In perhaps the most vehement disagreement of the afternoon, Mr. Bush said, “I don’t buy the premise that our attention was diverted.
“I think it’s false — in fact, I know it’s false, I was there. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein made the world a more peaceful place,” he said to hearty applause from the audience of Canadians, who have been steadfast U.S. allies in the Iraq war.
Mr. Clinton expressed remorse for not doing more as president to prevent the 1994 tragedy in Rwanda, when some 800,000 people were killed in a 100-day period. “I have no defense. We did not even have a meeting on it in the White House,” he said, calling it “one of the greatest regrets of my presidency.”
Asked about genocide in Darfur, where an estimated 400,000 people have been killed, Mr. Bush said, “The first option is, let’s go get ‘em.”
But there was a consensus in the White House, he said, that the United States not act unilaterally, that it would be “another invasion of another Muslim country.” Privately, he has expressed frustration that foreign leaders, including in the United Nations, failed to step up.
“The U.N. is a vital institution, but it is not really meant for problem solving,” Mr. Bush said to laughter and applause. He also defended Mr. Clinton on Rwanda, saying, “I think you’re being a little tough on yourself. You can’t just pick up the phone and say, ‘20,000 troops.’ ”
On the issue of same-sex marriage, Mr. Bush said he doesn’t agree with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. But Mr. Clinton said his view on the issue is evolving, although he deferred to the states, saying, “I was hoping we’d stay away from national amendments.”
Mr. Clinton praised his successor for his efforts on AIDS in Africa and also for what he said was “the most racially and ethnically diverse Cabinet of anyone in history.”
But by then, after the last question of the day, people in the audience were streaming out the doors. Kyle Ratham of Toronto said he had hoped for more. “I thought they were going to debate, not agree on everything. I’m disappointed.”
Outside, several hundred protesters behind barricades across the street grouped the two presidents together. “Bush and Clinton: War Criminals Not Welcome in Toronto,” said one large banner. The crowd chanted. “Arrest George Bush,” while some protesters held signs that said, “Clinton’s Sanctions Killed 1,000,000 Iraqis.”
To people pouring out of the convention center, one protester yelled: “You’re on the wrong side of the street!”
By James A. Lyons
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