Former President Clinton, seeking to clarify a recent assertion that he was against the Iraq war "from the beginning," said Monday he's maintained all along that United Nations weapons inspectors should have been given more time to complete their work in Iraq prior to the United States-led 2003 invasion.
Had the inspectors been given that time, Mr. Clinton told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Monday, "There would have been no war."
While stumping for his wife, presidential contender and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in Iowa late last month, Mr. Clinton said, "Even though I approved of Afghanistan, and I opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still regret that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers." He was referring to a tax cut he, Hillary and other wealthy Americans got using money that could have gone to the military.
But a review of previous remarks by Mr. Clinton revealed that, among other things, he said in May 2003, "I supported the president (Bush) when he asked for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
Critics have called such remarks inconsistent.
But Mr. Clinton remarked to Smith Monday that he's said "a hundred times" that the weapons inspectors needed more time on the ground. "Nobody ever said it before because everybody who knows what was going on and knows me knows that I was trying to get even a new U.N. resolution passed," the former president said. "I was involved with an effort behind the scenes to talk to some people around the world to try to see if we could get another resolution passed to give (the inspectors) some more time.
"I supported threatening Saddam so we could do the inspections, but I believe -- I even believe the Senate resolution, if you read it, said that the force was authorized if the diplomatic efforts -- i.e. -- the inspections -- failed.
"The mistake we made was not letting the inspections finish. If they had, there would have been no war. And i was always against doing it without the inspections.
"Now, after Saddam was deposed, the united nations' position was we should all do what we can to make it work, and everybody was hoping it would. And still, I think we should still hope it works. We should hope those people have a government that's representative and that they can work out their oil deals and their conflicts and go on to a better life.
"But I believe it was a serious error to go in there before the inspectors finished. And as you (Smith) pointed out, most of my speeches weren't getting covered by the press, and we didn't copy them or anything back then. But we do have several records, including one six days before the invasion where I said I don't think they should do this until the inspections finished. That was the deal.
"And if we had done it, there would have been no war."
Asked about remarks by civil rights icon Andrew Young that another candidate for the Democratic presidential nod, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, would make a good president -- in 2016 -- and that Young feels Mr. Clinton is "as black as Barack," Mr. Clinton chuckled and he and young had "been friends a long time, and you know, my (current) office (being) in Harlem, I've always been close to the African-American community. I think we're trying to build an America where we're all pulling in the same direction. And you know, Hillary and I have been working on a lot of these issues together that are very important to African-Americans now.
Later, the former president added, "I think that there are a lot of people across the color line now that want to give all our children a chance and all our people a chance, and that's the kind of America we've got to build."
Mr. Clinton appeared on The Early Show to discuss his book, "Giving," and talk up charitable ventures.
He and Smith were in Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention. While it isn't connected to the Clinton Foundation, it is viewed as emblematic of how giving can provide immense benefit for those in need. From the $6 million gift from Lauren that got the ball rolling, to small donations that help services continue, to the people who work there -- many of the medical staffers could have much more lucrative careers -- the Lauren Center helps fills are urgent void in medcial care in the urban community.
To read an excerpt of "Giving," click here.
Copyright 2007 CBS. All rights reserved.