Gerald Ford on War & Peace

President of the U.S., 1974-1977; Republican Rep. (MI)


If president in 2003, would have used sanctions against Iraq

Ford said he would have done things differently in Iraq if he were president. “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,” he told Bob Woodward in a July 2004 interview.

Ford also questioned Bush’s assertion that the US has a “duty to free people.” He was unsure if it was possible to “detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest. 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 the interview was for a future book project but that Ford had said that his comments could be published any time after his death. Under the same embargo conditions, Ford also spoke to the New York Daily News last May. In that interview, Ford again criticized Bush for invading Iraq based on claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Source: CTV News (Canada) , Dec 28, 2006

1971: Sickened by widening war into Laos

The Winter Soldier hearings clearly showed that the Vietnam War had damaged a generation. The revelations about the government's invasion of Laos increased popular disillusionment with the war. After the winter soldier hearings, even leading Republicans like Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford had grown sickened by the Nixon administration's widening of the war in Laos. In fact, no less than 5 resolutions were introduced to hamper the President's enlarging the war. And the protests grew in frequency.
Source: Tour of Duty, by Douglas Brinkley, p.357 , Jan 6, 2004

1975: Ordered US aircraft to evacuate South Vietnamese

In late April 1975, as Vietnam was failing, Ford felt he had assumed he was powerless. It was almost nine months after he had assumed the presidency, and he could neither mobilize the Congress nor the public. On the final day he sat in the Oval Office receiving reports of the last Americans escaping by helicopter from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. It was his saddest day as president. He ordered Defense Secretary James Schlesinger to send U.S. aircraft to evacuate as many South Vietnamese as possible. Schlesinger disagreed with the decision and did not send the aircraft. Ford took note of the flat-out insubordination. There was no question in his mind that Schlesinger had outright disobeyed him. But the fall of Vietnam was tough enough to handle, so he avoided a confrontation.
Source: Shadow, by Bob Woodward, p. 30 , Jun 15, 1999

Vietnam evacuation postponed to avoid damage to Vietnamese

We felt that a premature evacuation could have serious consequences. Then, too, I hadn't given up hope the situation could be turned around. We couldn't just cut and run. We had to consider the people of Vietnam and what might happen to them, especially those who had supported us.

The final siege of Saigon began on April 25. Our Air Force halted evacuation flights from Saigon because Communist rockets and artillery shells were blasting the runways. The situation there was clearly out of control. The only option left was to remove the remaining Americans and as many South Vietnamese as possible, by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon.

When it was all over, I felt deep satisfaction and relief that the evacuation had been a success. The problem of what to do with the refugees, however, remained. The US, I felt, had a special obligation to them, and on April 30 I asked Congress to approve $507 million for their transportation and care. The House rejected my request. Unbelievable!

Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.253-257 , Apr 25, 1975

Quid pro quo: arms to Israel for peace process flexibility

Negotiations between Israel and Egypt about the return of the Sinai had reached a dangerous stalemate. For the past 25 years the philosophical underpinning of US policy toward Israel had been our conviction-and certainly my own-that if we gave Israel an ample supply of economic aid and weapons, she would feel strong and confident, more flexible and more willing to discuss lasting peace. Every American President since Harry Truman had willingly supplied arms and funds to the Jewish state. The Israelis were stronger militarily than all their Arab neighbors combined, yet peace was no closer than it had ever been. So I began to question the rationale for our policy. I wanted the Israelis to recognize that there had to be some quid pro quo. If we were going to build up their military capabilities, we in turn had to see some flexibility to achieve a fair, secure and permanent peace. What we wanted most was new momentum diplomatically.
Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.244-245 , Mar 27, 1975

Supported Vietnam War, to contain Communist aggression

From the beginning of our involvement in South Vietnam & Cambodia, I had always thought that we were doing the right things. Our policy was a natural outgrowth of decisions we had made at the end of World War II. In the immediate postwar period, the US mounted a foreign aid program to help rebuild the shattered economics of countries all over the world. The basic thrust behind them was the desire to eliminate, or at least contain, Communist aggression around the globe.

In retrospect legitimate questions can be raised about our involvement in the war. Had our civilian & military leaders made a sufficient analysis of the conditions there? Had they stopped to consider that our world commitments might already be too great? Did they have a clear idea of what their military objectives were? The answer to these questions is probably no. The questions can also be asked: Could we have won the war? There, I think, the answer is yes, although I'm not as sure of that today as I was in the late 1960's.

Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.248-249 , Mar 27, 1975

Vietnam War could have been won in the 1960s

Could we have won the war? There, I think, the answer is yes, although I'm not as sure of that today as I was in the late 1960's, when, as House Minority Leader, I called upon LBJ to stop pulling our best punches in Vietnam. At that time, I felt certain--given four basic assumptions--that we would prevail. To varying degrees, none of these assumptions proved out.
Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.249 , Mar 27, 1975

Supported arms to Cyprus Turks to promote peace with Greeks

Increasingly, both houses of Congress were giving me a hard time on foreign policy. The first battleground was Cyprus. On February 5, the suspension of arms deliveries to the Turks, originally voted by Congress in October, went into effect. Not only was that action likely to impede our hopes of achieving a just settlement of the Cyprus issues, it also posed a threat to the security and political stability of the entire eastern Mediterranean, and I urged the Congress to reconsider a decision so clearly contrary to our national interest. Using quiet diplomacy, Henry Kissinger had persuaded the foreign ministers of both Greece and Turkey to meet with him in Brussels to resolve their differences. But when the Turks heard what Congress had done, they stayed home. I couldn't blame him.
Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.244 , Feb 5, 1975

Offered "earned amnesty" to Vietnam draft dodgers

One way to hasten the healing process and draw a real distinction between the Nixon and Ford Administrations would be to do something about the 50,000 draft evaders and deserters from the Vietnam War.

Nixon had maintained a tough approach. Because draft evaders and deserters had broken the law, he felt, they should be punished before being allowed to return to society.

I announced the status of some 50,000 of our countrymen charged with desertion and draft-dodging: "All, in a sense, are casualties, still abroad and absent without leave from the real America. I want them to come home if they want to work their way back. In my judgment, these young Americans should have a second chance to contribute their fair share to the rebuilding of peace among ourselves and with all nations. So I am throwing the weight of my Presidency into the scales of justice on the side of leniency. I foresee their earned reentry--earned reentry--into a new atmosphere of hope, hard work, and mutual trust.

Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.141-142 , Sep 16, 1974

Israel negotiations require flexible toughness, but not USSR

On Sept. 10, Israeli Minister Yitzhak Rabin & his wife arrived in Washington. I had known Rabin when he was Israel's ambassador to the US. A dour, very serious man who dressed conservatively & spoke in a soft, almost inaudible voice, he was nonetheless a tough negotiator. But toughness, I was convinced, was not the only ingredient needed to resolve the Middle East impasse. Flexibility--on both sides--was essential as well, and I wasn't sure how flexible Rabin could be.

The long-standing conflict in that part of the world was also on the mind of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Even before I became President, Kissinger had achieved significant success in easing the Soviets out of the Middle East. I though they didn't want a bona fide settlement there and that their only aim was to promote instability, so I wanted to keep them out. Gromyko, of course, complained about this. But I decided that we could accomplish more unilaterally by working with Israel and each of its Arab neighbors.

Source: A Time To Heal, by Gerald Ford, p.183 , Sep 10, 1974

Iraq war was not justified

Former US President Gerald Ford secretly questioned the Bush administration’s justifications for invading Iraq, in interviews he granted under the condition they not be released until after his death. In an embargoed July 2004 interview with The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, Ford said the Iraq war was not justified. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” said Ford, about a year after George W. Bush launched the invasion.

He said Dick Cheney--who served as Ford’s White House chief of staff--and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who also served as Ford’s chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief, made a “big mistake.” Ford told 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. 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.”

Source: CTV News (Canada) , Dec 28, 2006

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