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.