Former President George H. W. Bush has ignited Republican infighting by alleging in an upcoming biography that former Vice President Dick Cheney formed his “own empire” within the White House and evolved into an “iron-ass” on foreign policy while serving in George W. Bush’s administration.
According to The New York Times, the 41st president is highly critical of Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the book, with the elder Bush slamming both men for having ”served the president badly.” Bush has particularly harsh words for Cheney, who he says for the past 15 years has barely resembled the man who once served as his secretary of defense.
“He just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with,” Bush told his biographer, Jon Meacham. “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.”
Cheney told Meacham that the former president’s comments were “fascinating,” the Times reports, adding that he “never heard any for this from 41. He would sometimes stick his head in and we’rd talk, but he never indicated anything like this.”
Rumsfeld was far less tactful with his take on the analysis. “Bush 41 is getting up in years and misjudges Bush 43, who I found made his own decisions,” the former defense secretary told NBC News. In the book, the elder Bush says Rumsfeld has a “lack of humility” and is “arrogant,” statements Sen. John McCain agreed with during an appearance on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell on Thursday.
McCain called Rumsfeld’s reference to Bush’s age “very regrettable” and said that “one thing about Bush 41 as we – time passes, we appreciate him and more, not only for – as president of United States, but being such a wonderful, decent man. A 19-year-old who was shot down in – just a lovely, lovely man. And to say that of course, is – frankly authenticates the comments are made [in the book] about Donald Rumsfeld.”
There’s long been no love lost between McCain and Rumsfeld. The Arizona Republican was highly critical of Rumsfeld’s leadership during the height of the Iraq War and in 2007 said he would “go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history.”
Bush’s critiques come amid numerous reports of frayed relations, both privately and publicly, between the Bush and Cheney camps. In the waning days of his administration, George W. Bush clashed with Cheney over whether or not to pardon his friend Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame leak case. Since leaving the White House in 2009, the younger Bush has said his relationship with Cheney is “cordial” but that he doesn’t see him much anymore.
“There were a lot of differences of opinion” when Cheney and George W. Bush served together, an unidentified former White House official told Politico in 2009. “The president prevailed, because he was president. The vice president sat back and was dutiful and loyal. But that is a different situation than you have now.”
The 91-year-old ex-president attributes Cheney’s evolution in part to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and his wife Lynne, who he describes as “tough as nails” and “driving.” But he also concludes that one of the biggest mistakes his son made as president was “letting 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.”
“The buck stops there,” Bush said, according to the Times. The former president also knocks some of the terms his son used while in office to describe international enemies, such as the “axis of evil.”
“I do worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there — some of it his, maybe, and some of it the people around him,” he said of his eldest son.
George W. Bush defended his former colleagues in a statement on Thursday. “I am proud to have served with Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld,” Bush 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.”
“Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” – which includes revelations like Bush the elder claiming Donald Trump wanted the vice presidential slot in 1988 and calling his Democratic opponent that year, Michael Dukakis, a “midget nerd” – is due to hit bookstores next week.