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The blogosphere is abuzz today about the Bob Woodward interview that took place in July 2004 with now-deceased former President Gerald Ford about Iraq and other topics. In the interview, Ford criticized the Iraq invasion, opposing the decision and claiming that he would have looked harder for other options:
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." ...
The Ford interview -- and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 -- took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death.
It's the last part I want to address first. It seems more than just a little craven to issue such biting criticisms to a journalist like Bob Woodward, but then insist that they be released only posthumously. It's a shame, because Ford had real political courage -- no man could have survived the post-Watergate mess without it -- but this is a sad denouement. If Ford opposed it, he could easily have spoken out against the invasion, either before or after the interview, and yet he decided to keep his mouth shut until such a point when he did not have to face criticism himself for his statements. I think that's something on which proponents and opponents of the war could find agreement.
Even in getting to the heart of his argument, though, Ford is just plain wrong. Further sanctions would not have changed anything, which we knew by the time Ford gave this interview. We had imposed sanctions on Saddam Hussein for twelve years, and he still regularly attacked the forces imposing them on him. By summer of 2004, the complete corruption of both the sanctions and the UN program to feed and succor ordinary Iraqis had been completely exposed, and we knew about the billions of dollars both placed into Saddam's pockets.
In fact, George Bush had planned to impose a slate of so-called "super sanctions" on Iraq just before the 9/11 attacks. That day changed all the calculations. Every Western intelligence service reported that Saddam had continued to retain his WMD stocks, and the UN had reported that Saddam refused to account for known WMD materials throughout the sanctions regimes. The question then became whether we wanted to wait for Saddam to attack us or whether we would end twelve years of low-level war and useless sanctions with a regime that had thumbed its nose at the UN and violated the terms of the cease-fire that kept it alive in the first place.
And by the fall of 2001, the sanctions had effectively collapsed. France and Russia sold Saddam military materials by routing them through Syria in defiance of their own votes at the UN Security Council. Both campaigned endlessly for an end to the sanctions regime, not for an increased set of economic penalties on Saddam. Both wanted to start exercising the oil leases that Saddam arranged as an incentive to lift the sanctions off of his regime.
Ford spent his two years as a non-confrontational President on the world stage. He championed detente and peaceful co-existence with the Soviets, although he never went anywhere near as far as Jimmy Carter, who infamously bussed Leonid Brezhnev just before Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan. Ford was no isolationist, but he didn't believe in actively fighting for American security abroad in the manner dictated by the Islamist threat. That's no great shame, but it isn't exactly a surprise, either. I would not have expected anything else from Ford and would have been surprised had he supported the Iraq invasion. I am a little surprised that he would have taken the easy way out in opposing the effort, however.
UPDATE: Bill Bennett agrees with my first point.
UPDATE II: I took Germany out of the sanctions-breakers, per Ralf in the comments; I don't have citations for any German sanction-breaking on military equipment.Sphere It View blog reactions
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Tracked on December 28, 2006 9:43 AM
» Woodward: Ford disagreed with Bush over Iraq invasion from SevenStripes.com
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who’s had a knack for stirring political controversy over his journalistic career, is kicking up another hullabaloo today after releasing an interview taken with the late President Gerald Ford over his opin... [Read More]
Tracked on December 28, 2006 10:20 AM
» Citizen Ford on the war in Iraq from Bill's Bites
Ford On IraqEd Morrissey The blogosphere is abuzz today about the Bob Woodward interview that took place in July 2004 with now-deceased former President Gerald Ford about Iraq and other topics. In the interview, Ford criticized the Iraq invasion, opposing [Read More]
Tracked on December 28, 2006 1:40 PM
Tracked on December 28, 2006 2:13 PM
» Gerald Ford's Indecent Interval from Jon Swift
Releasing the Ford's interview about Iraq posthumously deprived us of the opportunity to accuse the 93-year-old former President of being a traitor and of wanting America to lose. [Read More]
Tracked on December 29, 2006 2:10 PM
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