December 28, 2006

Gerald Ford, Realism and US Foreign Policy


Ford's death has made several in the American media ponder about his place in the world and where he sits. Its interesting that the careers of both Cheney and Rumsfeld began under Ford's presidency and that men like Milton Freidman who couldn't get access to Richard Nixon could to his successor. That may though be as much a comment on Nixon's unconventional take on politics as upon Ford's more conventional understanding of Republicanism. Other conservative commentators have played much upon Ford's position as the last of the moderates, the man challenged by Reagan and later replaced by him as the Republican hope for the Whitehouse.

More interesting perhaps is this interview between Bob Woodward and Ford in 2004. Bill Bennet has already hit the roof at the National Review, condemning Ford's behaviour as neither courageous, decent nor manly. Ford, according to Bob Woodward's tapes, condemned Bush's invasion of Iraq. He condemns it with quite a forensic analysis of the situation- Ford's condemnation is based upon two arguments. Ford's first argument is a traditionally realist argument, that foreign policy is based upon national interest or self interest and consequently, in Ford's words, that

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.

But of course the war wasn't merely an operation to make the world safe for democracy- it was an operation to make the world safe from Saddam Hussein. Ford disagreed with that angle to, beleiving according to Woodward that the publicly available evidence didn't warrant invasion.

Indeed according to Thomas DeFrank who has also published a posthumousinterview Ford beleived the Bush administration should have been honest and dropped the Weapons angle for justifying the invasion. He said to DeFrank that he thought that Bush should have made it clear that

"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?"

Ford's comment to DeFrank and his comment to Woodward are not contradictory- the first argument is that invading for democracy was not a good idea, the second is that if you are going to invade for democracy, you are best off being honest about it. In a sense Ford argues that the US policy is dishonest and once its dishonesty is revealed its motivations are wrong, it would have been better to have been honest about those erroneus motivations, better still not to have accepted naive pro-democracy arguments.

Working this out is important because the Iraq war justifications have been so intertwined and confused by so many proponents and opponents of the war that its hard to separate them any more from each other. The lucid argument made by Ford with its two prongs may be right or wrong, but it is coherent as an argument against the war and it rises from a perspective which has been called realism- the idea that there are international states, their borders must be respected and that their rulers and the American people deserve honesty. You may disagree with any of those positions (and I to be honest am unsure about some of them myself) but President Ford's shot across his successor's bows is at least an acute and thoughtful one.

6 comments:

A. said...

The Iraq war justifications have become "intertwined and confused" because the lead up to the war saw the joining of several different philosophical and ideological camps in terms of mid-East policy. The neoconservatives believed in the virtues of establishing a democracy in Iraq all along and also wanted to install a free market system for Iraq's oil industry that would bust up the Oligarch regimes throughout the middle east, including in Saudi Arabia, spurning fresh new democratic movements among the Gulf States. The Hawks, the group which includes many moderate Democrats, i.e. Kerry, Hillary, etc., supported the war because they believed Saddam's WMD posed a threat to the U.S. Once the WMD argument vanished, the Iraq war coalition broke apart and all you had left were the Neocons screaming about democracy. Ford argues that the Neocon argument about spreading democracy isn't strong enough and suggests that Cheney & Rumsfeld exaggerated the WMD arguments to get Hawks in Congress behind the war effort.

Speaking of Ford, one of his aides, David Kennerly, wrote a short and moving tribute on the NYTimes OpEd page today. -- Bill B

Gracchi said...

Yes I agree with you- I think you've put it better than I did. Ford is obviously critical both of the neo-con position and of the usage of the WMD argument.

Anonymous said...

lucid argument - however i think it's worth saying that bill bennett is completely right- it was just cowardly to have a post death interview like that-and as Ford was not politically active not necessary. Surely you agree?

and let's not forget asome of the more disagreeable and foolish aspects of Ford's realism-eg his pandering to the Soviets repression

Gracchi said...

On Ford's position- I think the discussion of realism has to wait for another day- all I was trying to say is that the statements he's made are consistant.

On your Bill Bennet point, I read it and first thought that he was right like you. But on the other hand I can understand from a human perspective that a ninety three year old man would want both to say his piece and get his ideas out there and also avoid the political battle over them. It reminds me a bit of the old man in 12 Angry Men who gives evidence in part because he is an old man and noone listens to him. I agree with Bill Bennet in one sense but I also think you have to imagine the mindset of a ninety three year old man and I think in that you find a way of understanding it.

astronerd said...

These woodward tapes...
They sound aweful...
I would have thought that woodward could have afforded a better recording device...
So much noise...
The recordings sound like they are 20 years old...
Why is this?

Gracchi said...

Come on Bob's a traditionalist I mean it worked for Watergate so it'll work now. Suspect the next generation will be talking about Itunes of politicians interviews.