January 27, 2009 CNN Politics
Today, at the National Automobile Dealers Association in New Orleans, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton delivered remarks during the general session.
When asked about his biggest regret after leaving office, Bush said he now wonders whether he should have tried to get Saddam Hussein to leave office at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991.
CNN reports that he told the gathering, "I've thought a lot about it, but at the end of Desert Storm, the question was should we have kind of kept going on that road to death and all this slaughter until Saddam Hussein showed up and laid his sword on the table, surrendered. And the common wisdom was he wouldn't do that."
But he said a conversation with an FBI agent who interrogated Saddam after he was captured has made him reconsider.
Bush recalled their talk, "I said, 'What if we just say he has to come to surrender, would he have done it?' And this guy said, 'I'm absolutely convinced he would have.' My experts tell me he wouldn't have…. We ended it the way we said we would" as a military success, but noted a cleaner ending "would have been perfect."
Clinton said that his number one regret is that he was not able to persuade Yasser Arafat to accept the peace plan he offered at the end of his presidency that the Israelis accepted.
"If he had done that ... we had had seven years of progress toward peace. We had one year in 1998, the only year in the history of Israel where not a single soul was killed in a terrorist act. The Palestinians had more control over West Bank then than they do today," Clinton said. "And if he had taken that deal, we would have a Palestinian state and we would have had, I think now, normal peaceful relations with Israel and all of its Arab neighbors."
Clinton also said he regretted not doing more to "stop the Rwandan genocide," and succeeding on a new health care plan.
He added "presidents should share freely ... the mistakes they made" with historians, because it teaches lessons. He said he shared problems during the lunch with Obama and the four living presidents, saying, "You want each new president to make new mistakes, not the same ones .... all of us know if you make enough decisions, you're going to make a few of them aren't right."
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