Ford: Reasons For Iraq War 'A Big Mistake'

President Ford chats with Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfelds assistant Richard Cheney in the Oval Office. April 28, 1975.
AP Photo/Gerald R. Ford Library
Former President Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified, the Washington Post reported.

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 Wednesday night.

"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 Mr. Bush but also of Vice President Dick 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."

Ford also criticized the notion that the United States should engage in a war in order to spread democracy.

"Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, but added he was unsure "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." Ford said: "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 wrote that the interview took place for a future book project, though the former president said his comments could be published at any time after his death.

"Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him," he observed to the Daily News last May under an agreement similar to Woodward's. "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 public opinion of Cheney was low, he smiled. "Dick's a classy guy, but he's not an electrified orator," Ford said.

The former president did not like Mr. 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."

In another interview released after his death, Ford told CBS News correspondent Phil Jones 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.