Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ford's Legacy

[posted by Callimachus]

Apparently a couple of years ago Gerald Ford gave some interviews in which he questioned the White House's rationale for the Iraq war and the domestic surveillance program.

"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. 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."

"Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him. But we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does [Bush] get his advice?"

"[Bush's domestic surveillance program] may be a necessary evil. 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."

All of which I essentially agree with. But not the method in which it transpired. Ford gave the interviews on condition they not be published during his life, which in 2004 he certainly knew would not last much longer.

As an ex-president, you will think some things you won't say in public. Because as a member of the world's most exclusive club, you're one of the few men fit to judge the current incumbent, whoever he may be.

Yet even if you aim them only at the incumbent, you know your words will ripple. Ex-presidents have been particularly, and wisely, careful with their words when American men and women are dying in battle. You don't have to sit in the Oval Office to realize the power to send brave and good people to their deaths is a horrible responsibility.

If Ford felt these things were important enough to the whole nation that they ought to be heard even amid the battles, he ought to have said them outright. If he felt they were important to note historically, but that it was not his place, as an ex-president, to say them during an ongoing crisis, he ought to have given the interviews under condition they not be published until after the last American troops had left Iraq.

He seems not to have thought in these terms at all. It's not how I would have done it, but then nobody is going to propose me for president. Or even ex-president.

Ford was an essentially decent man who was perhaps the least powerful president in modern memory. This won't effect my essential opinion of him, which I think is forever encapsuled in this photo:

Of the leader of the Free World comforting the child of a Vietnamese refugee woman. I think he would have done more for the Vietnamese people if he could have, but for once the American president was more decent than the American people. It was a mood with us, and thank the gods it passed.