As President George Bush prepared to discuss his next move in Iraq yesterday, he was delivered a posthumous blow from former President Gerald Ford, who died on Tuesday.
In an interview with the Washington Post’s Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, embargoed until after his death, Ford said: ‘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.’
Ford told Woodward that Bush and his advisers made a ‘big mistake’ in their justification for invading Iraq.
Ford added: ‘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 Iraq war.
‘I would have maximised our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.’
In the July 2004 four-hour tape-recorded interview, Ford said that he ‘very strongly’ disagreed with the justification for the 2003 invasion.
The former president criticised key Bush advisers and veterans of his own administration.
Ford said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Yesterday, Bush assembled his top National Security Council aides at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for final consultations on his planned strategy change in Iraq.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said it would be a ‘non-decisional meeting’.
Meanwhile, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group has called on Bush to launch an overhaul of policy, to commit to start withdrawing most combat troops by early 2008 and to hold direct talks with Iran and Syria.
But Bush has already backed away from the idea of engaging two sworn US foes and is thought to be sizing up a plan to boost troop numbers for ‘one last push’ in Iraq.