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Clinton Airs Views on Iraq, Affirmative Action

Former President Bill Clinton's latest conversation with NPR's Tavis Smiley began on the domestic front, with a plea to support historically black colleges and universities. But it didn't take long for the Iraq debate to come up.

Clinton made a case for giving U.N. arms inspectors more time to work, in light of Iraq's fledgling efforts to destroy long-range missiles. And he expressed concern about going forward without the support of traditional U.S. allies. But he made it clear he believes a war with Iraq would be quick and decisive.

"I wouldn't be opposed to our going in there if that was the only way to disarm him," Clinton said. "Obviously if he can be disarmed without war, that would be the best of all possible routes. I think that can be done and should be."

If conflict does come, Clinton said, he thinks a war could be "over in a week" because of what he sees as the overwhelming capability of U.S. forces and the depletion of Iraq's military strength.

"I think it's important to disarm this man, I think he's a bad fella, but our military superiority is so great -- it's far greater than it was in the Gulf War, and the Gulf War was over in 100 hours after we bombed for 43 days," Clinton said. "And so now they can bomb for a couple of days and then just roll into Baghdad. His military is less than half the strength it was 12 years ago and ours is more sophisticated and better and more modern.

"I think the real thing we have to worry about is whether we have enough support in the world so that it's obvious that we were implementing the human will and not doing a preemptive attack.

"From my perspective, if we have to go in there and kill a bunch of people to disarm him, well, we may have to do that," Clinton concluded. "But we can do that next week as well as today. So I would very much like to see... an effort made to get this thing done without conflict. It may or may not be possible. And I can't tell. The odds are there's going to be a war and it's going to be not for very long."

Affirmative Action and 'The Key'

On the home front, Clinton is working with radio personality Tom Joyner and others to promote The Key, an interactive CD-ROM that profiles more than 100 historically black colleges and offers a guide on how to fill out college applications, apply for financial aid and prepare for entrance exams.

In that vein, he talked at length about the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy -- the object of a potentially divisive legal challenge that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The challenge is supported in part by the Bush administration.

Clinton says he looks forward to "a day when all young Americans will go to institutions of higher learning that are integrated." But he points to the Michigan case as an example of why it's important to support historically black schools in the meantime.

"This attack on affirmative action may shut off even existing avenues of higher education to minority students," Clinton warns.

Still, Clinton expressed optimism about the legal outcome in the Michigan case.

"If the Supreme Court follows its own precedents, the Michigan plan will be upheld," Clinton predicts

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