Clinton calls terror a U.S. debt to
By Joseph Curl
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Bill Clinton, the former president, said yesterday that terror has existed in America for hundreds of years and the nation is "paying a price today" for its past of slavery and for looking "the other way when a significant number of native Americans were dispossessed and killed."
"Here in the United States, we were founded as a nation that practiced slavery, and slaves quite frequently were killed even though they were innocent," said Mr. Clinton in a speech to nearly 1,000 students at Georgetown University's ornate Gaston Hall.
"This country once looked the other way when a significant number of native Americans were dispossessed and killed to get their land or their mineral rights or because they were thought of as less than fully human.
"And we are still paying a price today," said Mr. Clinton, who was invited to address the students by the university's School of Foreign Service.
Mr. Clinton, wearing a gray suit and orange tie, arrived 45 minutes late for the event. Some students camped out overnight to obtain tickets. The former president, a member of the Jesuit university's Class of 1968, opened his 50-minute speech by thanking a former teacher.
"He never abandoned me over all these years, even though he did not succeed in convincing me to become a Jesuit," said Mr. Clinton, drawing laughter and then cheers from the almost entirely white crowd of students.
Mr. Clinton spoke from notes about the world after September 11. He sought to dispel fears of terrorism and "this anthrax business."
"I submit to you that we are now in a struggle for the soul of the 21st century and the world in which you students will live to raise your own children and make your own way," he said.
Mr. Clinton said the international terrorism that has only just reached the United States dates back thousands of years.
"In the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was a Muslim on the Temple Mount. I can tell you that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it."
Mr. Clinton said America needs to pay more attention to its enemies and to the way the United States is viewed by the rest of the world.
"There are a lot of people that see the world differently than we do. It is quite important that we do more to build the pool of potential partners in the world and to shrink the pool of potential terrorists. And that has nothing to do with fighting, but that has to do with what else we do.
"This is partly a Muslim issue, because there is a war raging within Islam. We need to reach out and engage the Muslim world in a debate."
Mr. Clinton referred to stories in the media about some American citizens cheering the terrorist attacks and suspected mastermind Osama bin Laden.
"This debate is going on all over America. We've got to stop pretending this isn't out there," he said.
Addressing matters of globalization, Mr. Clinton pondered the importance of such issues as technology, poverty, democracy, diversity, the environment, disease and terrorism.
"Here's how I think you ought to think about it," he said. "We cannot ignore the fact that we have vulnerability at home because of our interdependence."
The answer, Mr. Clinton said, is to spread freedom and democracy, reduce global poverty, forgive billions in debt, improve health care systems and encourage — even fund — education in developing countries.
"We ought to pay for these children to go to school — a lot cheaper than going to war," he said.
Perhaps most important, he said, is democracy.
"It's no accident that most of these terrorists come from non-democratic countries.
If you live in a country where you're never required to take responsibility for yourself, where you never even have to ask whether there's something you should be doing to solve your own problems, then people are kept in kind of a permanent state of collective immaturity and it becomes quite easy for them to believe that someone else's success is the cause of their distress.
"We've got to defeat people who think they can find their redemption in our destruction. And then we have to be smart enough to get rid of our arrogant self-righteousness so that we don't claim for ourselves things we deny for others."
The former president, who left office just 10 months ago after an eight-year tenure, said the federal government is "woefully" lacking on several key terrorism-prevention areas.
"We need to strengthen our capacity to chase the money and get it, and we need some legislation on that," said Mr. Clinton, coincidentally on the same day President Bush, who has made freezing terrorist assets a "front" of his war on terrorism, announced the United States has moved to block the assets of 62 persons and groups associated with two financial networks linked to bin Laden.
"And one area where we are woefully lacking is the simple use of modern computer tech to track people that come into this country," he said.
While he criticized "the governmental capacity" now, he said "we all must support our current government in whatever decision they make."
"This is not a perfect society but it is stumbling in the right direction," he said.
At the end of his speech, Mr. Clinton — who was impeached for lying under oath about a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old White House intern — said the entire issue revolves around "the nature of truth."
"This battle fundamentally is about what you think about the nature of truth," he said, noting that God has imposed on us the inability to ever know "the whole truth."
He also championed women's rights in Afghanistan, saying the reason "you see all those sanctimonious guys beating those women with sticks" is because the country's rulers demand strict adherence to the rules.
Students crowded around to shake the former president's hand after his speech. There were no detractors in the crowd, despite the fact that the university newspaper in September 1998 called on Mr. Clinton, then mired in scandal, to resign.
"The American public," the Hoya said in a 1998 editorial, "has forgotten that international and domestic terrorism requires a proactive defense plan. Terrorists must be caught before they strike, and we must remember that those strikes always come when our head is turned toward other matters."