Former U.S. President Bill Clinton listens during a panel discussion at the opening plenary session of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), on September 22, 2014 in New York City.
Photo by John Moore/Getty

Bill Clinton: No land war in Iraq

NEW YORK – Former President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that the U.S. is likely to be involved in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for “a while,” hours after the Obama administration launched its first airstrikes of the conflict into Syria. 

“I think it will be an extended involvement with air power and with providing intelligence and other institutional support” to allies, Clinton told CNBC’s Becky Quick during an interview at the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference here.

He ruled out ground troops, however. “We don’t need to be there on the ground. And I don’t think that it means a land war in Iraq,” the former president continued.

But Clinton, who said he thinks the administration’s strategy has “a chance to succeeded,” wouldn’t say whether he thought the U.S. should be arming moderate Syrian rebels. 

“That’s above my pay grade,” he said, noting he no longer has access to the intelligence reports. “The more I tell you about, the more likely I am to cause trouble for the decision makers. I don’t know I know enough to make an intelligent comment,” he said. 

Previously, Clinton has said he agreed with his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who pushed the administration to arm the moderate rebels more than a year ago. 

Bill Clinton will share the stage with President Obama at CGI later today. 

The former president also decried ISIS’s beheading of Syrian soldiers, saying that even while the U.S. does not support the Syrian regime, “those soldiers were just people doing their job and they deserve to be treated by the rules of war.”

Clinton dodged questions on his wife’s potential presidential ambition.

Asked about so-called inversions, Clinton would not say whether he thought companies moving aboard for tax reasons are “patriotic.” 

He added that while he supports the White House’s executive action to make inversions less appealing, the only way the issue will be solved is by reforming the tax code.

“America has to face the facts that we have not reformed our corporate tax code” in years, he said, noting the country has highest tax rate in the developed world.

The Clinton Global Initiative, annual conference of philanthropy and global development, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year