WASHINGTON (AFP) – Former US president
Bill Clinton sharply criticised George W. Bush for the
Iraq War and the handling of Hurricane Katrina, and voiced alarm at the swelling US budget deficit.
Breaking with tradition under which US presidents mute criticisms of their successors, Clinton said the Bush administration had decided to invade Iraq “virtually alone and before UN inspections were completed, with no real urgency, no evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction.”
The Iraq war diverted US attention from the war on terrorism “and undermined the support that we might have had,” Bush said in an interview with an ABC’s “This Week” programme.
Clinton said there had been a “heroic but so far unsuccessful” effort to put together an constitution that would be universally supported in Iraq.
The US strategy of trying to develop the Iraqi military and police so that they can cope without US support “I think is the best strategy. The problem is we may not have, in the short run, enough troops to do that,” said Clinton.
On Hurricane Katrina, Clinton faulted the authorities’ failure to evacuate New Orleans ahead of the storm’s strike on August 29.
People with cars were able to heed the evacuation order, but many of those who were poor, disabled or elderly were left behind.
“If we really wanted to do it right, we would have had lots of buses lined up to take them out,” Clinton.
He agreed that some responsibility for this lay with the local and state authorities, but pointed the finger, without naming him, at the former director of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
FEMA boss Michael Brown quit in response to criticism of his handling of the Katrina disaster. He was viewed as a political appointee with no experience of disaster management or dealing with government officials.
“When James Lee Witt ran FEMA, because he had been both a local official and a federal official, he was always there early, and we always thought about that,” Clinton said, referring to FEMA’s head during his 1993-2001 presidency.
“But both of us came out of environments with a disproportionate number of poor people.”
On the US budget, Clinton warned that the federal deficit may be coming untenable, driven by foreign wars, the post-hurricane recovery programme and tax cuts that benefitted just the richest one percent of the US population, himself included.
“What Americans need to understand is that … every single day of the year, our government goes into the market and borrows money from other countries to finance Iraq,
Afghanistan, Katrina, and our tax cuts,” he said.
“We have never done this before. Never in the history of our republic have we ever financed a conflict, military conflict, by borrowing money from somewhere else.”
Clinton added: “We depend on Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Korea primarily to basically loan us money every day of the year to cover my tax cut and these conflicts and Katrina. I don’t think it makes any sense.”