By: E&P Staff
Bob Woodward is back on the front page of The Washington Post on Thursday with a Watergate-era figure, but this time the subject is a very current one: the Iraq war. In the article, Woodward reveals that the late President Gerald R. Ford said in a four-hour embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified.
“I don’t think I would have gone to war,” he said, according to Woodward, who notes that the 2003 invasion was advocated and carried out “by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.”
Woodward discloses that the interview was for one of his future books, and Ford had said he could not release any of the contents until after he had died.
In the tape-recorded 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. Woodward reveals that Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of his former chiefs Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
“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.”
Ford also discussed his relationship with Henry Kissinger, his 1976 race for the White House and other subjects.
Other highlights from the Woodward article follow. The whole thing can be found at www.washingtonpost.com, along with audio samples.
— “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.”
— Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. “I don’t think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly,” he said, “I don’t think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.”
— In the end … it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.
“Well,” he said, “I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it.”