WASHINGTON – Former President Gerald R. Ford questioned the Bush administration's rationale for the U.S. invasion and war in Iraq in interviews he granted on condition they not be released until after his death.
In his embargoed July 2004 interview with the Washington Post, Ford said the Iraq war was not justified, the Post reported Wednesday night.
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, the Post's Bob Woodward wrote. The story initially was posted on the newspaper's Internet site.
"I don't think I would have gone to war," Ford told Woodward a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion.
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 secretary of defense.
"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 an interview given with the same ground rules to the New York Daily News last May, Ford said he supported the war, but he thought Bush had erred by staking the invasion on claims Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
"Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him," he observed to the Daily News. "But we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does (Bush) get his advice?"
In the Daily News interview, Ford was more defensive about Cheney and Rumsfeld. Asked why Cheney had tanked in public opinion polls, he smiled. "Dick's a classy guy, but he's not an electrified orator," Ford said.
The former president did not like Bush's domestic surveillance program.
"It may be a necessary evil," Ford conceded. "I don't think it's a terrible transgression, but I would never do it. I was dumbfounded when I heard they were doing it."
Woodward wrote in the Post that his interview took place for a future book project, though the former president said his comments could be published at any time after his death.
In another interview released after his death, Ford told CBS News in 1984 that he initially was against using the phrase "long national nightmare" in his first speech as president following Richard Nixon's resignation, concerned that it was too harsh.
Ford said he reconsidered and sought his wife's advice. "After thinking about it and talking to Betty about it, we decided to leave it in and, boy, in retrospect, I'm awfully glad we did," he said.
In the Daily News interview, Ford, a few weeks from his 93rd birthday, showed frustration with the toll health problems had taken on him, saying he thought doctors were too strictly limiting what he could do.
At one point, he offered to share some butter pecan ice cream, his favorite dessert, with his guest, correspondent Thomas M. DeFrank.
Asked what his doctors would think about that, the former president said, "We have it anyhow."