Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's own administration.
Here is the article and the excerpts: (audio also available)
FORD: I don't think if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly, I don't think I would have ordered the Iraqi war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.
FORD: I think Rumsfeld, 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: 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.
Without the context I would disagree with Woodward's opening paragraph - Ford is saying "I would not have done it." This does NOT mean "It was not justified" as Woodward translates.
Compare this with an interview with Daily News Washington Bureau Chief Thomas DeFrank:
Ford was a few weeks shy of his 93rd birthday as we chatted for about 45 minutes. He'd been visited by President Bush three weeks earlier and said he'd told Bush he supported the war in Iraq but that the 43rd President had erred by staking the invasion on weapons of mass destruction.
"Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him," he observed, "but we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of mass destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does [Bush] get his advice?"
That's similar yet very, very different. Ford, to me, seems to be emphasizing the error of basing the war on WMD than on the war itself.
I like Bill Bennett's thoughts on this at NRO:
Since "decency" seems to be the watchword of the day and the consensus modifier for Jerry Ford (a view with which I generally concur), may I nevertheless be permitted to ask this: just how decent, how courageous, is what Jerry Ford did with Bob Woodward? He slams Bush & Cheney to Woodward in 2004, but asks Woodward not to print the interview until he's dead. If he felt so strongly about his words having a derogatory affect, how about telling Woodward not to run the interview until after Bush & Cheney are out of office? The effect of what Ford did is to protect himself, ensuring he can't be asked by others about his critiques, ensuring that there can be no dialogue. The way Ford does it with Woodward, he doesn't have to defend himself...he simply drops it into Bob Woodward's tape recorder and let's the bomb go off when fully out of range, himself.
This is not courage, this is not decent. The manly or more decent options are these: 1. Say it to Bush's or Cheney's face and allow them and us to engage the point while you're around, or 2. Far more decently, say nothing critical of Bush will be on the record until his presidency is over. There's a 3. Don't say anything critical of George Bush to Bob Woodward at all.
You're a former President Mr. Ford, show a little more decency to the incumbent who is in a very, very tough place and trying to do the right thing....you may recall those days and positions yourself.