Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ford opposed Iraq War

Watergate refuses to die and some of the people involved directly or indirectly with it.

In today's edition of the Washington Post, Bob Woodward -- still the two most feared words in DC and who helped expose the affair -- reveals something that could be very embarrassing for George W. Bush who just yesterday praised Gerald R. Ford for "healing" the country. In an interview conducted during the 2004 election but "embargoed" until now, Woodward (who conducted the interview for a forthcoming book but was free to release the tapes upon Ford's passing as per their agreement) now reveals Ford felt the Iraq war was a mistake. More shocking were Ford's extremely critical words for Dubya, Cheney (Ford's chief of staff) and even Rumsfeld (who served as Secretary of Defense under Ford three decades before his second go under GWB) -- although Ford spoke with fondness about his time with them during the 1970s.

Ford took issue with Bush's belief (along with many televangelists who support him) that it's his God-given duty to spread democracy throughout the Middle East. Here's the money quote: "Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people. Whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interests, there comes a point where they conflict. 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." [Emphasis added.] Ford said if it was up to him, he would have given sanctions against Iraq as well as inspections more time. Way, way more time.

It could be because the United States was bitten by Vietnam, but it seems only Ford learned the lessons of that terrible war -- um, police action.

Ford also explained why, in 1975, he stripped Henry Kissinger of his national security advisor role (he was both the NSA as well as Secretary of State). As he saw it, the role of a security chief is to provide unbiased advice on foreign policy, free from the taint of bias that can often come from the Defense and State Departments as well as the CIA. By wearing two hats, Henry Kissinger was trying to play the field both ways and thus his advice was anything but unbiased.

Ford also touches on his decision to drop Nelson Rockefeller, his Vice-President, late in the 1976 election and replacing him with Bob Dole, who himself ran against Slick Willy Clinton 20 years later. Ford told Woodward he regretted making that decision, saying he had caved into the religious right who vowed to sit at home rather than vote for a ticket that included a liberal Republican from New York.

Without saying it directly Woodward -- himself a Republican -- appears to imply that decision may have set the stage for the right wing's takeover of the GOP in 1980 and its dominance of the agenda and platform ever since. Push a little, move a mountain -- rather than one's faith being able to move a mountain.

I am troubled by one aspect. It's not about Ford's pardon of Nixon, which Woodward also discusses in today's edition (and I agree with Woodward there never was a quid pro quo.) Nor is it about whether the pardon was responsible for Ford losing in 1976 (it wasn't, it was the way the war ended as well as the step-ladder inflation that plagued not just Ford but many other Western leaders at the time).

No ... it's the fact Ford never could find it within himself to make his criticisms public while he was alive.

Other Presidents weren't afraid to so criticize their colleagues. Reagan regularly bashed Carter throughout his Presidency with his "Morning in America" crap rather than taking Carter's counsel to make America energy independent by 2000. (Instead, Rumsfeld and Cheney who later served under Reagan coddled Iraq as well as the Taliban -- decisions which had ramifications for later years. I remain convinced that had the West gotten off Middle East oil by now, 9/11 would never have happened -- or it could have been stopped.) Reagan was also not afraid to take shots at Clinton before being elected and just weeks after Slick was inaugurated Reagan actually took out an op-ed piece in the NYT slamming Clinton's policies.

Carter has not been afraid to regularly criticize efforts by both Republican and Democratic administrations to undermine his peacemaking efforts. Heck, even Bush 43 condemned Reagan for pulling the Marines out of Beirut after the barracks bombing that killed 200 + of the "Few Good Men" -- and women.

So why Ford's silence? Maybe because he understood that as having been not elected as either President or Vice-President, he never had a real mandate and thus had less authority to speak out than other people. Or maybe it's because Congress reclaimed a lot of its powers during his time in office and Ford was trying to restore the balance -- which Cheney and Rumsfeld believed undermined the Executive. (Of course, under their watch and 43's, the pendulum has swung even further than it did under Nixon to the point where Congress became a rubber stamp.)

Maybe it was just his personality. Nearly everyone who has eulogized him, on both sides of the aisle, has spoken of him as a genuinely nice guy, never rude or overly critical and never using a cuss word. But the opinion of ex-world leaders do carry moral force. Because so few human beings ever get to sit in the corner office -- whether in the political or business worlds -- those men and women know what it's like to have the burden of Atlas, so when they speak they do so with authority. There's a difference between being shrill, like Michael Moore can sometimes be, and being pointed and constructive with criticism.

I doubt Ford's words would have changed the 2004 election results that much, had such comments been "unembargoed." But a fair number of moderate Republicans might have been persuaded to switch their votes, enough that the Reagan Democrat era would have ended two years earlier than it did last month. President Bush also needs to seriously consider what Ford said in mulling over whether to send even more troops to Iraq. LBJ tried escalating Vietnam and we all know what happened there.

Still, Ford's words are truly haunting. We can only speculate, "If only ...", now.

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