This is fascinating. Two interviews with former President Ford before he died and two almost polar opposite positions taken by the ex-President (according to the reporters) regarding his support for the Iraq War.
First, Bob Woodward’s taped interview with the former President that was embargoed until after he died:
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.”
Did Ford say that the Iraq War was “not justified?” Or did he say that he would not have used the justification of WMD as a causus belli?
According to Thomas DeFrank, the other interviewer, it’s the latter:
“Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him,” he observed, “but we shouldn’t have put the basis on weapons of mass destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does [Bush] get his advice?”
Ford was predictably defensive about Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, his two White House chiefs of staff. Asked why Cheney had tanked in public opinion polls, he smiled. “Dick’s a classy guy, but he’s not an electrified orator.”
If Ford believed “there was justification” to get rid of Saddam, then we are left with something of a conundrum; which Ford should we believe? After all, he told DeFrank that he actually supported the war:
Ford was a few weeks shy of his 93rd birthday as we chatted for about 45 minutes. He’d been visited by President Bush three weeks earlier and said he’d told Bush he supported the war in Iraq but that the 43rd President had erred by staking the invasion on weapons of mass destruction.
So why the massive feeding frenzy by the left (and the handwringing on the right) over Woodward’s embargoed interview (that Ed Morrissey believes reflects badly on the ex-President) while few if any bloggers are looking at the DeFrank piece?
First, I have little doubt that our invasion of Iraq made Ford very uncomfortable. One need only listen to his acolyte Brent Scowcroft to discern the realpolitik thinking about Iraq and the Middle East of which Ford was enamored. In the realists world, Iraq was a secular bulwark against radical Iran. It is interesting to note that Ford supported George Bush 41 in not going “on to Baghdad” in 1991. Scowcroft believed (and we might extrapolate that Ford agreed with him) that even a de-fanged Saddam confronting Iran was preferable to a weak and divided Iraq at Iran’s mercy.
But after 9/11 and Dick Cheney’s “One Percent” doctrine (that if there was a 1% chance that a nation was a threat to attack America with WMD, the threat must be eliminated) that kind of “realism” lost out to the seductive idea that not only could the Saddam threat be neutralized but that bringing democracy to Iraq would have a salutatory effect on efforts to promote democracy in the entire region.
Leave aside for the moment the realist’s belief that our real interests in the Middle East lay with the corrupt Kingdoms who sit on most of the world’s oil and that Israel was, if not expendable, certainly a secondary concern and depending on who was advising the President, an obstacle to stability in the region. The fact is, we can both promote democracy and work for stability at the same time.
A tricky balancing act to be sure but not impossible. And judging by recent events, it appears that this may be what we are going to try. Going on under the media radar have been historic elections in Qatar, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia (and earlier, Lebanon). The momentum toward increased participation by the people of the Middle East is growing. And for all the blunders, the mistakes, the tragic stupidities that have marked our efforts in Iraq, the idea that these events have taken place because of the invasion and subsequent elections in Iraq cannot be dismissed out of hand.
I think that Ford told Bush exactly what he wanted to hear; that he supported him. This despite the reservations he expressed to Woodward. And indeed, the fact that he embargoed the interview with Woodward would seem to support that contention. But Ford was if nothing else, a man who treasured loyalty. It is not surprising that he would suppress his misgivings about Iraq while he was alive.
Make sure you read DeFrank’s article about his last visit with the ex-President. It is an uncommonly frank portrayal of a man who knows he doesn’t have long to live and, with misty eyed reflection, watches as the highlights of his life roll past him.