George W. Bush photo

Remarks by Former Presidents Bush and Clinton with the Press Pool

March 08, 2005

The Roosevelt Room

1:51 P.M. EST

FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: We're here to take any questions on tsunami that you may care to ask.


Q: Tomorrow's golf game, on tsunami.

FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Greg Norman called us, and said that he would like to raise funds for tsunami relief, and suggested that he get 72 people to play in a golf tournament tomorrow. And he did, and we're going down -- when we leave you, we're going to get on the airplane and fly down there, and play 18 holes tomorrow, and raise what I thought was a stunning amount of money for tsunami relief.

Q: How are you feeling, sir? Everyone wants to know.

FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: I feel fine. You know, I found this condition when I did my regular test, and they said I was in the top 5 percent of men my age in health. But they took a routine x-ray, and found out that I had a lot of fluid build-up here, which is quite rare once the fluid goes down. And so all they have to do is drain it and take that little peel that holds the fluid out. It's a routine sort of deal, and it will knock me out of commission for a week or two, and then I'll be back to normal. It's no big deal. I felt well enough to go to Asia to try to keep up with President Bush, and we're going to go play golf tomorrow. So I'm not in too bad of shape. I feel good about it.

FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: You should have seen him going, town to town, country to country, Energizer bunny here. It killed me. (Laughter.) This thing, whatever he's got, if it knocks you out, it hasn't got to him yet.

Q: Can I ask -- since you spent so much time in your presidencies working on the Middle East -- these are big days, obviously, throughout that region. What's your reaction to what's happening in the Middle East? What do you think is going on there?

FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I'm, of course, very pleased the way things seem to be trending there, when you consider what's happening in Lebanon -- hopefully, what will happen there, the Syrians pulling back. When you consider steps that Hosni Mubarak has taken in Egypt, you consider the elections in Iraq, I would say these are positive developments. There's still a lot of work to do, but my own view is, it's positive. And the President, of course, intends to stay fully involved to do what he can to see this progress continue.

FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: I would agree with that. I think that the Iraqi elections went better than anyone could have imagined, and now -- I have said I don't think we ought to pressure the President to give a timetable for withdraw of American forces; we've got to try to make this work. We all know we have to go sometime, that we don't want to occupy the country, but they still need us to help train security forces. There's still a violent environment there. And the friends of the new order are still vulnerable, as we saw just yesterday. So I think -- but I think, on balance, we're doing better there, and the Iraqis are taking hold.

I think the murder of Mr. Hariri was a terrible thing. And he was a personal friend of mine. We were together about 10 days before he was killed. But in death he is having the impact that he sought to have in life. And sooner or later, Syria is going to have to get out of there, and give the Lebanese their country back. I think the fact that the Lebanese are in the street demanding it is wonderful. I think the work that the new leader of the Palestinians -- I have a hard time not calling him Abu Mazen -- is doing is fine. I think that this is hopeful, what's going on between the Israelis and the Syrians. I agree with what the President said about the reform steps in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

One thing I think is overlooked about the Middle East, that I think you should -- that we should be more attention to, is that there are successful, open societies welcoming diversity. If you look at Dubai, if you look at Abu Dhabi, if you look at Qatar, if you look at the welcoming of western educational institutions, modern economies, people of all different religious, racial and ethnic groups, and the enormous success they're having, I don't think you can minimize the impact that is having on the psychology of Arab leaders, too. They're having an enormous success. And we only write about the problems in the Middle East. I'd really like to see the people who are doing a good job over there get some credit for the impact they are having.

There was a conference in Dubai on the Arab world in 2020 a couple of months ago that I went to, and the leader of Dubai stood up and said to the 2,000 Arabs there, we have got to stop blaming other people for our problems; we have got to stop making excuses and we've got to modernize -- you can all be like Dubai, but we all have to change. That was unheard of 10 years ago, for somebody to do that. So I'm thrilled by what's going on.

Q: A follow up to both of you. What do you make of the protests today in Lebanon, the pro-Syria protest? Does that represent the people's views, or is that something that has been organized by authoritarian forces?


Q: Yes.

FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: I think this was expected. I think, I don't know -- I mean, they've got a different approach to matters. I think the will of the Lebanese people is clear: they want to see these Syrians out of there.

FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Look, Hezbollah has made itself a political party within Lebanon, and represented a lot of people who thought they were effective on domestic concerns; they weren't supporting their terrorist agenda or anything else. But I find it inconceivable that most Lebanese wouldn't like it if they had their country back. They want their country back, and they ought to get it.

And, you know, that bomb reminded people of what it was like in the '70s in Lebanon, when Beirut was once the Paris of the Middle East, and it should be again. And Hariri gave his life to rebuilding it, and that's where I think most people are, and where I think the future is.

Q: One more on the tsunami?


Q: The President -- the current President Bush likes to talk about signs emerging and people learning that America has a different side of it. Did you -- what evidence can you cite from your trip to support that, and how will Americans know for sure that this is having a concrete impact on the image of the United States in the Muslim world?

FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: I'll let President Clinton take it, but before he says something, there's a great poll that we were shown today, a polling of Indonesia, the mood of Indonesians, the view of Indonesians towards the United States of America. And it's a dramatic change, when they've seen the kindness, the outpouring of support for the tsunami victims. That has turned public opinion very much in favor of the United States.

FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes, I urge you to get it. It's on the Internet now. I'll tell you what we saw. Every little place we went, people came up and thanked us for what the American military did in bringing in humanitarian supplies, or what the USAID workers are doing, what the American non-governmental organizations were doing. All these people, all over -- Peter was there, ask him. Every place we went --

Q: Yes, ask me.

FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: -- thanking us for what was being done. And it proves that -- you know, in this brave new world we're in, we have to have a strategy to fight terror and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and to build a world with more partners and fewer terrorists. And we didn't do anything special; we did what Americans would have done, and we didn't do it to make people like us.

I think the main thing was, is that everybody knew that these people were there just because they wanted to help. It was purely relating to each other on a human basis. But when you relate to people on a human basis, you send a message that our common humanity matters more than our differences. And when that -- when people believe that, America wins, the cause of freedom wins, and -- it was wonderful to see, because we didn't go there with any ulterior motive. Everybody just went there because people needed help.

Q: President Clinton, do you think you need to slow down?

FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Not really. I mean, I'm going to slow down for the next couple of weeks, but I'm in good shape. I got -- did great in my health test. I just had this little fluid buildup. As soon as I get it done, I'm going to go back to work.

Q: What are your golf handicaps?

FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: Don't talk dirty in the Roosevelt Room. (Laughter.)

Q: Good luck.

Q: Good luck Thursday.

FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: We're going to play one hole with each foursome, so whatever -- we have 18 bad holes, we'll say, shoot, it's the only one I've had today. Nobody will know the difference. Bye.

END 2:00 P.M. EST

George W. Bush, Remarks by Former Presidents Bush and Clinton with the Press Pool Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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