During a speech Friday at Kansas State University, President Bill Clinton warned against a military strike on Iran, saying it was unclear whether “we could take out whatever incipient nuclear efforts they have,” and that even if we could, it is “not clear it would be the most effective strategy.”
“Attacking them is a whole different kettle of fish,” Clinton said. “There are three times as many people as live in Iraq.” Clinton pointed out the growing pressure on Iranian President Ahmadinejad from the country’s political establishment, including many conservative elites. He also noted that Iran’s population is decidedly more moderate and pro-American than its leadership. “What we have to keep in mind in all of our dealings with Iran is not to forget about where two-thirds of the people are, …those two-thirds of the people have nothing to do with the terrorist operations, the training, and a lot of these other problems we’ve got.”
“We may not have to go to war, and we may not have a disaster,” he said. “And my view is, no matter what [President Bush] says, you need to talk to everybody before you bomb them.” Watch it:
CLINTON: With Iran, I think that I agree with Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton’s commission, and I think that we should be talking to the Iranians because even the Iranians, even some of the conservatives, have repudiated some of President Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel, Holocaust-denying remarks. And I won’t keep you here long so we can take more questions but let me just say to all of you this about Iran. First of all, attacking them is a whole different kettle of fish. Now, there are three times as many people as live in Iraq. It’s not clear that with an air strike we could take out whatever incipient nuclear efforts they have, depending on where they are, and it is also not clear it would be the most effective strategy for this reason. When I was president, Iran had six elections — two for mayors, two for congress, two for president. They were the only country in the entire world that, six times in a row, voted for the most progressive, outward looking candidate they could vote for by margins of 66 to 70 percent. The problem with Iran it is the only country in the world with two governments, and under their constitution, their religious council, which represents only a third of the people, controls the funds that go to terrorists, control the funds that go to intelligence, the foreign policy funds, and has the power to take candidates off the ballot and strike laws from the books or stop them from being enacted in the first place. So dealing with them is a total headache because you’re dealing with two government. And the government with all the people behind it, they like us and they want a future with us. And the other government won’t let them go over these humps, which means that it requires great care. And the most encouraging thing for you should be — I can’t answer your question. We can’t make a deal with a government committed to destroying Israel, because we have to tell them if they do that we’ll destroy them. But the most encouraging thing to you should be is that Ahmadinejad has now been rebuked in his extremist statements by a lot of the conservatives. And you should also know the voters in Iran did not vote for him because of this. That is not why he won. He won because they voted six times for the progressives and the conservative bloc stopped them at every turn, so that the average voter’s life never got better. … So what we have to keep in mind in all of our dealings with Iran is not to forget about where two-thirds of the people are, even if those two-thirds of the people have nothing to do with the terrorist operations, the training, and a lot of these other problems we’ve got. I still believe — by the way, let me say something else I agree with. I think the Bush administration has done a better job than most people know in imposing these economic sanctions. It is not true that economic sanctions are always ineffective. They are working pretty well with Iran partly because finally because the Russians and the Chinese and others do not want the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon and set off an arms race in the Middle East. So they are actually working better than people think. Don’t give up on the fact that the political system may feel the squeeze from economic sanctions. We may not have to go to war, and we may not have a disaster, and my view is, no matter what he says, you need to talk to everybody before you bomb them. In other words, if you are going to fight with somebody, I don’t care what you don’t have in common with them, you should talk first. That way, if it happens, people respect you more.