Clinton 'full of regret' bin Laden got away

September 4, 2002

Clinton told King that the September 11 attacks showed the world that bin Laden must be "eradicated."

  Dole: The September 11 college fund will be "a gift that lasts."
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton is "full of regret" that the United States did not stop Osama bin Laden before the September 11 terrorist attacks, he told CNN Tuesday, but is confident about the end result of the U.S. war on terrorism.
 In a wide-ranging interview on CNN's "Larry King Live," Clinton said his first thought that day, after the second plane hit the World Trade Center, was: "Bin Laden did this."

His former adviser, Bruce Lindsey, narrated the events to Clinton, who was overseas at the time. "He said, 'How can you be sure?'"

"I said, 'Because only bin Laden and the Iranians could set up the network to do this, and they (the Iranians) wouldn't do it because they have a country and targets. Bin Laden did it.'"

Realizing the al Qaeda leader was behind the attacks proved what he knew all along, he said -- that bin Laden is "smart" and has the resources to carry out his plans.  But it also showed the world that bin Laden must be "completely defeated and eradicated," Clinton said.

"I thought that my virtual obsession with him was well placed, and I was full of regret that I didn't get him," he said.

President Bush is equally obsessed, as he should be, Clinton said, adding he has supported "everything he's done in Afghanistan."  Clinton said he believes there will be future terrorist attacks but thinks the U.S. defenses will also improve.

"Could there be more?  Of course there could be.  Can we do a better job of defense?  Yes, we can.  Have we learned a lot from September 11?  We have," Clinton said.  "So I'm basically very, very confident about the long-run future of this.  I just think we've got a lot of diligent, difficult work to do."

He said he believes bin Laden is still alive.

Consensus on Iraq

King then turned his attention to Iraq, asking both Clinton and former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, who was also on the program, whether the United States should attack.

"I think only if we not only consult with Congress, but have a vote," said Dole, who served in Congress for more than 30 years. "And then I think I would try the arms inspection one more time, but not let Iraq delay and dither and all those things."

Clinton agreed with Dole that the president should have congressional approval, not simply advice.  And the former president indicated he favors cooperation with U.S. allies in making a decision.

He said he supports a new regime to replace that of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.  The challenge, he said, will be the lack of surprise this time around.

"If he has chemical and biological agents -- and I believe he does -- he will have no incentive not to use them if he knew he was going to be killed anyway and deposed," Clinton said. "He's got a lot of incentive not to use them now because he knows he'll be toast if he does."

The question is not whether to attack Iraq, but how, and under what circumstances, he said.

Scholarship fund surpasses $100 million

 The two men, who faced off against each other in the 1996 presidential campaign, appeared on "Larry King" to promote a college fund they both lead for families of September 11 victims and those left disabled by the attacks. Created 11 months ago, the "Families of Freedom Fund" has just reached its goal of raising more than $100 million.

The scholarship fund guarantees a college education, whether it is a four-year university, a two-year college, or a certification training course.

"It's going to fit almost every need," Dole said. "It's going to be a gift that lasts."

Amount given is based on need, Clinton said, and is not restricted to those with U.S. citizenship.

"The maximum grant is $28,000 a year for people who have got other resources that are going to expensive schools. The average grant is over $13,000 a year, and even people with real resources who suffered get a minimum of $1,000," Clinton said.

So far, just 2,100 people have contacted the fund, and both men urged more September 11 families to apply by calling 1-877-862-0136.