George H.W. Bush said Dick Cheney asserted too much “hard-line” influence within George W. Bush’s White House and said Donald Rumsfeld was an “arrogant fellow” who “served the president badly.”
WASHINGTON — After years of holding back, former President George H.W. Bush has broken his public silence about some of the key figures in his son’s administration, issuing scathing critiques of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In interviews with his biographer, Bush said Cheney built “his own empire” and asserted too much “hard-line” influence within George W. Bush’s White House in pushing for the use of force around the world. Rumsfeld, the elder Bush said, was an “arrogant fellow” who could not see how others thought and “served the president badly.”
The assessments, contained in a biography by Jon Meacham to be published by Random House next week, gave voice to sentiments that many long suspected the elder Bush had harbored but kept private until now out of respect for his son’s independence.
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While he continued to praise his son’s handling of the White House, he did tell Meacham that the younger Bush was responsible for empowering Cheney and Rumsfeld and was at times too bellicose in his language.
“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,” George H.W. Bush told Meacham. “Hot rhetoric is pretty easy to get headlines, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the diplomatic problem.”
Asked for specifics, Bush cited his son’s State of the Union address in 2002, when he described an “axis of evil” that included Iraq, Iran and North Korea. “You go back to the ‘axis of evil’ and these things, and I think that might be historically proved to be not benefiting anything,” he said.
The biography, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” is coming out as the country is focused once again on the Bush family and its place in the United States.
With Jeb Bush, George H.W. Bush’s second son, struggling in his campaign for the White House, the family that has held the White House the longest in the modern age now faces the possibility that its time has passed.
But the first George Bush, 91, has seen his reputation rise again with the passage of time, and Meacham’s largely admiring biography offers the most definitive account to date about the 41st president. Meacham, a former editor of Newsweek and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, spent years doing research for the book, which is based in part on interviews with the former president and diaries he and his wife, Barbara, kept.
In addition to the reviews of Cheney and Rumsfeld, the book reveals that the older Bush suffered from a post-victory despondency after the Persian Gulf war of 1991 — a “letdown” over no longer being involved in such a huge endeavor — that led him to consider not running for a second term. It also reports that Donald Trump, now a leading Republican candidate for president, wanted to be the elder Bush’s running mate in 1988, and that Jeb Bush privately urged him to drop Dan Quayle from the ticket in 1992.
It also describes the elder Bush’s evolution on issues such as same-sex marriage.
While gearing up for his 1988 campaign, Bush said in his audio diary that Americans “don’t want homosexual marriages codified.” In retirement, he attended a same-sex marriage and this September, he sent Meacham a note to clarify his position.
“Personally, I still believe in traditional marriage,” Bush wrote. “But people should be able to do what they want to do, without discrimination. People have a right to be happy. I guess you could say I have mellowed.”