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Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq

President Gerald R. Ford, center, with Chief of Staff Donald H. Rumsfeld, left, and Rumsfeld's assistant, Dick Cheney, on April 28, 1975.
President Gerald R. Ford, center, with Chief of Staff Donald H. Rumsfeld, left, and Rumsfeld's assistant, Dick Cheney, on April 28, 1975. (By David Hume Kennerly -- Ford Library Via Associated Press)

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."

Christine Parthemore contributed to this report.


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