12 takeaways from the newly released conversations between Clinton and Blair

Transcripts Reveal Clinton Talks with Tony Blair

Everyone knows that Britain and the United States have what diplomats call a "special relationship. But until you've read a transcript of the American president bro-ishly assuring the British prime minister that he still has that "choirboy look," you haven't appreciated just how special that connection can be.

On Friday, the BBC published three years' worth of conversations between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, after obtaining the transcripts via a FOIA request. The dialogues, which date from 1997 to 2000, provide insight into how the two founders of "third way" politics viewed domestic and world affairs during their tenures in power. They also shed light on Bill Clinton's fondness for babysitting and brown bananas.

1. Clinton thought George W. Bush was a smart politician, but unfit for the presidency.
"Bush is a skilled politician, but he is not ready to be president, maybe not ever, certainly not now," Clinton told Blair. "But they want it real bad and they've got lots of money and lots of media access and they are not freshly discredited."

Nonetheless, Clinton told his ally that he expected Gore to win — an assessment he backed away from several weeks later.

"I am just so afraid that all the benefits will be squandered if Bush wins the elections," the president confided. "I still think we have a 50 percent or better chance to win."

"Quite close, isn't it?" Blair asked.

"It shouldn't be. White married Protestants don't think they should be voting for Democrats, partly because of the gun issue that Al and I are taking on," Clinton said, before expressing the paradoxes of American gun politics that would still bedevil his Democratic successor more than a decade later.

"All the specifics people agree with ... It is crazy. You can take a poll about loopholes. Sixty-five percent to 30 percent say yes, but even in New York where it is more liberal than the rest of the country, if Hillary were endorsed by this group that did the Million Mom March, it's like 40 to 40 percent. A lot of the country likes it when we are in, but they have a hard time admitting it."

Clinton went on to express a kind of admiration for the cunning of Bush's smear campaign against John McCain in the South Carolina primary.

"Bush is really smart. The campaign against McCain was the most vicious in modern memory. He has these right-wing foot soldiers do his dirty work, so he can be nice."

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12 takeaways from the newly released conversations between Clinton and Blair
FILE WASHINGTON, DC - JAN 6, 1994: President Bill Clinton is escorted by Hillary to a waiting helicopter. The president was leaving for Arkansas after learning of the death of his mother. (Photo by Margaret Thomas/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and US President barack Obama (R) are greeted by Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) at her residence in Yangon on November 19, 2012 . Obama arrived in Myanmar for a historic visit aimed at encouraging a string of dramatic political reforms in the former pariah state. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) looks on as US President Barack Obama (2nd L) speaks during a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (2nd R) on the sidelines of the East Asian Summit at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on November 20, 2012. During the two-day East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Obama was scheduled to hold talks with the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japan's Yoshihiko Noda. AFP PHOTO / Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton board Air Force One at the airport in Yangon on November 19, 2012. Huge crowds greeted Barack Obama in Myanmar on the first visit by a serving US president to the former pariah state to encourage a string of startling political reforms. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama(2nd-L), First Lady Michelle Obama(L) along with former president Bill Clinton(3rd-L) and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton(4th-L) take part in a wreath-laying ceremony in honour of the late 35th president of the US John F. Kennedy at Kennedy's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery on November 20, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 06: Copies of the German translation of the book 'Hard Choices' ('Entscheidungen' in German) by Hillary Rodham Clinton, former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady of the United States, stand on display at the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 06: Hillary Rodham Clinton, former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady of the United States, speaks during the presentation of the German translation of her book 'Hard Choices' ('Entscheidungen' in German) at the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - JUNE 20: Hillary Rodham Clinton appears on stage during 'A Conversation With Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton' at the Long Center on June 20, 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 06: Hillary Rodham Clinton, former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady of the United States (R), speaks next to Christoph Amend, editor in chief of Zeit Magazin, during the presentation of the German translation of her book 'Hard Choices' ('Entscheidungen' in German) at the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
EAST HAMPTON, NY - AUGUST 16: Hillary Rodham Clinton signs copies of her book 'Hard Choices' at BookHampton on August 16, 2014 in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - JULY 23: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a during a round table event to launch the 'Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing' campaign at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute on July 23, 2014 in Oakland, California. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the 'Talking is Teaching; Talk Read Sing' campaign in partnership withToo Small to Fail and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation that encourages parents and caregivers to close the word gap by talking, singing and reading to children every day from the birth. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 06: Former president of United States (US) Bill Clinton (R) and his wife, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L), leave St. Ignatius Loyola Church after the funeral of former three-term governor Mario Cuomo on January 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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2. Blair was already concerned with mobilizing support for confronting Saddam in 1998.
During a conversation in February 1998, Clinton expressed concerns over both Hussein's weapons program and the potential political costs of failing to confront the Iraqi dictator.

"If people knew how many weapons Unscom inspectors have exposed they would understand why this is so important." Clinton said.

"We are getting new pressures, especially from Capitol Hill, to go after Saddam's head," Vice-President Al Gore told Blair.

Blair said later, "Our public opinion is not the same as yours, but we are working hard to educate the public. We put out a white paper yesterday on Iraq's WMD programs."

3. Clinton likened stateless terrorists to James Bond villains.
In another foreshadowing of the war on terror that lay ahead, Clinton predicted that the West would "increasingly have to deal with terrorists with no ties to any nation-state, including Iran ... In the case of a lot of Middle East and African countries, we could be dealing with these people, like in those old James Bond movies with SPECTRE and Dr. No. We're going to have a twenty-first century version of those."

4. Blair and Clinton shared a moment after the death of Princess Diana.
One day after Princess Di was killed in a Paris car crash, the two leaders commiserated over the phone. Clinton lamented that Diana was "just getting a hold of her life," while Blair expressed concerns for the royal children.

5. Clinton can believe that Blair was once a choirboy.

6. Clinton couldn't get a read on Gerry Adams.
Many of the leaders' conversations focused on the Northern Ireland peace process. Clinton repeatedly assured Blair that he'd do whatever the prime minister asked to help facilitate an agreement.

At one point in June 1999, Chelsea Clinton, then at Stanford, was writing a paper on Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams — a school assignment that prompted her father to question the MP's relationship with the IRA.

"I've been reading about it all through this, because my daughter just happens to be doing a paper on Adams," Clinton told Blair. "I don't know what the real deal is between him and the IRA. It's hard to put pressure on him when you don't know what's going on. It's just bizarre."

7. Blair thinks Africa is a "fascinating continent"
Blair's fascination with Africa — both as a continent and moneymaking opportunity — proved to be sincere.

8. Boris Yeltsin introduced Clinton to nose-to-tail cooking before it was fashionable.
"
When I had lunch with Boris, he served roast pig and told me real men hack off the ears and eat them," Clinton divulged. "And once he served 24 courses, including moose lips."

9. Trump isn't the only American political figure who fell for Putin's wiles.
Shortly after Vladimir Putin's election to the Russian presidency, Clinton told Blair that he had high hopes for the new leader.

"Putin has enormous potential," Clinton said. "I think he's very smart and thoughtful. I think we can do a lot of good with him."

10. Blair put Bill on his babysitter's list.

11. Blair may have ordered the extrajudicial execution of a telephone operator.

12. Clinton preferred to talk to Blair while keeping one hand on a big brown banana.
"My staff won't let me talk to you unless I have a banana at hand," the leader of the free world confessed. "I'm sitting here with a banana; it's a big, ugly, brownish one."

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