Rwanda, AIDS, border issues dominate Bush-Clinton talkPosted in Political Bytes Posted on May 29, 2009 06:03 PM | Permalink
By Andrew Davidson, Kas Roussy and Mark Gollom of CBC News, from the George Bush-Bill Clinton debate of U.S./Canadian issues in Toronto:
As the discussion between George W. Bush and Bill Clinton continued Friday afternoon, moderator Frank McKenna, Canada's former ambassador to the U.S., brought up the issue of Rwanda.
"You were the president of the United States," he said to Clinton, asking why the former president hadn't stepped in to stop the killing.
Clinton responded that the decision not to act was "one of my greatest regrets" as president.
"We couldn't have saved all of them," he said. "[But] we could have saved as many as 300,000 lives … I have no defence."
He said Rwandans were the most "astonishing" people for their ability to forgive.
Bush defended Clinton's stand on Rwanda, saying that it's "not realistic" to think you could just pick up the phone and order 20,000 troops into a conflict zone.
Asked whether the U.S. should have intervened in Darfur, Bush replied: "I was confronted by a situation of where do I send in marines?" The broad consensus among NGOs and government advisors was to not intervene unilaterally, he said, '"So I didn't."
Bush added that Hu Jintao, leader of the People's Republic of China, "needs the energy," so he won't support a Sudan resolution at the UN. "We are trying to expedite troops to Darfur, but getting the international community together is hard … [diplomacy] only works with leverage."
Clinton jumped in to defend Bush on Darfur, calling the attempts to build an international consensus an "agonizing process" and comparing it to Bosnia. "It's not as simple as saying 'he should have done something' … He [Bush] did about all he could do."
On the issue of same-sex marriages, Bush said he doesn't agree with the repeal of the Defence of Marriage Act.
"I was hoping we'd stay away from national amendments," Clinton added, saying it should be a matter for the individuals to decide, along with state laws and the rules of their respective faiths.
McKenna said Canada feels its history of mutual respect is being torn apart by new U.S. border restrictions, a statement that drew broad applause from the audience.
Bush replied, "I don't know about the passport issue," and added that he had tried to get a simpler "EZ-Pass" passport project through government. He seemed genuinely unaware of passport requirement changes that go into effect at the Canada-U.S. border June 1.
Clinton added that he didn't know about the passport changes until it was mentioned to him Thursday. "We need to find a less severe alternative," Clinton said, but added that he wants to hear more from Homeland Security on the matter.
"Let me just say you've got my attention with this and I'm going to go home and ask more about it," Clinton said.
On the cross-border trade issue, Bush said: "Buy American provisions are bad for our business and I'm against them."
McKenna brought the discussion back to issues in Africa, telling Bush, "The world owes you a debt of gratitude" for his administration's massive anti-retroviral AIDS drug program for Africa.
"To whom much is given, much is required," replied Bush. "Don't thank me, thank the taxpayers of the United States of America."
He added that the best way to counter terrorist killers recruiting from the world's hopeless and poor is through the efforts of "armies of compassion."
Clinton in turn praised Bush for bringing a Christian appeal to the members of the Republican-dominated Congress, as well as church groups and non-governmental organizations. He also hailed the racial and ethnic diversity of cabinet choices under Bush.
"What he did on the AIDS drugs and the diversity in the cabinet ... he deserves a lot of credit."
The discussion ended with a standing ovation from the crowd, but some left with a feeling of disappointment that the debate hadn't gone deeper into major issues.
Jonathan Tucker, a chartered accountant in the audience, said he was surpised there wasn't more disagreement between the ex-presidents.
"Clinton could have taken some shots, but he didn't" Tucker said as he left the auditorium.
Heather Williams, another member of the audience, said she was disappointed Bush didn't face a direct question over Iraq. "It was eye-opening, but I wanted to hear his justifications for going to war," the 29-year-old said.
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