Bill Clinton in Jerusalem: Imperative the US act in Syria

JERUSALEM — Former President Bill Clinton is adamant the US must do something to help Syria.

“We’ve got to do something there,” Clinton told GlobalPost at Jerusalem’s Mamilla Hotel Cafe Wednesday, after being awarded Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction, the highest award granted to a foreign citizen.

Clinton, also in town to celebrate the 90th birthday of Israeli President Shimon Peres, had stopped to chat with two journalists sharing a drink at the airy cafe, where many other celebrants had gathered. 

He went on to say he believes the crisis is far from a solution, but that it is imperative that the US act. 

It is likely there will be more bloodshed, the former president said, before a combination of diplomatic finesse and more decisive military action can ease Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Clinton also expressed deep concern about the spillover of war into Jordan, and appeared visibly anguished over the possibility of inaction in the face of ongoing violence inside Syria.

In his award acceptance speech earlier in the day at the Jerusalem Convention Center, he spoke with emotion about another period in which the US failed to act decisively to stop a massacre: the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

With Rwandan President Paul Kagame seated in the audience, Clinton spoke candidly about the remorse that weighs on him for not having acted as president to halt the killing.

He described in extraordinary detail a post-presidential visit to the Rwandan capital of Kigali in 1998, which he undertook to apologize to the Rwandan people. The audience was rapt as Clinton spoke; in the hall, you could have heard a pin drop.

"There are no final victories," Clinton said. "There are no perfect warriors for peace. There are no flawless leaders. There is no perfect answer to any of this. Every one of us – each in our own way – will face challenges in our lives, and we will not meet them all."

At the Mamilla Hotel Cafe after the ceremony, GlobalPost asked if the former president had Syria in mind when he spoke so vividly about Rwanda earlier in the day.

"Yes, but not only," he said.

Dressed in chinos and a pink polo shirt, Clinton spoke of the pressures he faced as president, including “the helicopters in Somalia, and the young people working for me who wanted us to help the Muslims in Bosnia.”

Waitresses fluttered about and his staff grew antsy. "Sir, I'm sorry,” one of his staff members said. “We’ve really got to go.”