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Bill Clinton's Remarks at the Asia Society Annual Dinner 2003

William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America

William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America

The second option is what I would call semi-cooperation, and that is we cooperate whenever we can with whoever is inclined to agree with us, and when it becomes inconvenient, then we stop. We have to do that sometimes. Sometimes our interests will require it. That is sort of what happened in Iraq where we had the whole world with us through the UN in Afghanistan, and then we had the whole world supporting the November resolution in the United Nations to support renewed inspections in Iraq, and then essentially we had a difference of opinion with almost everybody but the British, it seems to me, getting buyer’s remorse on both sides from the UN process. And we decided that we did not agree with Mr. Blix on his time table for inspections. Now, it may work in Iraq. It may be that the deepest hopes of those who supported the action when it was taken to shake up the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, to increase our leverage in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and at the very least to give the Iraqi people a chance to have a more decent and more representative government, that all may work if we stay with it.

But I would argue that over the long run, this will be a strategy of limited utility, even if it works in Iraq, which I think it might. Why do I say that? Well, for one thing, if you excoriate people every time they disagree with you, it may become highly inconvenient. For example, people don’t want to eat French fries anymore, or they want to change the name of French fries, and we’re saying that, there are all these jokes going around that, you know there is something wrong with the world when the best golfer in the world is black and the best rapper is white, and the Germans don’t want to fight, and the French think Americans are arrogant. All these… All these jokes are being told. We don’t celebrate Cinqo De Mayo, the Mexican Independence Day in the White House, we don’t go to Canada, we don’t do all this. I think this has limited utility. Let me explain why. We’re laughing, but, I’m dead serious about this.

How many Americans do you think know, and I challenge our friends here, there are German, French, and Canadian soldiers serving with the United States today in Afghanistan, the seat of operations of Al-Qaeda, the people that caused September the 11th. The new Afghan army is being trained, cooperatively, by two forces working together, the Americans and the French. I never read that during the run up of all this demonization we were doing. I raise it only to make the point… And I supported the resolution of Congress giving the President the authority to do this, and I think I’ve already told you, it may work out, and I think the French and the Germans made a mistake in what they said and when they said it. But I think over the long run we have more to gain by cooperating with them.

I hope this trade agreement with Chile will go through soon. The fact that they didn't agree with the timing of the operation in Iraq has nothing to do with the fact that, on balance, we share the same values, and we have a huge stake in the political and economic success of Chile, and in the development, ultimately, of a free trade area in the Americas. We have a huge stake in continuing cooperation with our neighbors in Mexico, even though they didn't agree with us on this, on the questions of immigration, and narco-trafficking, and economics. So that brings me to the third alternative. Well, I do not think we can ever give up what I call semi-cooperation, because that would require us to say that no matter what the stakes and threat to our sovereignty may be, we’ll just let it pass. Can't do that. We should prefer the third alternative, which is basically, I think, the Asian model of how we’ve related to Asia for the last fifty years. Which is, whenever possible, work toward building stronger bonds of community through cooperation.

That’s what we’re doing in the WTO, but it’s also how we fought Al-Qaeda, and how we continue to fight, not only in Afghanistan, but when the Pakistanis, for example, cooperate with us in helping to apprehend leaders of those terrorist groups. I think there are three elements in an approach that favors cooperation. First we have to cooperate for security. We have an international security assistance for in Afghanistan that NATO is taking over the management of. And I will say again, NATO is doing that, all the members, including those who disagreed with us over the timing of the action in Iraq. We have to stay there. And America has to stay there. We can't emphasize Iraq to the exclusion of Afghanistan. And I was very glad to see that Secretary Armitage was there making that point. You can't have Red Cross workers being murdered, the national police chief being beaten up by warlords, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda operating with impunity again in parts of Afghanistan.