'Iron-ass' Cheney and 'arrogant' Rumsfeld damaged America, says George Bush Sr


Former president claims hawkish reaction to 9/11 attacks and desire to ‘get our way in the Middle East’ hurt his son’s administration, says new biography

Former US president George HW Bush has hit out at Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, two of the most senior figures in his son’s administration, labelling them too “hardline” and “arrogant” in their handling of the 11 September attacks.

A new biography of the 41st president – Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey Of George Herbert Walker Bush – reveals that Bush Sr held Cheney and Rumsfeld responsible for the hawkish stance that “hurt” his son’s administration,Fox News reported on Wednesday

The book, by Jon Meacham, is based on audio diaries that Bush recorded during his time in the White House, as well as interviews with the former president and his wife, Barbara.

Cheney served as defence secretary during George HW Bush’s 1989-1993 presidency and later as vice-president under President George W Bush. After 9/11, Bush Sr told his biographer: “I don’t know, he just became very hardline and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with.

“The reaction [to 9/11], 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,” Bush told Meacham in the book, which is due to be published next week.

From left to right: Donald Rumsfeld, George W Bush and Dick Cheney, pictured in 2006 at the armed forces farewell tribute to Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.
 From left to right: Donald Rumsfeld, George W Bush and Dick Cheney, pictured in 2006 at the armed forces farewell tribute to Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Of his son’s role, Bush Sr told his biographer: “He’s my son, he did his best and I’m for him. It’s that simple an equation.”

But he criticised Bush Jr for allowing Cheney to build “kind of his own state department” and for the inflammatory language that infused the US response to the 9/11 attacks.

“I do worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there – some of it his [Bush Jr], maybe, and some of it the people around him. Hot rhetoric is pretty easy to get headlines, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the diplomatic problem.”

He added that George W Bush’s infamous state of the union address in 2002, in which the then president warned of an “axis of evil” of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, “might be historically proved to be not benefiting anything”.

Rumsfeld, who was Bush Jr’s secretary of defense for most of his two terms, has so far not commented on the criticisms directed at him by the 41st president, who in the book calls him “an arrogant fellow”, adding: “I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president.

“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.”

Dick Cheney speaks to Fox News

But Cheney told Fox News he took the “iron-ass” jibe as a compliment.

“I took it as a mark of pride,” he says. “The attack on 9/11 was worse than Pearl Harbor, in terms of the number people killed, and the amount of damage done. 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.”

Cheney insisted he had enjoyed reading Meacham’s book. “The diary’s fascinating, because you can see how he felt at various key moments of his life. So I’m enjoying the book. I recommend it to my friends. And [I’m] proud to be a part of it.”

But he dismissed claims levelled by the former president that Lynne Cheney, his wife, as well as his daughter Liz Cheney, had been the “eminence grises” behind his vice-presidency. “It’s his view, perhaps, of what happened, but my family was not conspiring to somehow turn me into a tougher, more hard-nosed individual.

“I got there all by myself.”

George W Bush 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.

“I made the decisions. This was my philosophy.

“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.”

Reuters contributed to this report