Archive for December 27th, 2006

Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq

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 had launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., 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. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President 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 Pentagon chief.

“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.”

In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy.

“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty 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.”

The Ford interview — and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 — took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death. In the sessions, Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with key Bush advisers Cheney and Rumsfeld while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

“He was an excellent chief of staff. First class,” Ford said. “But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious” as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell’s assertion that Cheney developed a “fever” about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. “I think that’s probably true.”

Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. “I don’t think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly,” he 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.”

Ford had faced his own military crisis — not a war he started like Bush, but one he had to figure out how to end. In many ways those decisions framed his short presidency — in the difficult calculations about how to pull out of Vietnam and the challenging players who shaped policy on the war. Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was “the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew.”

“I think he was a super secretary of state,” Ford said, “but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend.”

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. “Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood,” Ford said. “Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period.” But Ford viewed Kissinger’s dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration’s ability to fully air policy debates. “They were supposed to check on one another.”

That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford’s White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, “I’m making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this” by giving up the post of security adviser.

Kissinger was not happy. “Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this,” Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. “They’ll write that I’m being demoted by taking away half of my job.” But Ford made the changes, elevating the deputy national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to take Kissinger’s White House post.

Throughout this maneuvering, Ford said, he kept his White House chief of staff in the dark. “I didn’t consult with Rumsfeld. And knowing Don, he probably resented the fact that I didn’t get his advice, which I didn’t,” Ford said. “I made the decision on my own.”

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. “Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, ‘I’m offering my resignation.’ Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. ‘Now, Henry, you’ve got the nation’s future in your hands and you can’t leave us now.’ Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew.”

Ford added, “Any criticism in the press drove him crazy.” Kissinger would come in and say: “I’ve got to resign. I can’t stand this kind of unfair criticism.” Such threats were routine, Ford said. “I often thought, maybe I should say: ‘Okay, Henry. Goodbye,’ ” Ford said, laughing. “But I never got around to that.”

At one point, Ford recalled Kissinger, his chief Vietnam policymaker, as “coy.” Then he added, Kissinger is a “wonderful person. Dear friend. First-class secretary of state. But Henry always protected his own flanks.”

Ford was also critical of his own actions during the interviews. He recalled, for example, his unsuccessful 1976 campaign to remain in office, when he was under enormous pressure to dump Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from the Republican ticket. Some polls at the time showed that up to 25 percent of Republicans, especially those from the South, would not vote for Ford if Rockefeller, a New Yorker from the liberal wing of the Republican Party, was on the ticket.

When Rockefeller offered to be dropped from the ticket, Ford took him up on it. But he later regretted it. The decision to dump the loyal Rockefeller, he said, was “an act of cowardice on my part.”

In the end, though, it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.

“Well,” he said, “I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it.”


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Long-rumored shuffle of generals expected

A shuffle of top American generals in Iraq is likely to accompany the shift in U.S. policy that President Bush is considering.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to go ahead with a retirement that is months overdue, according to the U.S. Central Command.

And the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, has indicated in recent months that he also may not stay much longer than the end of this year.

Since they have opposed sending more troops to Iraq, their departures could make it easier for Bush and his new Defense Secretary Robert Gates to switch course in the troubled campaign, where they are considering a short-term surge in forces.

Abizaid’s three-year tour as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East was to have ended last July, but he agreed to stay until early 2007 at the request of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said a Central Command statement from Tampa, Fla.

The changes, both rumored before Rumsfeld’s announced resignation and Gates’ nomination, would allow Gates to choose his own commanders for Iraq, the issue he has said will be his top priority as secretary.

Abizaid, long considered a voice of candor, told a Senate committee last month that the number of troops deployed to Iraq should not increased or decreased sharply. Instead, the U.S. should focus on accelerating the training of Iraqi forces so they can be pushed front and center into battle, he said.

His remarks provided no help to lawmakers hoping for big changes in Iraq policy following elections in which Democrats were handed control of Congress by Americans angry over the course of the war.

The opposition to a bigger force in Iraq now also appears to be out of step with the White House, which says it is considering sending more U.S. troops to try to get spiraling violence under control.

Abizaid and other generals worry that sending thousands of additional troops temporarily to Iraq could be ineffective without bold new political and economic steps. And they fear the effect it could have on an already overstretched Army and Marine Corps — the two services bearing the brunt of the work in Iraq.

Casey has been mentioned as a possible choice for Army chief of staff or to replace Abizaid at Central Command.

Others that could be affected in a shuffle include:

• Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who led the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 Iraq invasion and later headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. He most recently oversaw the rewriting of the Army and Marine field manual for counterinsurgencies.

• Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who last week finished his tour as the No. 2 general in Iraq, as commander of the multinational forces there.

• Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, also a former division commander in Iraq and now head of the Iraq training effort.


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U.S. ready to send 3,500 troops: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is expected to send 3,500 troops into Kuwait to stand ready for use in Iraq, senior defense officials said on Tuesday as the Bush administration weighs adjusting force levels in the war.

The “call-forward” force was requested by Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of the military command responsible for the Middle East, and must be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

According to one official, Abizaid’s request came before Gates’ fact-finding trip last week to Iraq to assess possible alternative strategies in a war that he and
President George W. Bush say America is not winning.

Options for changing course in the war include a short-term increase, or “surge,” of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The U.S. force level there now stands at 134,000.

“If we’re going to surge, this makes sense,” the official on Tuesday.

Gates questioned U.S. commanders last week about the possibility of a surge and what it might accomplish. He has given little hint of his thoughts on the concept, but said generals in the war zone worry an increase in U.S. forces could allow Iraqis to delay taking responsibility for security.

“I think that any time that you look at adjusting the troop strengths, the coalition troop strengths, you have to consider the impact that that has on the populace, to the extent that it benefits the security situation and at the same time has a negative impact on the Iraqi people given that you are still an occupying force in a sovereign nation,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman about Gates’ consideration of more troops.

“There’s a tension there that you have to be cognizant of and finding the right balance is important and I think that’s what our commanders have always emphasized and I’m sure that they relayed to the secretary in their discussions,” Whitman said.

Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not know if Gates had yet approved the deployment of the standby force, but said the announcement was expected as early as Wednesday.

The unit likely would come from Fort Bragg and fill a reserve slot that has been empty since commanders moved the previous call-forward force into the war zone earlier this year, that official said.

The troops could be in place in Kuwait by mid-January.


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Waxman sets sights on ‘very long list’

Bush administration, war contractors likely to be among Democrat’s targets

WASHINGTON — Bald, mustachioed, 5-foot-5, the Hollywood congressman who’d rather watch the Academy Awards at home than mingle with the stars, Henry Waxman is hardly a fearsome or famous figure to most of America.

But Time magazine recently dubbed the California Democrat “The Scariest Guy in Town.”

With his political party taking control of Congress, the incoming chairman of the House Government Reform Committee has subpoena power to probe the Bush administration or just about anything else that strikes his investigative fancy.

The soft-spoken son of a Jewish grocer, Waxman grew up over the family store in Watts. During more than three decades in Congress, he has relished putting powerful people — from baseball sluggers accused of taking steroids to tobacco company officials who claimed nicotine wasn’t addictive — on the committee witness chair.

He has been called “the Eliot Ness of the Democrats” by Nation magazine, and aims to go after the Republican administration with zeal over the coming two years.

“The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose” what to investigate, Waxman told reporters after the November elections.

“He’s got a very long list,” said Norman Ornstein, a congressional analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. “I’m sure he’s going back to the contracting mess (in Iraq and Afghanistan and post-Katrina), Halliburton and others. And not just contractors.”

Waxman also will be examining the role of the federal government, from the Defense Department to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and grilling the officials who greased the deals with contractors, Ornstein predicted.

“Henry is not afraid to go after anyone,” said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., his predecessor as chairman of the committee. “He’s going to be very aggressive.”

When parties collide

When one party controls the House and the other controls the executive branch, the Government Reform Committee is historically more eager to exercise its oversight powers, Davis said.

When Indiana Republican Dan Burton was chairman, for instance, the committee was relentless in its investigations of the Clinton administration.

But Waxman’s successful relationship with Davis shows that neither is as partisan as often painted, said Ornstein.

“Does Henry have strong liberal views? Yes. Can he be a tough-as-nails partisan? Absolutely,” said Ornstein. “But I don’t think he’s going to come in as some sort of avenging angel taking a meat ax to his political adversaries.”

Community connections

When the new Congress convenes in January, the 67-year-old Waxman will begin his 17th term representing Los Angeles’ West Side, a district that includes the famed Beverly Hills 90210 ZIP code, the shops of Rodeo Drive, the movie studios of Hollywood and the ritzy neighborhoods of Malibu and Bel Air.

The district also holds California’s largest Jewish community. Re-elections have come easily for an unabashedly liberal congressman who keeps kosher.

Despite long fundraising ties with the entertainment industry, glitzy he is not. Waxman takes pride in having never attended the Academy Awards. At first he wasn’t invited, but now it is part of his shtick.

“It’s such a long night,” he told Time. “When I watch it on TV, I can get a snack.”


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