Bill Clinton on the Haiti Tragedy: An Exclusive Esquire Q&A

In a sprawling discussion of his past and our common future, the former president compares his administration's early years with Obama's and talks about what he believes - in health care and next year's midterms - is about to happen. Or, you can head straight to Esquire.com and read the full transcript.


ESQUIRE: Based on your considerable experience in this area given your work in disaster relief after the South Asian tsunami, what do you project will be the recovery commitment by us and other nations after the acute crisis passes?

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BILL CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think we've got a week or ten days more where we're going to be digging out the living and the dead. Presumably by then we will have reconstituted the United Nations system. Keep in mind - let me back up and say that Edmond Mulet, who is the deputy secretary general for peacekeeping, was the predecessor of Mr. Annabi down in Haiti. [Diplomat Hedi Annabi of Tunisia is believed to have been killed Tuesday in the collapse of UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince.] He's a very able man. He was sent by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon down there. First thing is that he's got to find our people. We've got 150 people under the rocks. In all probability, this is going to be the greatest loss of life in any mission since the creation of the United Nations. The Christopher Hotel where they worked collapsed entirely. We've taken a grand total - I haven't gotten an update, I'm sorry for that, but I've been too busy with this stuff - but as of Wednesday afternoon, we've only found ten people alive there. We've got thirteen to sixteen peacekeepers who have been killed that we know of, but almost all the peacekeepers are okay. The only people that we're sure are okay from the UN Mission are those that walked out of that office before 5 o'clock. I never was so happy to know that some people got to knock off a little early in my life.

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So the fundamental problem in answering your questions is that you've got to try to visualize this: The UN was, in effect, decapitated. The Haitian government was disabled by the destruction of the presidential palace and the president's offices, and the parliamentary building. There are senior parliamentarians still missing. Members of the cabinet still missing. The prime minister and the president are fine, and they're setting up shop around the airport. And the U.S. has given them communications equipment. One of the greatest pieces of good fortune is that the American embassy was unharmed, our people there are in good shape, and the UN Security Mission was largely unharmed, because they had an office out near the airport.

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