Saturday, December 30, 2006

More skepticism on Healer-in-Chief Jerry Ford

Here are a few links to less-than-totally-adoring evaluations of Ford the Healer.

Gerald Ford, Unsentimentally by Matthew Rothschild The Progressive Online 12/27/06:

There’s something profoundly undemocratic and vaguely medieval about the almost mandatory salutes that we, the people, are supposed to offer when a former President dies.

Gerald Ford Was Guilty by Cenk Uygur Huffington Post 12/29/06:

Ford sent the signal not just to the whole nation and all future presidents, but also to Dick Cheney, his Chief of Staff, that the President could break the law - and get away with it. This wound up coming back to haunt the country.

Did Ford Trade Nixon Pardon for Presidency? by Victor Navasky, 12/29/06:

Well, I think he - the most important thing he did was he pardoned Richard Nixon. And he, he - and if that was, indeed, the result of a deal, rather than this he’s being credited, and maybe properly so, with trying to heal the nation. But if he - if his attempt to heal the nation was a result of a deal he made while he was vice president of the United States, that’s an important missing piece of history.

Josh Marshall in this post of 12/29/06 points out that in his interviews with Bob Woodward that are just now being reported for the first time, Ford describes his thinking on the pardoning of Nixon in a way that adds more circumstantial evidence to the idea that the pardon was part of an implicit or explicit deal. Ford told Woodward, "I think that Nixon felt I was about the only person he could really trust on the Hill."

Washington Wise Men: Honor Gerald Ford for his "civility" to D.C. insiders, not his handling of end of Vietnam War by Greg Sargent American Prospect Horse's Mouth blog 12/28/06. Now, Sargent seems to buy into the "healer" meme when it comes to Ford and the Vietnam War.

Whereas I fault Ford for blocking clouding postwar evaluations of what happened and what lessons could be learned from it, in the process promoting the stab-in-the-back notion of the loss in that war. Still, Sargent is right to fault the main coverage of the war for downplaying the significance of the fall of Saigon in Jerry Ford's Presidency.

The speech to which the article cited by Sargent refers is an address at Tulane University on 04/23/1975. Ford said in that address:

Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned. As I see it, the time has come to look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the Nation's wounds, and to restore its health and its optimistic self-confidence. ...

I ask that we stop refighting the battles and the recriminations of the past. I ask that we look now at what is right with America, at our possibilities and our potentialities for change and growth and achievement and sharing. I ask that we accept the responsibilities of leadership as a good neighbor to all peoples and the enemy of none. I ask that we strive to become, in the finest American tradition, something more tomorrow than we are today.

Instead of my addressing the image of America, I prefer to consider the reality of America. It is true that we have launched our Bicentennial celebration without having achieved human perfection, but we have attained a very remarkable self-governed society that possesses the flexibility and the dynamism to grow and undertake an entirely new agenda, an agenda for America's third century.

So, I ask you to join me in helping to write that agenda. I am as determined as a President can be to seek national rediscovery of the belief in ourselves that characterized the most creative periods in our Nation's history. The greatest challenge of creativity, as I see it, lies ahead.

This was the tone that Ford struck in the discussion over Vietnam. Shut up about the failures and think about how great and wonderful America is and always has been. (And, oh yeah, we would have won if the Vietcong-loving Congresshadn't refused my last emergency budget request for South Vietnam.) Yes, a very healing approach.

The Ford Library has some transcripts available at their Web site of Cabinet meetings. At the Cabinet meeting of 04/16/1975, Kissinger declared the stab-in-the-back position:

First, he addressed Southeast Asia, Vietnam specifically. The entire North Vietnamese Army is in the South at the present time. The Secretary indicated that he felt one Marine brigade could take all of North Vietnam. There has been a terrible violation of the Paris Peace Accords and it is obvious to the world that this has happened. This is the first time that American domestic reactions, principally in the Congress, have impacted seriously on the action of a foreign government, it is the age old problem of internal domestic argument and competition effecting the conduct of foreign policy.

The United States had encouraged the South Vietnamese to resist and fight for its right of self determination. By not giving continued aid to South Vietnam and with the Russians and Chinese giving consistent aid to North Vietnam, there developed an imbalance whereby the North Vietnamese Army had much greater force. Had the President not been strong in his speech, it would have threatened United States personnel and friendly Vietnamese who were still in Saigon. The President requested both military and economic aid as the way to achieve a controlled situation. It gives the United States time to evacuate Americans and the Vietnamese as well. (my emphasis)

But Kissinger was still able to focus on reality behind his Nixonian ideology:

The President asked for the full 922 million dollars. That figure was selected because of General Weyand's survey. It was a figure which the State Department and members of this Administration felt they could justify and testify about with conviction, because it was taken from a first hand report.

The Secretary mentioned that in questioning before [Congressional] committees today, they seemed not so concerned about the total dollar amounts, but rather the overall strategy, the overall concept of foreign policy in Southeast Asia. The great challenge to the United States is how does the Country manage its exit from this tragic situation. The answer to that will be the world's perception of the United States foreign policy. These events have a profound impact on world leaders. They are very interested in the United States position, not only in South Vietnam, but how it relates to their specific countries all across the globe. (my emphasis)

This statement shows a couple of things about Kissinger at this moment. One is that he realized that the US position in South Vietnam was finished, and all that remained was to "manage its exit from this tragic situation". Another is that Kissinger was very aware that Congress was concerned not about the additional money that the Ford administration was requesting, but rather about "the overall strategy, the overall concept of foreign policy in Southeast Asia." In other words, they were looking seriously at what America's realistic interests in the situation were. Kissinger, on the other hand, is here suggesting apparently seriously that "one Marine brigade could take all of North Vietnam"! That was just plain nuts. But here he is presenting this at a Cabinet meeting while the South Vietnamese government is just days away from what would prove to be its final collapse.

The minutes continue:

There are two areas and questions one must ask. First, were our judgements correct and accurate in the past? And there is nothing that we can do about that now, nor are there any good answers. Secondly, how will America react to crisis? And the answer to that is what the President said in his speech.

In the Secretary's view, the worst thing that could happen would be for the President to say that he is undertaking a global reassessment of United States foreign policy. It would be disastrous to our allies and an advantage for our adversaries. The United States ability to affect events determines war and peace throughout the world, therefore, we must continue to act with confidence and assurance. The problem is lacking enough authority to get done what needs to be done in Southeast Asia.  It seems that the most vocal critics during this period have been those people who got us into Indochina originally [i.e., the Democrats]. (my emphasis)

I would have to say that Kissinger's cold-hearted but reality-based cynicism is almost refreshing compared to the toxic mix of cynicism, arrogance and delusion that has shaped so much of the Cheney-Bush foreign policy.

But, still, this ain't about national "healing" or "reconciliation". It's about saving the Republican Party for blame for how badly they handled Vietnam policy during the Nixon and Ford administrations and to promote a stab-in-the-back version of the loss of that war by blaming it all on the Democrats.

This is how Healer-in-Chief Ford prepared his soothing balm for the jangled nerves of the nation, or whatever similar foolishness the Establishment press is cranking out this week about him. Here's the Healer-in-Chief himself from the same Cabinet minutes:

The President Congress has shown no cooperation in a meaningful way during this period of time. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has suggested or given the President a $200 million emergency fund for Presidential discretion. In the President's opinion, that amount is as bad as getting nothing at all. The Administration's position is to stick to their guns and try to get the entire amount. There are contingency plans in case a lesser amount is appropriated.

There are three things that the President feels members of the Cabinet should stress in talking about Vietnam. First, it will be very bad if Congress does not cooperate in some way to alleviate the bloodshed [i.e., by helping to prolong the war]. Second, the Administration should not talk about evacuation [of American personnel at that moment]. And third, in reference to the amount of money being requested, a unified stance should be that the President is firm and does want the entire amount of money that he requested. (my emphasis)

Ford the Healer dismissed the emergency fund of $200 million that Congress had agreed upon as "as bad as getting nothing at all". And he made it clear he wanted to heal the nation by accusing the Democratic Congress that it refused to cooperate "in some way to alleviate the bloodshed". And if the money beyond the $200 million were really so urgent - and Kissinger's briefing makes it clear that they understood the military situation to be very dire - why is Ford taking the stance "that the President is firm and does want the entire amount of money that he requested"? It doesn't make a lot of sense if his goal is to rush dollars to the South Vietnamese. It makes more sense if they knew the game was up (which Kissinger almost said explicitly in the quote above) and wanted to blame the Democrats for the final collapse of the corrupt, unpopular South Vietnamese government.

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