WASHINGTON — In a blistering critique, former President George H.W. Bush says onetime Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld “served the president badly” when George W. Bush was in the White House and that former Vice President Dick Cheney “built his own empire” and asserted too much “hard-line” influence.
The critical assessments of Rumsfeld and Cheney — key players in the U.S.-led war in Iraq — are contained in a biography of the nation’s 41st president to be published next week. A copy was obtained by The New York Times.
In interviews with biographer Jon Meacham, Bush, now 91, said that Cheney, who also served in the elder Bush’s Cabinet, acted too independently and asserted too much “hard-line” influence within George W. Bush’s administration, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Jeb Bush, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said on Thursday that he had not read the book. “My thought was that Dick Cheney served my dad really well,” Bush said in an Associated Press interview in North Conway, N.H. “And he served as vice president, he served my brother really well. Different eras. Different times.”
George W. Bush, in a statement issued by his office, said he was “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.”
The book, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” also contains the elder Bush’s ruminations about his son, whom he praised but also called responsible for empowering Cheney and Rumsfeld.
Of Cheney, Bush said, “He just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with.”
Bush said he thinks the Sept. 11 attacks changed the vice president, making him more hawkish about the use of U.S. military force abroad.
“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 said.
Talking about Rumsfeld, the elder Bush used stronger, more personal criticism, the Times reported.
“I think he served the president badly. I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything,” Bush said.
Rumsfeld, in a statement, responded: “Bush 41 is getting up in years and 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 elder Bush did not suggest in the book that he disagreed with his son about the invasion of Iraq.
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein “is gone, and with him went a lot of brutality and nastiness and awfulness,” Bush said.
He said he worried that the younger Bush used rhetoric that was at times too strong, citing as an example the 43rd president’s 2002 State of the Union address, during which he described an “axis of evil” including 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.
In his statement, George W. Bush did not respond to his father’s critical comments about the strong rhetoric.
Emails to Cheney family contacts seeking comment were not immediately returned.