Former President Ford yesterday backed President Carter in the disciplining of an Army general but repeated his opposition to withdrawing American ground troops from South Korea.
"I am a strong believer in civilian control of the military," Ford told reporters at a luncheon when asked how he felt about Carter ordering home Maj. Gen. John Kirk Singlaub to explain his publicity expressed opposition to Carter administration plans to pull ground troops out of Korea.
"When a person in uniform does not carry out the orders of the commander in chief," said Ford, "he should expect the consequences."
Singlaub, in an interview published in The Washington Post on Thursday said: "If we withdraw our ground forces on the schedule suggested, it will lead to war." Singlaub, 55, is the chief of staff at the American military command in Seoul.
The two-star general added that he and fellow officers "want to make sure" their opposition to troop withdrawals is known to the decision makers but pledged at the same time to implement whatever decision is made with "enthusiasm" and "skill."
Carter ordered Singlaub on Thursday to fly from Korea to Washington to explain himself in a face-to-face meeting with his commander in chief. Singlaub was scheduled to arrive in Washington last night and expected to meet with Carter today.
However, White House officials gave no specific time for the meeting nor would they confirm it would take place today - Armed Forces Day.
Asked by reporters yesterday if Carter was concerned that Singlaub had also said that "many other senior military people" disagree with the plan to remove American ground troops from Korea over the next four to five years, White House press secretary Jody Powell replied: "I refer you to Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution." That section states that "the President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States."
Melvin R. Laird, Secretary of Defense during the Nixon administration, took Carter's side of the argument in a Washington Post interview published Nov. 22, 1976, declaring: "South Korea doesn't need our ground troops" and they should be withdrawn in an orderly manner.
Singlaub is scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Harold Brown this afternoon before going to the White House. Pentagon sources said no meeting between Singlaub and Air Force Gen. George S. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is expected today. Gen. Brown has been in hot water for charging publicly that Jews exercise disproportionate control over the media and that Israel is a military burden.
Asked yesterday in Columbus, Ohio, where he was addressing the Chamber of Commerce, whether Carter's action against Singlaub means that military officers cannot speak out on public issues, Gen. Brown replied:
"No, not really. Nobody has said the military can't disagree. But there's such a thing as tact. The nation's topranking military officer predicted Singlaub would return to Korea "as a disciple of President Carter's plan in Korea."