WASHINGTON Former President Gerald Ford believed President Bush made the right decision to go to war in Iraq but did so for the wrong reason, a new book says.
The late president said the war was justified because Saddam Hussein was an evil person, journalist Thomas DeFrank wrote. But Ford said Bush should not have cited as his rationale the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News, had covered Ford while he was vice president and president. He said the book was based on "obit interviews" that only could be published after Ford's death. Ford died Dec. 26, 2006, at age 93.
In the book, "Write It When I'm Gone," Ford said he would not have approved Bush's domestic surveillance program. Ronald Reagan, he said, was not "a technically competent president" but had "a helluva flair." And he believed his former chief of staff, Vice President Dick Cheney, was "not as big an asset as he should be."
DeFrank said one of his earliest encounters with Ford came in 1974. Then vice president, Ford blurted out a remark he did not want to see in print.
Ford grabbed DeFrank's tie and told the reporter he couldn't leave until he forgot the remark. DeFrank reluctantly agreed.
In disagreeing with Bush's rationale for the Iraq war, Ford said: "I thought they made a mistake about weapons of mass destruction. There was plenty of reason to do what he did; Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him.
"But we shouldn't have put the basis on the weapons of mass destruction. That was a bad mistake, and I don't know who advised the White House on that."
Ford said several people asked him whether Bush would drop Cheney from the Republican ticket in 2004, with the hope the former president would join an effort to have him dumped. Ford declined to do so.
However, he told DeFrank: "Dick has not been the asset I expected on the ticket. As you know, he's a great friend of mine, he did a great job for me, but he has not clicked, if that's the right word. God knows he works at it."
Ford also praised his one-time aide, saying, "I don't like his view on why they went to war, but I think he's still a good man, but that doesn't mean he's the best candidate for vice president."
Ford said he would not have approved Bush's domestic eavesdropping program, although it "may be a necessary evil."
The Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program, which targeted international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. residents without court warrants, became publicly known in December 2005.
"I don't think it's a terrible transgression as far as being an operation of the White House (but) I would never do it," Ford said. "It surprises me they worry that they think they have to do it. I was dumbfounded when I heard they were. I didn't think it was necessary."
The former president said Reagan "was not what I would (call) a technically competent president. You know, his knowledge of the budget, his knowledge of foreign policy it was not up to the standards of either Democrat or Republican presidents.
"But he had a helluva flair. He could sell himself probably better than any president since" Franklin Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy.
"So I praise his assets, but I have reservations about his technical ability," Ford said.
He added that he had spoken with "several foreign leaders who were shocked at (Reagan's) lack of detailed information. On the other hand, they agreed with me; from the point of view of PR image, he was terrific."