George HW Bush lashes son’s former aides Cheney and Rumsfeld

Bush calls George W’s VP ‘iron-ass’ and says ex-defence secretary served him badly

Former US president George HW Bush has sharply criticised two senior figures in the White House led by his son George W, calling Dick Cheney "iron-ass" and Donald Rumsfeld an "arrogant fellow".

In a blistering assessment of the foreign policy advisers that shaped the younger Bush’s administration, the elder Bush has told a biographer that the men were too hawkish and adopted severe, rigid positions on foreign policy that damaged America’s reputation.

In a new book, Destiny And Power: the American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, author Jon Meacham reveals the 41st president's strong objections to how Mr Cheney, his own secretary of defence and his son's vice- president, reacted to the 9/11 attacks.

“He just became very hardline and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with,” Mr Bush said. “The reaction, what to do about the Middle East. 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.”


Too much independence

The big mistake was “letting Mr Cheney bring in kind of his own State Department, ” he said, but that this was “the president’s fault

”, blaming his son for giving his vice-president too much independence.

“He had his own empire there and marched to his own drummer,” Mr Bush, now 91, said of Mr Cheney. “It just showed me that you cannot do it that way. The president should not have that worry.”

He suggested that the former vice-president might have been pushed to a harder line by his wife, Liz, and daughter, Lynne, whom Mr Bush described as “a lot of the eminence grise here . . . tough as nails, driving”.

The book draws on interviews with the president and the audio diaries recorded by Mr Bush when he was president.

He is even more scathing on Mr Rumsfeld, saying that he “served the president badly”.

Kick ass and take names

“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,” Mr Bush said.

He took issue too with the pugnacious language used during his son's administration – "Hot rhetoric is pretty easy to get headlines, but it doesn't necessarily solve the diplomatic problem"– specifically citing his famous 2002 State of the Union address in which he described an "axis of evil" including Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

“That might be historically proved to be not benefiting anything,” he said, revealing views that he is said to have privately held for years.

In response to his father’s criticisms, George W Bush defended his former aides in a statement. The younger Bush said Mr Cheney “did a superb job” and called Mr Rumsfeld “an effective secretary of defence”.

The divisions within the Bush dynasty emerge as the latest member of the political bloodline, Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and George W's younger brother, is struggling to breathe life into a listless campaign to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent