Dick Cheney became a different person after the 9/11 attacks – “very hard line.” As vice president during the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Cheney seemed eager to use military force to solve all United States security problems in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Bush’s secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was a self-serving “iron ass” who “served the president very badly.”
Who’s the harsh critic making those assessments? It’s none other than Bush family patriarch George Herbert Walker Bush, himself the 41st president of the United States.
They’re excerpts appearing in The New York Times from a new biography, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” that’s got Washington buzzing over its portrayal of Bush 41's attitude towards his son George W.’s presidency, among other juicy items.
The elder Bush gave extensive interviews and provided family diaries to author Jon Meacham. His criticisms are mostly on-the-record quotes, not secondhand leaks attributed to some “family friend with knowledge of Bush 41’s thinking.”
In general, Bush 41 in the book defends his son’s presidency, including the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. He says that the exercise of US power and the toppling of Saddam Hussein were a “proud moment.”
“Saddam’s gone, and with him went a lot of brutality and nastiness and awfulness,” Bush told Meacham.
That’s notable, because as the man who ran the Gulf War, George Herbert Walker Bush years earlier pulled back from Baghdad. He expelled Iraq from Kuwait but left Hussein in place. At the time he felt the international coalition he’d pulled together to prosecute the war would not support toppling the Iraqi regime.
Bush does chide his son for overly hot rhetoric, mentioning the latter’s “Axis of Evil” speech as an example. But with his direct words about Cheney and Rumsfeld, which include an assessment that Cheney had built a separate foreign policy brain trust from that of the president, the Bush family leader seems to be defending his son’s overall leadership.
Will this change how the US views the Iraq War, and/or the Bush 43 presidency? That’s debatable but we’d say it’s unlikely it will. History usually holds presidents responsible for their top aides. After all it’s the presidents who put those aides in their jobs in the first place.
Nor is Bush 41’s displeasure with the aggression of the Iraq War team a secret. By the end of his second term even his son appeared to have cut them out of his innermost circle. Rumsfeld was gone, replaced as Defense Secretary by Robert Gates in 2006. Cheney’s influence had waned, though he was able to convince Bush to grant clemency to aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who had been convicted of obstruction of justice in the leak of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
If nothing else the elder Bush is doing his best to polish his family’s record for historians to come – at a time when the presidential bid of George W.’s brother Jeb is sputtering.
Dad’s remarks “offer a way for the famously tight-knit Bush clan to once more close ranks around one of their own," writes The Atlantic’s David Graham.