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Ford: Bush made 'big mistake' on Iraq justifications

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Former President Ford told Bob Woodward he wouldn't have ordered war in Iraq
Ford made the comments in a four-hour interview in 2004
Interview appears in The Washington Post
Ford also reportedly disagreed with Bush's approach to spreading democracy
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an interview embargoed two years ago, former President Gerald Ford said President Bush and his chief advisers "made a big mistake" with their justifications for the Iraq war.

Ford, who died Tuesday at 93, made the comments in a four-hour interview in 2004 with The Washington Post's Bob Woodward. The Post published an article with audio excerpts on its Web site Wednesday night.

Woodward was part of the reporting duo that exposed the Watergate scandal, which led to Ford becoming president when President Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974.

The interview was conducted at Ford's home in Beaver Creek, Colorado, according to the Post.

"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 Iraqi war," Ford said in a tape from the interview.

"I would have maximized our efforts through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

Asked to comment Thursday, deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said that the Bush administration and the president are "focused on grieving" right now and "keeping the family in our prayers." (Watch Bush and others praise Ford Video)

Ford died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. An official cause of death has not been released. (Full story)

His body will lie in state in California and Washington before interment Wednesday in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Watch announcement of Ford's funeral plans Video)

Ford replaced Nixon when he resigned during the scandal surrounding the burglary of Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Hotel in Washington. (Watch as repercussions from Ford era live on Video)

Ford was regarded as a man with a quiet style who was not quick to criticize, Woodward and others who worked with him said Wednesday on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Ford requested that Woodward not publish the interview until the author had written a planned book about Ford or until the former president died, Woodward told King.

"He made it very clear that he did not agree with the reasons President Bush laid out for the war, namely the belief that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or that there was some obligation that the United States or the president had to expand democracy," Woodward said.

The Washington Post published other excerpts from the interview.

"[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and [Vice President Dick] Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq," Ford said.

"They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction. And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

Cheney was Ford's chief of staff, and Rumsfeld also was defense secretary in the Ford administration.

Bush has long defended the Iraq war as part of a larger plan to spread democracy throughout the Middle East.

The 38th president said he disapproved of that strategy, according to the interview in the Post.

"I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security," Ford told Woodward.

President Bush visits Gerald Ford at home in California in April.



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