WASHINGTON (CNN) — An upcoming biography of former President George H.W. Bush contains harsh critical assessments by the 41st president of some of the top officials from his son’s presidency.
The former president knocked former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to his biographer, Jon Meacham in interviews for “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” calling Cheney an “iron-ass” and labeling Rumsfeld “an arrogant fellow.”
On Dick Cheney
Bush told Meacham he thought that the famously influential vice president carved out “his own empire” in the White House.
“He had his own empire there and marched to his own drummer,” Meacham quotes Bush. “It just showed me that you cannot do it that way. The President should not have that worry.”
Bush felt that Cheney, who served as defense secretary during his own administration, had changed as vice president. Cheney grew “very hard line” and in response to the terrorist attacks of 9-11.
“I don’t know, he just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with,” Bush told Meacham.
“The reaction to (the 9/11 terrorist attacks), what to do about the Middle East,” Bush told his biographer. “Just iron-ass. His seeming under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East.”
Bush attributed some of that hard-right turn to Cheney’s wife, Lynne Cheney, a historian and conservative thinker, according to Meacham.
“You know, I’ve concluded that Lynne Cheney is a lot of the eminence grise here — iron-ass, tough as nails, driving,” he told Meacham.
But Bush also told his biographer that Cheney was “a good man” and that President George W. Bush had made a mistake by allowing him to “bring in kind of his own State Department.”
On Donald Rumsfeld
The 41st president was decidedly more critical of Rumsfeld in his conversations with Meacham. Bush charged that the former defense secretary “served the president badly” and was an “arrogant fellow.” He also said of Rumsfeld in interviews for the biography:
“I don’t like what he did, an I think it hurt the President, having his iron-ass view of everything, Bush told Meacham. “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 elder Bush also describes his effort to get his son to replace Rumsfeld with Bob Gates, at that point the president of Texas A&M University, in the wake of the Republicans’ drubbing in the 2006 elections.
“At A&M he had a marvelous way to get the support of his people, he had a wonderful manner. Bob Gates is motivated by service. He’s not trying to get a better license plate. He’s down to earth, bright, really good guy,” Bush told Meacham.
But Bush 41 didn’t absolve Bush 43 of all fault, directing some criticism toward his son as well. He told Meacham that he still supports his son’s decision to invade Iraq, calling the ouster and capture of Saddam Hussein “proud moments.”
But he said in interviews that he does “worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there” and suggested that “hot rhetoric is pretty easy to get headlines, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the diplomatic problem.”
Bush referenced in particular the introduction of the phrase “axis of evil” in the 2002 State of the Union address, saying “I think that might be historically proved to be not benefiting anything.”
Meacham showed transcripts of his conversations with the senior Bush to both Cheney and the younger Bush to elicit their reaction.
Cheney, Meacham says, smiled after reading them, telling the biographer that Bush’s analysis was “fascinating.” The former vice president said that he “never heard any of this from 41” but admitted, “No question, I was much harder-line after 9-11 than I was before.”
George W. Bush told Meacham of his father’s evaluation: “He certainly never expressed that opinion to me, either during the presidency or after.” Regarding the criticism of his rhetoric, Bush said “It is true that my rhetoric could get pretty strong and that may have bothered some people — obviously it did, including Dad, though he never mentioned it.”
And he pushed back on the notion that Cheney possessed outsize influence in his administration, arguing that “I made the decisions. This was my philosophy.”
Fox News has also reported on excerpts from the new biography and sought reaction from Cheney, who told the network he takes Bush’s “iron-ass” comment “as a mark of pride.”
He said to Fox, “I think a lot of people believed then, and still believe to this day, that I was aggressive in defending, in carrying out what I thought were the right policies.”
Fox reported that Rumsfeld declined to comment.
CNN’s Will Cadigan contributed to this report.
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