Meredith Vieira's Morning Suck Up to Bill Clinton [Full Transcript Included]

In this morning's interview with Bill Clinton, as first observed here, NBC Today co-host Meredith Vieira treated the former president as a wise sage that could solve everything that's wrong with George W. Bush and his policies.

On Hugo Chavez's remarks calling the President, the "Devil" Vieira, gave some credence to the Venezuelan president's claims, as she asked the former President: "Do we need to change the way that we act?," and "is the developing world frustrated with the way that we treat them?"

Vieira then turned to Clinton for advice on Iran: "Let me ask you, then, about President Bush refusing to meet with the Iranian president Ahmadinejad, the other day. He said he would not do that, they wouldn't be in the same room together. If you were president today would you have met with the president of Iran?"

Even when Vieira attempted to ask a skeptical question she couldn't help sucking up to Clinton:

"You know when you were president you were very popular and, and very concerned with diplomacy. Meeting with world leaders and trying to solve problems. And yet the threat of al Qaeda continued to grow up and lead into 9/11. So some of your critics would say, what did all the goodwill accomplish in the end?"

Clinton: "Well it just wasn't goodwill, we tried to kill Bin Laden and I signed an authorization to that effect. We nearly got him once and bombed one of his training camps."

Vieira: "Where do you think he is? Everybody's wondering the heck he is, where do you think he is?"

Clinton: "I think he's probably in, I have no intelligence, okay? I think he's probably..."

Vieira: "You have lots of intelligence."

Clinton: "No I mean government intelligence."

Vieira: "I know, I'm kidding."

After that exchange Vieira, once again, turned to Clinton's advice on another trouble spot for Bush, Iraq: "And now we are bogged down in Iraq. You have said, 'I never thought Saddam presented any kind of terrorist threat but once you break these eggs you gotta kinda make an omelet.' So how do we make an omelet, what should we be doing there now?"

Of course Vieira couldn't resist asking about Hillary's presidential ambitions and even brought up questions about their marriage but then just let Clinton rant on against Republicans: "What about the scrutiny that she would be put under and you as well. The New York Times recently ran a front page article about your marriage. Do you think that was fair and is it fair game should she run?"

Clinton: "Well the politicians don't get to decide that. But I think that the thing that I think is gonna be interesting is whether the American people, after all, with all the problems we've got really want to see the, the press basically follow the Republican bloodhounds and do all that sort of stuff again and whether or not the people that are doing it can escape the same scrutiny. They have in the past. It's been a free ride, you know? Just pick a Democrat and punch that person. And I don't think that'll happen this time. But I think it's a stupid way to spend our time. You know the older I get the more it amazes me that anybody would be interested in me in that way or anybody else really but I, I think..."

And just before the long interview with Clinton, Vieira and Matt Lauer praised him and his Global Initiative in the following teaser at top of the show:

Meredith Vieira: "What do you do after you left the most powerful job on Earth? Well former President Bill Clinton isn't kicking up his heels during his retirement. He's been working tirelessly to help people around the world and he's been doing it with the help of some unlikely allies, the Bush family. Coming up we'll talk to him about his Global Initiative as well as the war in Iraq, the looming showdown with Iran and whether he could be living in the White House again some day."

Lauer: "And we both spent a little time over at the Global Initiative..."

Vieira: "Sure did."

Lauer: "...in the last day or so."

Vieira: "Very impressive."

Lauer: "It's a terrific thing he does, no question about it."

The following is a complete transcript of the entire Clinton interview:

Meredith Vieira: "On Close Up this morning former President Bill Clinton. He is hardly taking it easy in retirement. This week Mr. Clinton is in New York hosting the second annual Clinton Global Initiative, an exclusive three day event that unites some of the world's most influential leaders and challenges them to find solutions to the world's most pressing problems. I caught up with the nation's 42nd president during the first day of the conference. As this year's Clinton Global Initiative convened President Clinton greeted his special guest, First Lady Laura Bush, who in her opening address pledged money for clean water in Africa."

Laura Bush: "We invite other partners to join this alliance to install 4000 pumps in schools and communities and provide clean drinking water to as many as 10 million sub-Saharan Africans."

Vieira: "This year's focus is global health, climate change, poverty and ending religious conflict, problems President Clinton believes this extraordinary gathering of statesmen, business leaders and non-profits can help solve. You've called it a catalyst for change, I believe."

Bill Clinton: "Yeah."

Vieira: "What do you mean by that?"

Bill Clinton: "I think that, clearly, private citizens working through these non-governmental groups have more power to do public good. To affect the future in a positive way than ever before."

Vieira: "Everyone who attends the conference must make a concrete pledge or else."

Clinton: "I thought I'm gonna have a meeting and tell them they can't come to my meeting unless they promise to commit time and money and if they come and promise and don't do it I won't let them come back next year. I thought this is, you know I might have an empty hotel to party in. It's not gonna happen. But we had big crowd last year, bigger demand this year."

Vieira: "Do you ever look out in that room and say, 'Gee I brought together sort of an odd bunch, a bunch of strange bedfellows almost?'"

Clinton: "Oh yeah."

Vieira: "Yeah."

Clinton: "Well you know one of the things that I, that our foundation works in is climate change. The two people who fund our participation are Rupert Murdoch and Barbara Streisand. I'm quite sure, talk about strange bedfellows, that they've never worked on anything before, but I think they're both pretty proud that they're doing it."

Vieira: "Everybody's calling you 'the Genie,' and they want you to grant some wishes. If you had a genie what wish would you want granted?"

Clinton: "Well I think it's naive to want all the problems solved. If I could have one wish I would have people accept the importance of our common humanity. If they did that we would, at least, be stumbling in the right direction for the rest of my life and probably for the rest of this century."

Vieira, turning to Clinton in-studio: "And President Clinton, good morning to you. Thanks for joining us. Last year the Initiative raised about $2.5 billion. So how did Day One go of the second Initiative?"

Clinton: "We had 107 commitments and we already have $2 billion so I think we'll clearly do better. At, at the end of the meeting last year we only had about half the money we actually raised because some people formulate their commitments based on things they hear, ideas they get here. So, we'll, we'll gonna do pretty well this year."

Vieira: "One of the goals of the Initiative is to find solutions to problems in the developing world. Yesterday, at the UN, Venezuelan President Chavez launched an attack on President Bush. He called him 'the Devil,' accused him of quote, 'talking as if he owned the world.' Now it's easy to, to, to dismiss somebody like Chavez, and some have, as a nut but do you think he is giving voice to wider frustration in the developing world about this country and this country's policies? Do we need to change the way that we act?"

Clinton: "Well I think first of all let's give the Bush administration credit. I disagree with them on virtually everything domestically and a great deal of the foreign policy but they've given more money to AIDS than ever before, they have a Millennium Challenge grant that I think does a lot of good. You heard Mrs. Bush announce one of those projects yesterday."

Vieira: "But is the developing world frustrated with the way that we treat them?"

Clinton: "I think, I think they're frustrated not so much by the money we spend as they, they think that we're too unilateral. They think we cooperate when we have to and otherwise we do what we please."

Vieira: "Well do we?"

Clinton: "Sometimes yes and sometimes no but I think that Hugo Chavez said something that was wrong yesterday, unbecoming a head of state and..."

Vieira: "By calling, you mean, Bush a devil?"

Clinton: "All of, yeah, and all that name-calling, you know it's undignified and not helpful and it's not true. But on the other hand what we should think about is not him but the masses of people all over the world who find it always easy to resent the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. So we have to give people a sense that we're pulling for them and that we, we may have to do things that are unpopular from time to time but we want to work together whenever we can. I think it's..."

Vieira: "Well then let me ask you..."

Clinton: "...a message you send out, you know?"

Vieira: "Let me ask you, then, about President Bush refusing to meet with the Iranian president Ahmadinejad, the other day. He said he would not do that, they wouldn't be in the same room together. If you were president today would you have met with the president of Iran? Given the sense, the, the reality that our countries are very polarized right now?"

Clinton: "Well I think that we should have some contacts with them. I don't know if the way to start is to have the presidents meet, given all the things Mr. Ahmadinejad has said about Israel and the Holocaust and, and the other things he said. I think on the question of their nuclear intentions we ought to have some contact with them. I'm not sure presidents, presidents is a place to start."

Vieira: "Why isn't it? Why isn't it?"

Clinton: "I offered to meet with his predecessor who declined basically because of the politics of Iran and..."

Vieira: "Why isn't it the place to start though, Mr. President?"

Clinton: "Because, because I think at least they need to know kind of where they're going. I think, but I basically believe that the United States should not be afraid to talk to any one. It should not be reluctant and shouldn't have too many conditions. I just think that in this case they need a, a little groundwork needs to be laid here. But if you think you might have trouble with somebody and God forbid if you think it could lead to a military confrontation then there needs to be, at least, a maximum amount of contact beforehand. So I wouldn't rule out meeting with him as the President but keep in mind, as far as I know, they've not had any lower-level contacts. And normally when presidents meet at least, you know, you got some idea of what you're going into and I respect that. I do think that we need to have some communication with them and surely we do, I imagine we do."

Vieira: "The President of Iran has said that the nuclear program there is peaceful. Do you believe him?"

Clinton: "Well so far we, we don't have definitive evidence one way or the other. I don't think there's any question that, that they would like to have a nuclear weapon. And I don't think there's any question, ironically, that that's one thing that unites Iranians, whether they're pro-Western, which most of them still are, most of them would like to have good relationships with us. But most countries think, well if you got a nuclear bomb nobody attacks you. The danger for us was not, would not be so much that Iran would use it but that they would throw their weight around with it and that because they also fund Hezbollah that, some of that fissile material might find its way into terrorist hands who might use it in a dirty bomb, a smaller nuclear device that could kill thousands of people. And so we have to be concerned about that."

Vieira: "You know when you were president you were very popular and, and very concerned with diplomacy. Meeting with world leaders and trying to solve problems. And yet the threat of al Qaeda continued to grow up and lead into 9/11. So some of your critics would say, what did all the goodwill accomplish in the end?"

Clinton: "Well it just wasn't goodwill, we tried to kill Bin Laden and I signed an authorization to that effect. We nearly got him once and bombed one of his training camps."

Vieira: "Where do you think he is? Everybody's wondering the heck he is, where do you think he is?"

Clinton: "I think he's probably in, I have no intelligence, okay? I think he's probably..."

Vieira: "You have lots of intelligence."

Clinton: "No I mean government intelligence."

Vieira: "I know, I'm kidding."

Clinton: "I think he's probably in Waziristan in, in the mountains region of that semi-autonomous area of Pakistan where they can move back and forth. It's one of the reasons, I think, we have to do what we can to support the, the mission in Afghanistan. We, we need to step up our attempts to roll back the Taliban's gains in the south and try to intensify the hunt for him but I think that he and Dr. Al-Zawahri are probably there, hiding in the mountains in a place that's very difficult to reach."

Vieira: "And now we are bogged down in Iraq. You have said, 'I never thought Saddam presented any kind of terrorist threat but once you break these eggs you gotta kinda make an omelet.' So how do we make an omelet, what should we be doing there now?"

Clinton: "Well I think the most important thing, it's a good thing the president of Afghan-, of Iraq came here to the UN. I think the most important thing is to make sure the Iraqis know that we're trying to help them. But..."

Vieira: "Do you think they know that?"

Clinton: "Yeah I do, I think the leaders do. But that there's a limit to how long we can stay and, and our presence is a mixed blessing. In a funny way if we could lower our footprint and increase our impact as the special forces Marines have done in many places, I think it would be more effective. But they have to know that there has, there's a limit to this. Unless they can put the, the Sunni and the Shia together and the Shia sections together and get people to choose politics over violence then no amount of troops will make any difference and you know just last week I thought it was interesting we, we, we withdrew some forces out of Al-Anbar province to send to Baghdad to quell the violence there and a Marine intelligence officer, very highly regarded, said, he thought, you know, the fight was lost in Anbar. So what happened? 25 of the 31 tribal leaders in the province said, 'we're gonna run these foreign jihadists out.' That's what you want, you want, you want, you want to leave Iraq as a coherent country with a functioning government that won't be a hotbed of foreign terrorists coming in because they didn't have that before and we don't want it to have, we don't want them to have it now."

Vieira: "Yeah, the question though is how do you do it? And I think a lot of people in this country when they look at the Democratic Party they get the sense that there is no cohesive plan. That the Democrats have come up with nothing."

Clinton: "I don't think that's quite fair. Most of the Democrats, all but I think 3 or 4 in the Senate voted for a resolution sponsored by Senator Levin and Senator Reid who's an Army veteran and been to Iraq several times, including with my wife and, and she supported it. And it called for basically a gradual phasing down of our involvement there but an intensification of the effort to find a political solution. When you get an insurgency like this you've got to make a deal. Sooner or later there has to be a political resolution of this."

Vieira: "Speaking of politics I'd like to talk a little bit about Hillary. I know she said she doesn't know whether she's gonna run for president at this point but the polls say that she is the frontrunner in the Democratic Party. If she were to run do you think she would win not only the nomination but the general election?"

Clinton: "I think she would. Of course no one knows how an election would come out. And I, I, I know she hasn't decided because I'm sure I would know if she had. I, I know this..."

Vieira: "Do you talk about it?"

Clinton: "No."

Vieira: "You never talk about it?"

Clinton: "No I'm superstitious about it and my, one of our family rules is don't look past the next election, you might not get past it. So I, I want her to win the Senate seat. She's, she deserves it. She's been phenomenally effective for New York. She's done more work with Republican senators to do joint things than I think anybody could have possibly anticipated. She's really done a good job. But if she ran and won I think she'd be a good president. I think she, probably a great president because she's got the right kind of skills and she got a good heart and a good mind and she runs things well, makes good decisions and because of all the experience we've had. So I, that's the most important thing to me is whether she'd be good for the country and she really would be great but..."

Vieira: "What, what about..."

Clinton: "...I have no idea if she's gonna do it."

Vieira: "What about the scrutiny that she would be put under and you as well. The New York Times recently ran a front page article about your marriage. Do you think that was fair and is it fair game should she run?"

Clinton: "Well the politicians don't get to decide that. But I think that the thing that I think is gonna be interesting is whether the American people, after all, with all the problems we've got really want to see the, the press basically follow the Republican bloodhounds and do all that sort of stuff again and whether or not the people that are doing it can escape the same scrutiny. They have in the past. It's been a free ride, you know? Just pick a Democrat and punch that person. And I don't think that'll happen this time. But I think it's a stupid way to spend our time. You know the older I get the more it amazes me that anybody would be interested in me in that way or anybody else really but I, I think..."

Vieira: "But I think you're spending..."

Clinton: "I think, you know, this election will be a thinking election. It's very interesting. This election, the one here in 2006 for the, I, I do a lot of work for the Democrats. You know I go around and campaign for these candidates. I try to help and they're not traditional rallies anymore. You can have big crowds, they'd be very boisterous and when I get up to talk it's almost like you're in a congregation. Everybody gets really quiet because..."

Vieira: "Why?"

Clinton: "...because they want to think through the challenges we face. You know there's no ideological, emotional outburst answer to Iraq, to climate change, to stagnant wages, to how you can have record corporate profits and increasing poverty among working people. I mean there are these, they know these problems are challenging and complex and we need to get back to thinking and that's really encouraging to me."

Vieira: "And that's what you're doing with the Global Initiative, obviously?"

Clinton: "Yeah I'm trying to get people to think and come together and it turns out we've got some strange allies."

Vieira: "You certainly do. Pleasure..."

Clinton: "Thank you."

Vieira: "...pleasure to meet you and sit down with you Mr. President."

Clinton: "Thank you very much."

Vieira: "Thank you so much. It is now 7:19am, here's Matt."

Matt Lauer: "Alright Meredith thanks. President Clinton thanks to you."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.