US President George W. Bush, accustomed to criticism from Republicans of his father's generation, suffered a rebuke from beyond the grave from the late president Gerald Ford on Thursday in published comments calling the war on Iraq a mistake.
In an interview with the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, granted on condition that it be published only after Ford's death, the late president said he strongly disagreed with Bush's stated justification for the war -- that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. He also suggested Bush had departed from his overriding duty as president to act in the US' national interest.
"I don't think I would have gone to war," Ford told Woodward in an interview at his Colorado home in July 2004. "I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever to find another answer."
The criticism from Ford extended to the architects of the war -- former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney -- an inclusion that must have been especially wounding for both men, who served in the Ford administration and considered the former president a lifelong friend.
While Ford had praise for the performance of Cheney and Rums-feld during his administration, he said the vice-president had turned "pugnacious" in his most recent incarnation.
"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 went on to say he understood Bush's often-stated desire to bring democracy to the Middle East, but added: "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."
Such scoldings from Republican statesmen have become a regular travail for Bush. Brent Scowcroft, an alumnus of both the Ford and the first Bush presidencies, was an early critic of the war on Iraq. This month Colin Powell, who served under both Bush administrations, said sending more troops to Iraq could break the US military.
Bush has even endured criticism from those elder statesmen he took into his confidence. Last month, Henry Kissinger, who served under Nixon and Ford, and who has been a regular adviser to Bush, declared he no longer believed victory was possible in Iraq -- a direct challenge to the administration's vision of the war.
James Baker, who served under former president George Bush and helped secure Bush's victory in the 2000 election, also betrayed the White House vision of the war when the Iraq Study Group he headed called for a drawing down of troops and talks with Syria and Iran.
Bush had summoned his advisers to his ranch in Crawford, Texas -- including Cheney -- on Thursday to try to chart a new strategy for the war. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice; the defense secretary, Robert Gates; the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley; and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Peter Pace, also attended the meeting.
Bush is expected to outline that plan in a speech early in the new year, amid speculation that he intends to send more troops to Iraq. He did not outline his intentions on Thursday, saying only: "We're making good progress in coming up with a plan."
But in a further indication that he was leaning towards an increase in troops, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday that it would send 3,500 to remain on standby in Kuwait. He showed no sign of bowing to intensifying pressure to reveal his plans, telling reporters: "We've got more consultation to do until I talk to the country about the plan."
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