Ford Speaks From Grave on Iraq, Cheney, Kissinger
WaPo fronts a Bob Woodward piece airing the late President Gerald Ford’s views on the Iraq War and various public figures, including Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Henry Kissinger.
Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.
In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford “very strongly” disagreed with the current president’s justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney — Ford’s White House chief of staff — and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief. “Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “And now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”
Of course, this is hardly a prescient set of insights sixteen months into the war. By that point, we had known for over a year that the Iraqi nuclear program had been destroyed and that the remaining chemical and biological weapons stockpiles were minimal.
In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy. “Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty to free people.” But the former president said he was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.” He added: “And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”
But, of course, that has long been and remains our foreign policy. There are lots of people living under tyranny that the Bush Administration has made no effort to free, let alone with military force. Saddam Hussein was a longstanding enemy of the United States who was also a brutal tyrant repressing his own people; were he merely the latter, we would not have invaded.
Ford also says that Dick Cheney was a “first class” chief of staff but had developed “a fever” about Iraq and terrorism. Both are likely true. The first Iraq War was the signature event during his tenure as SECDEF under Bush the Elder and the twelve years following its cease-fire were a pretty good indication that the job had been left unfinished. It’s hardly surprising that he was more interested than most in closing the chapter on that. As for terrorism, there was the little matter of the 9/11 attacks.
There are also several paragraphs wherein Ford assesses Henry Kissinger as an insecure prima donna. That’s pretty much conventional wisdom at this point.
In the main, I would prefer that people who held positions of great responsibility, especially former presidents of the United States, to refrain from writing tell-all books and confessing their secrets to the likes of Bob Woodward. That’s especially true if they are going to embargo their remarks until their death. There’s something quite unseemly, even cowardly, about criticizing people you worked with years, even decades, after the fact.