FORD: BUSH ‘MADE A BIG MISTAKE’…. Late on Tuesday, after the Ford family announced the passing of the former president, President Bush released a statement praising Gerald Ford for his “quiet integrity, common sense, and kind instincts.”

As it turns out, Bush was more right than he realized — Ford’s common sense and instincts served him well.

Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford “very strongly” disagreed with the current president’s justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney — Ford’s White House chief of staff — and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

“Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “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.”

It’s a shame the former president felt it was necessary to keep his opinions on the war quiet until after he died, though in fairness, I suspect the debate over Iraq would have unfolded exactly the same way, whether Ford had gone public with his denunciations or not.

That said, will Ford’s criticisms of the Bush gang’s handling of the conflict change the way the former president will be honored? Based on his comments to Bob Woodward, Ford’s concerns were very much in line with those of many congressional Democrats, most of whom were dismissed by the right as weak on national security and dangerously ignorant on foreign policy. As it turns out, Ford agreed with Democrats that the U.S. should only go to war when a conflict is “directly related to our own national security” — and Iraq didn’t fit the bill.

I’m curious; will this temper the GOP’s praise of the former president?

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.