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Clinton Challenges Students to Integrate Diverse World

Former President Bill Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – Former President Bill Clinton told UB students Wednesday that while they may be living in a perilous world, they're experiencing the most interesting times in human history. He said their challenge is to find ways of integrating the world's peoples now that his generation has torn down the barriers between them.

Indeed, Bill Clinton is no stranger to Buffalo. As president, he visited here on two occasions. And his talk at UB marked his second appearance here since leaving the White House early last year. Clinton waived his usual speaking fee to address an audience that was made up primarily of students.

He told them the greatest threat they face as they try to build a future comes from the marriage of ancient hatreds with modern weapons. Clinton said their challenge is to successfully integrate an increasingly more diverse world.

"I believe that you live at the moment of greatest possibility in all of human history. I believe that this is the most interesting time to be alive ever, if we can get this one thing right," Clinton said. "We have built a world without walls. You have to figure out how to share it with all the world's children."

Clinton said people in third world nations don't dislike Americans because of our prosperity. He said the hatred from some is a result of a perception that this country is unwilling to help them. He said just one percent of the U.S. budget is currently earmarked for foreign aid. During his administration, Clinton said this country learned how to more effectively distribute such aid -- making sure it's spent on education, health care and economic development. He said the best example of how powerful of an investment foreign aid can be occurred in the years following World War II.

"Did the tiny fraction that we spent in the past 60 years for the Marshall Plan and related efforts make our lives more peaceful and safer," the former president asked his audience. "You bet it did. So we need to take some money and build a world with more friends and fewer adversaries."

But Clinton was also pragmatic about the need to better protect Americans from overseas terrorism. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Clinton told an aide he was talking with that "bin Laden did this." He supports President Bush's war on terrorism, saying U.S. forces need to finish their work in Afghanistan. And he suggested better use of information technology would go a long way toward making our borders more secure. Clinton said the CIA already had information in their computers about some of the September 11th terrorists. He said they just didn't know they had it.

"So before we restrict the civil liberties of Americans or herd people together because of their religion or where they came from, we ought to use the information we already have in the most efficient way to try and identify potential terrorists and prevent attacks," Clinton said.

As violence continues to plague the Middle East, the former president said he was very close to reaching a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians during the waning days of his administration. He said they fell just short. But Clinton said for peace to ever be achieved in that strife-torn region, the U.S. will have to play a leadership role. He praised Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying that if he's allowed to, Powell will figure out what to do.

"The Secretary of State may get a cease fire today. Or he may not," Clinton continued. "But the important thing for America is to cover this thing like a wet blanket because nobody else can do it. We should not worry about whether we succeed or fail. We should worry about keeping (Israeli and Palestinian) children alive and giving them their future."

Reaction was largely positive to Clinton's address. He received three standing ovations from the crowd of more than seven thousand people. UB Political Scientist Jim Twombly said Clinton's speech was one of his best. He said two points stood out for him.

"One was the call to come together and overcome our differences and make our diversity our strength," Twombly said. "Secondly was his comments about the need to save Social Security for these young people. He (Clinton) said the trust fund must remain viable so that when it's time for these students' parents to retire, that retirement or any potential ill health does not become a financial burden."

The former president's remarks were also well received by students. Tae Ciardi, a pharmacy student, described Clinton as charasmatic and inspiring.

"He's very intellectual," she said. "It's so great to hear from someone who knows policy and knows what he's talking about."

Since leaving office, Clinton said he spends half his time on public service projects. He's working on such diverse programs as AIDS prevention and economic development that would benefit people in the Middle East, Africa, India and Latin America. Clinton also say he continues to raise money for his planned presidential library.