George H.W. Bush Bashes Cheney, and W. for Putting Him in Power

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NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams
H.W. weighs in, a decade too late. Photo: NBC NewsWire/2012 NBCUniversal, Inc.

Proving once again that the Bush family mainly communicates via passive-aggressive statements to the media, George H.W. Bush has revealed what he really thinks of Dick Cheney, his son’s vice-president. In interviews with his biographer, Jon Meacham, for his forthcoming book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, the former president complained that Cheney “had his own empire” within George W. Bush’s administration, and “marched to his own drummer,” according to the New York Times. “It just showed me that you cannot do it that way. The president should not have that worry,” he said.

The elder Bush said he feels Cheney changed after serving in his own cabinet — possibly due to the influence of his conservative daughter Liz and wife Lynne. “He just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with,” Bush said, speculating that 9/11 changed the Veep. “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.”

However, he also called Cheney “a good man,” and blamed his own son for letting things get out of control. “The big mistake that was made was letting Cheney bring in kind of his own State Department,” Bush said. “I think they overdid that. But it’s not Cheney’s fault. It’s the president’s fault … The buck stops there.”

Bush had nothing pleasant to say about another ex-colleague, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “I think he served the president badly,” Bush said. “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. 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.” He also called Rumsfeld an “arrogant fellow,” in case he didn’t make his disdain clear.

Now that we asked, he wasn’t fond of his son’s cowboy rhetoric either. “Hot rhetoric is pretty easy to get headlines, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the diplomatic problem,” Bush said, adding, “You go back to the ‘axis of evil’ and these things and I think that might be historically proved to be not benefiting anything.” But he wouldn’t pick apart W.’s entire eight years in office, saying, “He’s my son, he did his best and I’m for him … It’s that simple an equation.”

When asked for comment, Cheney and the younger Bush both said 41 didn’t share these thoughts privately. Bush 43 said his father “would never say to me, ‘Hey, you need to rein in Cheney. He’s ruining your administration.’ It would be out of character for him to do that. And in any event, I disagree with his characterization of what was going on. I made the decisions. This was my philosophy.” 

George W. made sure to say even nicer things about his colleagues in a statement to the Washington Post on Thursday: "I am proud to have served with Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. 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."

Rumsfeld decided to fight simmering rage with simmering rage, telling NBC News on Thursday, "Bush 41 is getting up in years and badly misjudges Bush 43, who I found made his own decisions. There are hundreds of memos on www.rumsfeld.com that represent advice DOD gave the president." The former Defense secretary is only eight years younger than the elder Bush. As The Atlantic points out, these two have probably been itching to complain about each other for a long time.

As for the other Bush in politics, it’s safe to assume he’s already dreading his dad’s public election 2016 postmortem. On the campaign trail in New Hampshire on Wednesday, a child asked Jeb Bush what it’s like to be the son of a president. Bush told a room full of children — repeat: a room full of children — “All he had to do was say, ‘I’m disappointed in you,’ and it would send me in a deep, spiraling depression.”

The current presidential candidate said on Meet the Press last Sunday, "I love my dad. I’d kill for him. I’d go to prison for him because I love him so much; thankfully, I haven’t had the need to do that." Bush told voters earlier this year, "My dad is probably the most perfect man alive, so it’s very hard for me to be critical of him." He also sells a T-shirt in his campaign store that reads, "My dad is the greatest man I’ve ever known, and if you don’t think so, we can step outside."

According to the Post, Jeb "hasn’t read the book" yet. 

H.W. Bashes Cheney, and W. for Empowering Him