Thursday, December 28, 2006

Former Pres. Ford Opposed the Iraq War

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Bob Woodward's WaPo piece about an interview he did with former President Gerald Ford in which Ford revealed his opposition to the Iraq war created a mini-uproar earlier today on Memeorandum. The controversy is not so much over the fact that Ford disagreed with Bush's decision to invade Iraq, as it is over the fact that Ford only agreed to the interview on the condition that his statements about the war not be made public until after his death.

Here is part of what Ford said in the interview:

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."

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."

Scarecrow, blogging at Firedoglake, blames Woodward for keeping his promise not to publish or reveal the interview until now:

Gee, that Bob Woodward fellow knows a lot of interesting stuff. Like things that, had he reported them earlier, might have stopped a war, or changed an election.
Of course, it's not uncommon or unethical for reporters to interview famous people about sensitive matters on the condition that the information will not be disclosed until much later, like after the person's death. I'm okay with that.

But when a reporter is in possession of information that is vital to the country, that might change whether we go to war or whom we elect for president, and the only reason for withholding the information is to protect the person interviewed from embarrassing his own party — well, there must be some other principle that applies, don'tcha think? And doesn't a reporter then have an obligation to work his butt off to obtain permission or find some ethical way to report what he knows when we need to know it? Just askin, cause this is getting to be a habit, and it's . . . uh, annoying.

Ed Morrissey, despite disagreeing with Ford's argument that further sanctions could have prevented the war, thinks that it would have been more courageous and principled of Ford if he had revealed his opposition when it could have made a difference:

... 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.

Steve Benen, posting at The Carpetbagger Report and at The Washington Monthly, thinks it would have been nice if Ford had shared his views on the war while he was alive, but doubts that events would have unfolded much differently even if he had.

Shakes, though, feels very strongly that Ford should have said something:
Maybe it would have made absolutely no difference if Ford had said this shit publicly instead of telling Woodward it could only be published upon his death. Then again, maybe it would have. It would have been nice if we'd had the chance to find out. What I'm not sure I understand is why Ford felt compelled to keep his thoughts private. Was he keen to protect himself against criticism, to protect the GOP, to protect Bush? None of the above sound to my sensibilities like justifiable reasons to keep one's mouth shut if there's even the slimmest of chances that speaking up could avert a war -- a war which has left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or displaced and has seen more soldiers die than the number of people killed on 9/11.

I've really no understanding nor admiration for anyone who is willing to let other people be courageous and risk death so that they can be cowards and avoid risking anything.

I certainly agree that Ford should have voiced his qualms about the war when he felt them -- but I cannot imagine that it would have made any practical difference if he had. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Rice formed their own little cabal, and they were not listening to anyone who did not think along the same lines they did. Bush said time and again in the days and weeks before the invasion that his decision was not going to be influenced by anything that anyone said. Everything he has said and done since then only serves to demonstrate that on this point, if on no other, he was being truthful.

Frogsdong expresses what I feel in a comment on Shakes's post:

This may be my first disagreement with the Great Ms Shakes and her community (generally speaking).

I don't think it would have done anything. It wouldn't have averted a war because the interview was after the war started. Ford was not the first serious person with credibility to oppose the war. There were other Republicans who opposed it at the time, but also there were all those diplomats who signed that letter saying they opposed the war. I remember that one. The fact is that every statement of opposition to the war was handled the same way at that time: a swarm of the noise machine screamed loudly on all fronts and with every argument, serious or not (and usually they were not), the story became the noise machine, not the war, and that was that. Let's play post-event prognostication (a fun game for all ages). What would have been the response to the publication of this article in, say, August of 2004?

The noise machine would have screamed that Ford was: a) senile, b)crazy, c)stupid, d)insignificant, e)out of touch, f)playing football without a helmet again, g)a liberal (he was a moderate, Rockefeller Republican and pretty liberal on social issues), h)drunk, i)lying, j)the victim of misquoting by Woodward, k)all of the above and more.

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