinton • George H.W. Bush
soundoff (179 Responses)
  1. Jefferson Handcock

    SoCalGal:

    No one died when Clinton Lied:

    Rush Limbaugh wants president Obama to Fail: What would constitute a President Failing: A terror attack in a major U.S. city that kills thousands of americans? For Thousands of American service men and women to lose their lives abroad? for the Economic system to go into total chos and millions more lose their homes, and savings. Hmmm. this fool shouldn't even fix his mouth to say he is an American: The only people that want President Obama to fail are the likes of Osama Bin-Laden, so I guess Rush is in the same political idology as Bin-Laden

    January 27, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  2. undecided

    josie, phila, pa. get your numbers correct. bush 43???? bush 44????

    January 27, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  3. Terry Hopkins

    George H.W. wonders whether he should have gone after Sadam. I have wondered ever since 1991 why we went to the aid of Kuwait over a territorial dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. Does anybody believe we would have cared about Kuwait if they didn't have oil wells every 100 feet. This whole mess began then, also our presence in Saudia Arabia brought about Asama Bin Laden's eventual attack on 9-11 It's all about oil, oil, oil. 4350 young men and women have died in a sensless war because we wanted to force democracy on them; we say now. God forgive us.

    January 27, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  4. genek1953

    Clinton has his presidential regrets in the proper perspective. Being unsuccessful at brokering peace in the Middle East or reforming health care affects millions of Americans for generations to come. Cheating on your wife, "regrettable" as it may be on a personal basis, affects nobody outside of your family and is nobody's business outside of your family unless some idiots decide to turn it into a public circus.

    January 27, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  5. Larry Dickman

    To Unbelievable:

    You are incorrect about the first foreign terrorist attack on US Soil. It is sad, but a lot of Americans forget the 1993 Bombing of the World Trade Center. Six people were killed and over 1000 injured. I believe that happened during President Clinton's tenure.

    I also cannot blame #44 for Americans buying homes they cannot afford, spending more than they make, and companies falsifying records. People got greedy and thought they could make a quick buck. He didn't force them to do it.

    January 27, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  6. Pat Canada

    Every time Clinton's name comes up the Monica scandal follows with "disgraced our nation." What about Eisenhower, Kennedy, and many before them.America's largest disgrace just left! Sufficent proof on Clinton? Did Starr's witch hunt leave doubt? Was Monica truthful, or a blue dress planted? Was tripp paid? Many worked tiredlessly to ensure # 41 got elected, Florida particularly! If not for Monica N Constitution America would have elected BIll again! Disgrace?

    January 27, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  7. Jefferson Handcock

    When will you all understand that dick Chaney was the president from 2001 until 2009, and Jan. 20 2009 he was a replica of his tenure as president and the shape he has left this country in:

    January 27, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  8. Sandford K

    Humored In Texas:

    is Right. I don't know what to say, man. 4000 american lives.and all these ordinary folks out there who died and has nothing to do with
    anything. And all those young man who were wounded. God. I would not be able to sleep if my decision waste one man's life unnecessily.
    4000!!!

    Just because the guy stay longer than 1 second, not fast enough.

    is this crazy world??? one second change the world history.

    January 27, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  9. Karla

    It is certainly important to learn from the past and I am certain all past Presidents have some regrets. I don't understand why we can't be a bit more optimistic and hopeful about the future. I was not an Obama supporter but I am willing to put aside my doubts and see what the future brings. It is not helping in the least to bash the leaders of your country endlessly. You dont have to respect the person but for heaven's sake respect the office!!!

    January 27, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  10. geeeeeez

    Yes, they both have regrets, but the idiot who just left the White House had only one regret – that they had not used the banner claiming "Mission Accomplished". Just one more piece of evidence of what a real loser Bush was.

    Too bad we have to extend him FREE health care for the rest of his life since he cared so little for hard working Americans that are not insured or underinsured.

    God help America and save us from those who believe that he was a good president – ignorance is hard to overcome.

    January 27, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  11. Jon Davis

    Sorry I missed Bush's comments, but there was an interesting YouTube video of Paris Hilton that I needed to watch, so I missed Bush. Darn.

    January 27, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  12. mark

    @Unbelievable

    1993 was the first foriegn terrorist attack. Name the building and the president. Here's a hint... He likes big chicks as interns.

    And it was never about adultry. It was about lying to the American people under oath.

    January 27, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  13. Scott

    No MikeMaz, It wasn't that he had an affair that hurt this country. Its that he lied to a grnad jury about it. Pitiful excuse for a World Leader.

    January 27, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  14. Dennis

    Clintons three regrets should be:

    1. Ignored terrorism and allowed it to become more powerful than ever.

    2. Encouraged the ease of credit policies which ended up putting us in the housing crisis we are in now.

    3. Lied to America's face about his affair.

    January 27, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  15. dr.mimi de la cruz

    BUSH SHOULD REGRET HE HAD GEORGE.

    WE REGRET HE HAD GEORGE.

    THE WHOLE WORLD REGRETS HE HAD GEORGE.

    January 27, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  16. THE OLD TIMER

    folks; MONICA LEWINSKY was part of the problem the plagued Bill Clinton,,,, HOW SOON EVERYBODY FORGETS............THIS WAS THE PRESIDENT WHO SIGNED NAFTA INTO LAW....... YOU PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO MAKE HIM OUT AS ONE OF THE BETTER PRESIDENTS.YOU SEEM TO FORGET THAT THIS GUY CAUSED THE LOSS OF THOUSANDS OF JOBS OVERSEAS. HE COULD HAVE VETOED THIS FOLKS. AND TODAY WE WOULKD STILL HAVE JOBS IN THIS COUNTRY. I ASK YOU DID YOU LOSE YOU JOB WHEN THIS HAPPENED...... MANY OF US DID THE RUBBER INDUSTRY WAS THE FIRST ONE TO GO TO MEXICO THERE WENT THE JOBS ALSO. FACTORY SHUTDOWNS. NEVER TO COME BACK TO THE USA

    NOW THE UNIONS ALL BACKED YOUR PRESENT OFFICIAL IN WASHINGTON. HOW WILL THE JACK- GET BACK THE JOBS BACK THAT WENT OVER SEAS. HOWEVER HE SEEMS TO THINK THAT HE WILL CREATE THOUSANDS OF JOBS AND PUT AMERICA BACK TO WORK...

    THERE IS FAR MORE TO THIS PROBLEM THAN THE ELECTED OFFICIAL IN WASHINGTON THINKS THERE IS

    January 27, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  17. Scott from Denver

    can you people not stop crying about one thing or another. You have Bwood who evidently does not realize that this is only a small lip of the whole interview but because his "S&L" wasn't mentioned he feels the need to cry. You have Montclarion that hasn't exactly grasped that they were asked about past regrets...so if #41 regrets not solving the Iraq issue prior to getting out of office. I think most people would agree that if he had, a lot of the mess we are in now could have been avoided.

    January 27, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  18. bill

    The fact Bill was with Monica has nothing to do with it... It is the FACT that he LIED,LIED LIED under oath! Do you want to trust your future to a known adulterer and LIAR thats your business. But I dont. The fact he cant even practice law in his state of AR because he lied under oath BROKE THE LAW..dont you people get it? The people from the World Trade Center died because of him.. He had the facts about Osama...I guess his appt with Monica was more pressing. He could have acted... he didnt.

    January 27, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  19. John

    I agree with former President Bush and Clinton on several issues. It would have been great if Clinton had done more to stop the Rwandan genocide, and if Bush had been able to get rid of Saddam Hussein earlier, we may not be in the war we are in now.

    January 27, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  20. MrBlueSky

    You know, folks...
    I felt very safe living in the USA under the Clinton Administration... and lived in fear during the W years. I am now again feeling safe with President Obama... and am now looking forward to bin Laden's public execution under Obama's watch.
    Say what you will about W's policies or Clinton's personal life. But safety/security (including economic security) trumps everything.

    And I never felt secure with W at the helm. But that's just me (and the 53% of the country who voted for Obama).

    January 27, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  21. Travis

    Greg Elgin, Does Bill Clinton's personal life really matter that much to you? He was a great president and if he desides to sleep around that is between Bill and Hillary, not the American public.

    January 27, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  22. SOUTHERN HOTTIE

    Who cares?
    Let's focus on the present and future. Not the past.

    January 27, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  23. RJ

    I love how you Dems forget that the housing crises was caused by the CRA that Clinton signed into law.
    Or how easily they forget the Dot com bubble, or the first WTC attack or the fact that he let Bin Laden get away MORE THAN ONCE.
    Most of the issues that came to fruition under Bush Jr. were started long before he took office.
    How short a memory you Democrats have.
    Welcome to Clinton 2.0 with Obama thinking he's running the show.

    January 27, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  24. Jean2

    The Monica scandal landed Ken Starr a Dean's position at Pepperdine University. Is that what all of this is about???????

    January 27, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  25. Dan

    Greg:

    Nice. Way to have some perspective there.

    January 27, 2009 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
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