What I wanted to ask Bill Clinton

(Resurrected from Aspen blog site)

A year ago, I had the chance to interview Bill Clinton on stage at the Aspen Ideas festival. (Description of the oddity of the whole situation here; video archive here.) This year Rick Stengel of Time magazine ably played that role. During the time for audience questions, I queued up to ask Clinton about something he had said. But as the clock ticked down at the end of the session, Stengel announced that there was time for one more question -- and the turn belong to a woman just ahead of me (and, to be fair about it, I'd already had more than my chance to pose questions to Clinton).

Here is what I wanted to ask. Sometime I would love to hear an answer:

The question involved a clarification, and a speculation. Early in his talk, Bill Clinton said something quite startling on its face. These aren't the exact words, but the effect was: Bad as the civilian casualties have been in Iraq, they would have been far worse had the U.S. military not been there. He went on to extrapolate, from death rates in the Balkans, that hundreds of thousands more Iraqi civilians might have died in the absence of U.S. troops than actually have done so with Americans there.

First part of the question: clarification. Were you saying, Mr. President, that hundreds of thousands would have died if the U.S. military had pulled out just after deposing Saddam Hussein? (Ie, leaving a leaderless country to sectarian slaughter and civil war?) Or were you suggesting that that the civilian death toll would have been higher if the U.S. had not invaded at all?

Second part: More generally, could you please speculate about the alternative-history of Iraq. What do you think would have happened if the United States had not invaded in March, 2003?

Maybe next year! I suspect that Iraq will still be on the agenda.