Elder Bush: ‘Hard-line’ Cheney built “his own empire”

© Shawn Thew
Former President George H. W. Bush lashed out at former “iron-ass” Vice President Dick Cheney and “arrogant” former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who Bush Sr. claims served his son “badly.”

Rarely speaking publicly about administrations following his own, America’s 41 President opened up to his biographer Jon Meacham for his book, due to be released next week.

“Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” is largely based on interviews and diaries that Bush and his wife Barbara kept.

Full of ruminations, the book contains some sharply critical assessments of former Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to the New York Times.

The elder Bush repeatedly mentions Cheney, who served as a defense secretary during George H. W. Bush’s 1989-1993 presidency, and later as vice-president during Bush Jr.’s administration.

While calling Cheney “a good man,” Bush criticizes his policies.

“He just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with,” Bush says when making a reference to 9/11. “Just iron-ass. His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East.”

Bush Sr. refused to give his take on Bush Jr.’s policy during the war in Iraq.

“He’s my son, he did his best and I’m for him,” Bush said. “It’s that simple an equation.”

Yet, Bush Sr. did say he does “worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there”.

“You go back to the ‘axis of evil’ [from the 43rd president’s 2002 State of the Union address] and these things and I think that might be historically proved to be not benefiting anything,” he said. “Hot rhetoric is pretty easy to get headlines, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the diplomatic problem.”

In a rare critique of his son, Bush Sr. says it was Bush Jr.’s “big mistake” to let Cheney “bring in kind of his own State Department.”

“I think they overdid that. But it’s not Cheney’s fault. It’s the president’s fault,” he said.

Bush Sr. describes Cheney’s service as marching to “his own drummer.”

“He had his own empire there and marched to his own drummer,” Bush said. “It just showed me that you cannot do it that way. The president should not have that worry.”

Bush also told Meacham that it might have been Cheney’s wife Lynne and his daughter Liz, both of whom are strong conservatives, who influenced Cheney’s decisions.

“I’ve concluded that Lynne Cheney is a lot of the eminence grise here – iron-ass, tough as nails, driving,” he said.
George H. W. Bush’s take on former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who he says “served the president badly,” is even harsher.

“I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything. I’ve never been that close to him anyway,” Bush said. “There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that.”

The 41st President calls Rumsfeld “an arrogant fellow and self-assured, swagger.”

The revelations that Bush Sr. makes in the book came as a surprise to both his sons – former president George W. Bush and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is now running for the presidency.

George W. Bush issued a statement from his office in Dallas on Thursday defending both Cheney and Rumsfeld.

“I am proud to have served with Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld,” he said. “Dick Cheney did a superb job as vice president and I was fortunate to have him by my side throughout my presidency. Don Rumsfeld ably led the Pentagon and was an effective Secretary of Defense. I am grateful to both men for their good advice, selfless service to our country, and friendship.”

He had stressed to Meacham earlier that Bush Sr. “would never say to me: ‘Hey, you need to rein in Cheney. He’s ruining your administration.’”

Despite all the criticism, Cheney himself did not seem to take Bush Sr.’s words too close to heart, calling the musings “fascinating,” according to the New York Times.

“I never heard any of this from 41,” Cheney told Meacham after going through the transcripts. “He would sometimes stick his head in and we’d talk, but he never indicated anything like this.”