Preserve, Protect and Defend

On hearing of the death of former President Gerald Ford, syndicated columnist Robert Novak – who infamously “outed” a CIA covert agent in what appears to have been a White House conspiracy, involving Vice President Dick Cheney, to discredit the CIA operative’s husband, who had joined the international chorus of those claiming that President Bush had knowingly invaded Iraq on false pretenses – told CNN he “didn’t think Ford was much of a President.”

The next day, Bob Woodward published in the Washington Post excerpts from interviews with Ford, conducted more than a year after that invasion, but “embargoed” at Ford’s request until his death.

By then Ford – and almost everyone else – knew that the international chorus had been right; Bush had unconstitutionally invaded Iraq, and on false pretenses to boot.

Way back in 1991, Saddam had abandoned his attempt to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, had destroyed his chemical weapons and the infrastructure necessary for producing fissile material or chemical agents or biological agents.

Of course, the CIA and the UN’s Special Commission on Iraq had known that since 1995, as a result of the defection of Saddam’s son-in-law, who had been in charge of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

Furthermore, on the eve of Bush’s war to “disarm” Saddam, on-the-ground UN inspectors had reported to the Security Council that Saddam had made no attempt since 1991 to reconstruct that infrastructure.

However, by the time Woodward interviewed Ford, Bush was no longer claiming he had launched his war of aggression to keep Saddam from providing nukes to terrorists. No, he was claiming he had invaded Iraq to “free” the Iraqi people.

Operation Iraqi Freedom he called it.

“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, but was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.”

Now, isn’t that weird? A man who’s “not much of a President” who believes his “obligation number one” is acting “in our national interest”?

Of course, Ford had never aspired to the Presidency. And when President Nixon proposed Ford – then the House Minority Leader – to Congress to succeed Spiro Agnew (who resigned the Vice-Presidency in disgrace in 1973) Nixon did so largely because Ford was certain to be confirmed.

Election by the House and confirmation by the Senate of Nixon’s reported first choice – John Connally, protégé of Lyndon Johnson, former Democratic Governor of Texas, former Secretary of the Treasury under Nixon, an international wheeler-dealer, a man many people suspect was Lee Harvey Oswald’s intended target and a man who very much aspired to be President – would not have been easy.

But Nixon – who didn’t realize he was selecting his successor – probably later wished he had made the effort.

(You might want to reflect a few moments on the real possibility of John Connally having become the 39th President.)

Ford was essentially unprepared to execute the office of President. He didn’t have a staff of his own and what was left of Nixon’s staff would hardly do. So Ford turned to his former colleagues in the House.

Congressman Donald Rumsfeld gave up his seat to become Ford’s Chief of Staff. But, according to Woodward, Ford said he frequently kept Rumsfeld in the dark. In particular, Ford decided “on my own” to fire Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and to rein in (somewhat) Secretary of State Henry Kissinger by replacing him as National Security Advisor with his deputy, Brent Scowcroft.

Rein in Kissinger?

The guy with whom Woodward recently revealed Dubya has been meeting, secretly, on Iraq?


Ford replaced that Kissinger as National Security Advisor with Scowcroft?

The guy who was later National Security Advisor to Bush the Elder?

The guy who was a leading proponent of ejecting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait?

The guy who was Chairman of Bush the Younger’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board?

The guy who wrote “Don’t Attack Saddam,” the August 15, 2002 Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Yep, that’s the guy.

Ford next forced Rumsfeld to replace Schlesinger as Secretary of Defense, leaving young Dick Cheney – who had been a staffer in Rumsfeld’s congressional office – to serve as Chief of Staff during the latter stages of Ford’s unsuccessful attempt to be elected President in his own right.

Ford had initially turned to another former colleague in the House, “Bo” Callaway, Nixon’s Secretary of the Army, to run that campaign. But according to Woodward, Ford was under “enormous pressure” to dump Nelson Rockefeller – who Congress had reluctantly allowed to succeed Ford as Vice President – from the GOP ticket in 1976. Callaway and other southern Republicans were apparently the source of much of that pressure. So, according to Woodward, when Rockefeller offered to be dropped from the ticket, Ford took him up on the offer.

According to Woodward, Ford regretted bowing to the pressure to dump Rockefeller. It was “an act of cowardice on my part.”

Woodward does not mention it, but at this point James Baker – a John Connally protégé – then serving as Under Secretary of Commerce, replaced Callaway as Ford’s Campaign Manager.

James Baker?

The guy who managed Bush the Elder’s unsuccessful campaign for the GOP nomination in 1980, only to become Reagan’s first Chief of Staff, and then Secretary of the Treasury?

The guy who managed Bush the Elder’s successful Presidential campaign in 1988, and then became Secretary of State?

The guy who negotiated arms reduction treaties – the Lisbon Accords – with the Soviet Union and marshaled international opposition to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait?

The guy who managed Bush the Younger’s legal activities with respect to the contested Presidential election in Florida in 2000?

The guy who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group?

Yep, that’s the guy.

Well, it will be interesting to read in Woodward’s next book what else Ford had to say about Dubya, Rummy, Cheney and the incredible unconstitutional mess they have gotten us into, here at home, and abroad, especially in Iraq.

Of course, Ford was already 90 years old when Woodward interviewed him.

But it appears that Ford believed unto death that Presidents should take seriously their oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Read more by Gordon Prather

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.