Columnist Morton Kondracke writes that Gerald Ford was “straightforward, honest, uncomplicated?an Eagle Scout nearly incapable of dissembling.” Indeed, it is significant that Ford was the only U.S. President to have attained Scouting’s highest rank. Scouting is more than learning practical survival skills. It is about being “morally straight” in one’s personal and public life. We need this trait, now more than ever, from President Bush. The fate of Iraq?and perhaps America itself ?hangs in the balance.
In today’s culture, few in the media want to talk about what it means to be “morally straight,” which is a phrase in the Scout oath. Many liberals in the media, who sympathized with the ACLU’s assault on the Scouts, in order to force the organization to accept militant homosexuals as Scoutmasters, would prefer to talk about things like Bob Woodward’s interview of Gerald Ford, in which the former president was critical of the 2003 Iraq invasion. It is another example of the anti-Bush bias that permeates the media, even at times of national mourning for a former president. They want to use Ford’s death to damage the President’s Iraq policy. Ford is reported to have considered Watergate reporter Woodward a friend and talked to him on that basis. But what kind of friend would use an interview after Ford’s death, before the memorial service was even held, for such crass political purposes?
We are in a “State of Denial,” which is Woodward’s book about the Bush Iraq policy, if we think that the media don’t have ulterior political motives in exploiting a former president’s death.
Ford was a friend to many people, especially to the president he pardoned. And the truth about Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon is that Nixon hadn’t done anything previous presidents had gotten away with. All of this was well-documented in Victor Lasky’s book, It Didn’t start With Watergate, which examined the media double-standard in handling Republican and Democratic presidents. Our media have relentlessly tried to Watergate George W. Bush as well, with such “scandals” as the Joe Wilson affair, in which a former diplomat, working with the New York Times, concocted phony charges about the President’s Iraq policy. It’s this kind of coverage which has driven support for the war to such low levels and ushered in a liberal Congress on November 7. For all the talk about the “new media” and talk radio, we are still saddled with an irresponsible and occasionally treasonous liberal media that continues to play a dominant role in public life.
The other central truth about the Ford presidency is that he presided over the failure of U.S. policy in Vietnam, which culminated in the horrifying spectacle of friends of freedom trying to catch a ride on a helicopter out of Saigon, South Vietnam, as the communists were moving in. A liberal Congress used Nixon’s downfall to cut funding for our South Vietnamese allies, causing the collapse of the South Vietnamese government, creation of North Vietnamese communist “re-education” camps, wholesale slaughter and boat people, and the Cambodian genocide.
Despite his Eagle Scout background, perhaps Ford was too diplomatic and not honest enough. He did not hold the liberals responsible for the Vietnam defeat, declaring in a speech that while he was saddened by events in Indochina, the tragic developments did not portend either the end of the world or of America’s leadership in the world. Appearing to take the U.S. Congress off the hook for the bloodbath, Ford said that “the fate of responsible men and women everywhere, in the final decision, rests in their own hands.” No, it rested in the hands of those American politicians and press figures who helped bring the communists to power with their anti-American agenda and refusal to face up to the nature of the communist enemy.
Such an attitude may help explain why Ford’s presidency is getting generally sympathetic media reviews. Who in the media or Congress wanted to be held responsible for millions of deaths in Southeast Asia? Woodward and the Post did not want to be blamed for that. And the liberals in Congress who cut funding for the war effort and encouraged the communists to complete their conquest of South Vietnam did not want to be blamed, either.
Fortunately, as Ford indicated, American leadership did re-emerge, as President Ronald Reagan was determined to build up America’s military force, confronted the communists around the world, and communicated the great truths about the historical dimensions of the struggle that was underway.
Today, a liberal Congress prepares to take power, egged on by far-leftists who want to see the Vietnam defeat replayed in Iraq. They have the power to hand Iraq over to a ruthless terrorist enemy. It is another test of wills. This time, as Vietnam veteran and Senator John McCain has warned, the enemy will not be content to consolidate its power in Indochina. It is coming after us. Whatever one may think of McCain’s prescription for more U.S. soldiers in Iraq, his point about the current enemy being more ruthless than the communists who tortured him has to be seriously considered and addressed. If one disagrees with McCain’s plan for Iraq, what is the alternative?
President Bush has to want to avoid being a Gerald Ford in the sense of presiding over another American humiliation and defeat. But what can he do? On the battlefield of ideas, in which the U.S. State Department has inexplicably honored an official, Alberto Fernandez, who declared on Al-Jazeera that U.S. policy in Iraq was stupid and arrogant, there is absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel. There seems to be no hope of Bush grasping the serious nature and impact of the propaganda war that we are facing?and losing. It may be because his friend, Karen Hughes, is in charge of State’s “public diplomacy” effort. She is in over her head.
On the ground in Iraq, Bush has said that he defers to his military commanders but appears ready to overrule them and send a few more U.S. troops to Iraq, although not as many as McCain would like. In a dramatic development, right after Bush admitted his political party took a “thumping,” mostly because of Iraq, he replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense with Robert Gates. Interestingly, both happen to be Eagle Scouts, men who know that honesty and truth are primary values. Bush insists that Gates offers a “fresh” perspective on the war, whatever that may mean. In any case, the buck stops with Bush.
In thinking about Ford being an Eagle Scout, I’m reminded of the movie based on the Tom Clancy book, A Clear and Present Danger, in which a dishonest White House aide takes issue with CIA official Jack Ryan, played by Harrison Ford, wanting to set the record straight about a secret war against drug traffickers. “You’re such a Boy Scout,” says the aide, contemptuously. In other words, why be honest and truthful when deception is the name of the Washington game?
At this critical time, we need some straightforward and honest talk from the President himself about what precisely he has planned for Iraq, so that the lives of 3,000-plus American service personnel will not be in vain. It’s time for Bush to be a Boy Scout. Tell us the uncomplicated truth. Tell us how Iraq survives as a free and democratic society.
If the President cannot give us such a guarantee, and if a military defeat appears increasingly likely, then do not pull any punches in terms of who will have to take the blame. Above all, don’t blame the Iraqis for putting their lives on the line, with a promise of our steadfast support, for what we have taken for granted.
*Cliff Kincaid, AIM editor, became an Eagle Scout in 1968.