Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald R. Ford: 1913 - 2006

With the passing of Gerald Ford, I wonder what most people will focus upon. Many will inevitably focus on the aftermath of Watergate culminating with the pardon of Nixon and how he uttered the famous phrase "our long national nightmare is over" upon assuming the Presidency. Many still associate Ford with the SNL skits of him as a clumsy oaf and which Ford took with good grace.

While others will inevitably focus on President Ford's ascension to the Office of the President, becoming the only person to become President without having been elected in a nationwide election, the fallout from the Watergate scandal that brought down the Presidency of Richard Nixon (and the subsequent pardon), or even his athletic achievements at the University of Michigan, there is much to be learned about one aspect of his Presidency that is highly relevant to the nation and the world today.

I for one am looking at whether he could have done more to help South Vietnam avoid being overrun by the Communist North and which set about a chain reaction of human rights atrocities and depravities throughout Southeast Asia. I'm also wondering what lessons that particular chapter of history can be applied to the current situation in the world. It's a cautionary tale of what we must avoid doing in Iraq.

Ford was unable to stop Congress from cutting the pursestrings to the South Vietnamese government. That fateful decision set in motion the indeliable image of the last chopper out of Saigon before the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist North Vietnamese. It also set in motion the Killing Fields where millions perished in Southeast Asia. The Times notes:
He resented the accident of fate that had made him president as the nation watched South Vietnam and Cambodia — where so much of America’s human and economic treasure had been spent by three predecessors — fall to the Communists in 1975. Rebuffed by Congress when he sought a last-minute $972 million in aid to Saigon, Mr. Ford made it possible for 130,000 or more refugees to come to the United States.

When the Cambodian Communists seized the American merchant ship Mayaqüez in May 1975, Mr. Ford reacted with uncharacteristic emotion, sending United States military forces to recapture the ship.

The order was motivated in part by concern for national image. “We had just pulled out of Vietnam, out of Cambodia,” Mr. Ford said later, “and here the United States was being challenged by a group of leaders who were bandits and outlaws, in my opinion, and I think their subsequent record has pretty well proved it. And it was an emotional decision to tell the Defense Department we had to go in there and do something.”
Do we as a nation have an obligation to prevent far greater human rights disasters than what some believe is currently going on in Iraq or must we leave the field of battle in Iraq before the job is done and an Iraqi government can stand against ruthless enemies at its doorstep? This isn't simply addressing the issue of whether "we broke it so we bought it" but whether the nation has obligations that go beyond stationing troops in Iraq to deal with the insurgent threat or the terror threat to ensuring that we do not repeat the mistakes made in the Vietnam experience.

For should the US leave now, the potential for bloodshed on a scale rivaling that of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian Killing Fields is quite likely and the Iranians and Syrians would both seek to exert tremendous influence over the outcome. Turkey meanwhile would try to keep the Kurds in Iraq from forming their own country, giving the Kurds within Turkey their own ideas of forming a country with the Iraqi Kurds.

Then, there's the message that was sent around the world that showed that the US lost and that its power was limited giving rogue nations and nascent terror groups hope to outlast the US in a protracted conflict. On the heels of the evacuation from Vietnam, the Cambodians captured the Mayaqüez and President Ford recognized that the US had to act decisively. Ford noted that the inability or refusal to free the Mayaqüez would send the wrong messages to the enemies of the US who would take advantage of the situation, much to the detriment to the US strategic interests around the world.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney each issued statements reflecting on the passing of the 38th President. Funeral plans are provided.

Michelle Malkin notes that Ford's short tenure as President was marked by two assassination attempts.

Don Surber adds his two cents and offers up a lesson for the current Administration - not to run away from the war and its obligations.

To see those who are blogging, check out memeorandum and technorati.

Pajamas Media has a huge roundup. Rick Moran weighs in with a personal encounter with Ford. Sundries Shack thinks Ford should be the template of what a good President should be. Crooks and Liars wonders whether the pardon issue may come back to haunt another President and future Administrations.

Others weighing in with their views on the Ford Presidency and his legacy: Blue Crab Boulevard, Macranger, Dan Riehl, Instapundit, Gina Cobb, Outside the Beltway, AJ Strata, Wizbang, Tigerhawk, Thunder Run, Dean Esmay, Jules Crittenden, John Cole, The Moderate Voice, and Talk Left.

President Ford will be given a full state funeral and includes a special tribute to his long service to the nation in Congress:
Gerald R. Ford will be mourned in the rare and solemn spectacle of a state funeral crafted to honor his reverence for Congress, the institution that launched him to the presidency. Ceremonies begin Friday in a California church, and end five days later with Ford's entombment on a hillside near his Grand Rapids, Mich., presidential museum.

In between, according to funeral details announced Wednesday, Ford's body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, offering both dignitaries and the public a chance to pay final respects to the former Michigan congressman who rose to the White House in the collapse of Richard Nixon's presidency.

And in a departure from tradition meant to highlight his long congressional service, Ford's remains will also lie in repose outside the doors of both the House and the Senate for short periods.

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