EVEN PAST U.S. PRESIDENTS ARE CRITICAL OF GEORGE W. BUSH'S IRAQ POLICIES -- Speech on the floor of the Senate, January 29, 2007
Rarely do past presidents criticize their successors who are in the White House. It is considered a violation of protocol, especially in the area of international relations. The belief is that we should rally around our commander in chief in times of foreign conflict. Yet the current president’s mistakes are so serious that even former presidents of his own party, including his father, leave little doubt that they regard the Iraq invasion with disdain.
Late last year, Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States, passed away at the age of 93. Several years earlier, Ford had granted an interview to author Bob Woodward, on the condition that it would not be published until after his death. The interview took place in July of 2004, a time when Americans were beginning to doubt George’s W. Bush strategy in Iraq, but long before public opinion had turned strongly against the war, as it now has.
Even then, however, President Ford, a Republican, strongly disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq. In the tape recorded interview with Woodward, he was highly critical of Bush’s decision.
He said: “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 maximized our efforts through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.”
Ford was also critical of Dick Cheyney and Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom had worked for him in the White House. Ford said: “Rumsfeld and Cheyney 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 feel very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”
Gerald Ford almost certainly is not the only former Republican president who thinks George W. Bush made a huge error in starting a war in Iraq. To careful observers, it is obvious that the 41st president of the United States, George H. W. Bush, a man of tremendous foreign policy expertise, realizes that his son has created a calamity in the Middle East.
Time Magazine reported in November that the elder Bush was on a visit to Abu Dhabi when he was asked what advice he was giving his son about Iraq. At first he declined to answer, but as he went on to explain his reasons for not wanting to comment, it became clear that he disagreed with the way his son was handling Iraq. Bush said, speaking of his son: “It’d bring great anxiety not only to him but to his supporters….If I were to suggest what they ought to do, it just would not be constructive and certainly would not be helpful to the President. It would cause grief to him.”
That doesn’t sound like a father who supports his son’s policy. That is no surprise. When he was in power, after successfully throwing Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War, the senior Bush had the good sense to stop when the mission had been fulfilled. He and his senior advisors recognized the perils and pitfalls of trying to invade Iraq and occupy a foreign country that would not welcome a long-term American presence. He understood the lessons of history, about which his defiantly non-studious son cares little.
Our other living ex-president was outspoken as well. Democrat Jimmy Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said in 2005: "I thought then, and I think now, that the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and unjust. And I think the premises on which it was launched were false.”
These are highly unusual statements from past presidents, but of course, the current presidency is unusually disastrous.
Since I am speaking today about past presidents and war, I would like to pass on another story that illustrates how little the current administration understands history, or at least how they distort it for their own purposes.
On June 18th of last year, White House press secretary Tony Snow attempted to provide a historical perspective on the George Bush’s low standing in opinion polls. Snow said: “The president understands people’s impatience – not impatience, but how a war can wear on a nation. He understands that. If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I daresay people would have said, ‘Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?’ But you cannot conduct a war based on polls.”
Snow was wrong. Not only did the American people support World War II almost universally, because they knew what we were fighting for, but they also overwhelmingly supported Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the war. In fact, contrary to Snow’s supposition, there were opinion polls taken from around the time of the Battle of the Bulge. They indicate that FDR’s approval rate was about 72 percent.
I would also remind you that the first George Bush had approval ratings near 90 percent when he successfully led the first Gulf War to remove Hussein from Kuwait. The American people are not cowardly, but neither are they fools. They will support a war when they believe it is justified and is in our national interest, and when they believe it is being well managed.
Neither is true in the case of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Tragically, we continue to see our sons and daughters die for his mistakes.
So I ask you now to remember two more Pennsylvania soldiers who were killed in the same incident in Baghdad on October 14, 2006. Staff Sergeant Joseph M. Kane, 35, of Darby, Pa., and Specialist Timothy J. Lauer, 25, of Saegertown, Pa., died of injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle. Both were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.
Thank You, Madam President.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo