WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush and his top advisers made a "big mistake" in their justification for invading Iraq, Gerald Ford told journalist Bob Woodward in an interview embargoed until after the former president's death.
Ford, who died on Tuesday at his home in California at age 93, said he would not have gone to war, based on what was known publicly at the time, said the report on The Washington Post Web site on Wednesday.
BUSH, ADVISERS MADE A "BIG MISTAKE"; CHENEY "PUGNACIOUS"
Former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford talks with his Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld (L) and Rumsfeld's assistant Richard Cheney (R) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in this April 28, 1975 file photo. Ford, who took office from an embattled Richard M. Nixon, has died, according to a statement from his widow on December 26, 2006. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library/David Hume Kennerly/White House Photograph/Handout
"I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," Ford said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."
In a four-hour tape-recorded interview in July 2004, Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq advocated and carried out by key Bush advisers and veterans of his own administration -- Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- reported Woodward.
"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."
The Bush administration's initial justification for the war was that Iraq posed a threat because it had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. None were found.
The interview and a subsequent conversation in 2005 were done for a future book project, although Ford, who became president in 1974 after Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, said his comments could be published any time after his death, Woodward wrote.
Woodward's reporting with fellow Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein played a key role in uncovering the Watergate scandal.
Ford was quoted as saying he understood the theory of "wanting 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."
Woodward said Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with Cheney and Rumsfeld, while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.
"He (Cheney) was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president.
According to the article, Ford said he agreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."
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