Bob Woodword reports that Gerald Ford told him in July 2004 that he didn’t think he would have gone to war in Iraq and that he would have looked harder at other options, such as sanctions. Ford’s view was probably in accord with that a solid majority of 90 year-olds. Most men I’ve known became less favorably inclined towards war as they become very old. Of course, by now Ford’s view is shared by most Americans and even in July 2004 it was shared by a great many.
It’s another question, though, what a President Ford, faced with the intelligence regarding WMD available to President Bush in early 2003 and responsible for protecting the country from further attack, would have done. We know that two of his proteges, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, were prime advocates of toppling Saddam Hussein. And it’s difficult to believe that a President Ford would have held out much hope for sanctions, the efficacy of which had been thoroughly discredited over the course of more than a decade.
Indeed, as reported by Woodward at least, Ford’s views seem rather odd. At a time when no WMD were likely to be found, he was saying we should have used sanctions to pressure Saddam to get rid of his WMD. The better argument was that we should have given the inspectors more time to see whether there were WMD. In sum, Ford does not seem to have been thinking very clearly about the issue.
Ford told Woodward not to publish his views until after his death, but apparently said once he died they could be published at any time. It’s easy to understand the first part of the decision — why would Ford, at his age, want to participate in a contentious policy debate? But Ford has been criticized for not telling Woodward to wait until, say, the end of the Bush administration to reveal his views. Either Ford felt strongly enough about the matter that he wanted his opinion in the mix sooner rather than later (but not so soon that he would become embroiled in the debate) or he didn’t think things through very carefully.
JOHN adds: I would group this together with the Jeffrey Hart story Scott discusses below, under the heading “elderly apostates.” I find it interesting that many on the left who viewed Professor Hart’s work over his entire adult life with contempt, now cite him as a sort of sage when he criticizes President Bush. Likewise with Gerald Ford. Out of public life for a quarter-century and aged ninety, his views on the Iraq war are not especially noteworthy, except insofar as they can be used to discredit the present administration. If Ford had endorsed Bush’s Iraq policy in his interview with Bob Woodward, would we ever have heard about it? I doubt it.
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