Bush sr: Cheney and Rumsfeld hurt America

The new biography of George HW Bush, “Destiny and Power: the American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham”, is another public window into a family wrestling with the legacies of Bush jr’s presidency, the Iraq invasion and torture, and it comes after Jeb Bush has tried to dodge a definitive verdict on his elder brother’s exploits. Both father and brother have sought to create distance without appearing to throw a close family member under a bus, writes The Guardian.

For Bush Sr, the dilemma is all the more agonising as some of the White House advisers he now criticises are former employees he appointed to his son. Dick Cheney had been his defence secretary, and Condoleezza Rice was a Russian specialist in the first Bush White House and protege of Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush’s national security adviser and friend.

The two were part of a group of foreign and security policy advisers that Bush Jr gathered around him during the 2000 election campaign.

Even before 9/11, the younger Bush led his administration in a quite different direction from his father. While Bush Sr cherished multilateralism and diplomacy, George W’s White House “raised American exceptionalism to new heights, enthusiastically tossing US entanglements with the international community on the bonfire”, writes The Guardian. The administration walked away from the Kyoto talks on climate change, and withdrew US support for the Rome statute establishing the international criminal court, going so far as to declare that it would “unsign” the treaty.

In the book it is clear that Cheney and Rumsfeld used their enhanced power to poison the flow of information to the president’s desk about Iraq and its supposed weapons of mass destruction. The vice-president even made repeated trips to CIA headquarters in Langley to bully analysts into producing more hawkish reports, while Rumsfeld’s Pentagon sucked up highly dubious “evidence” from Iraqi exiles and ideological freelancers. But, as even as the ever-forgiving father admits in Meacham’s book, it was President Bush who allowed Cheney to grow his own empire.

“I think they overdid that. But it’s not Cheney’s fault. It’s the president’s fault,” Bush Sr says.

Perhaps the most alarming revelation to emerge from the new Bush biography, writes The Guardian, is the elder man’s recollection that while Cheney had been his defence secretary, he had commissioned a study on how many tactical nuclear weapons would be needed to eliminate a division of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.

Apparently the answer was 17, though a more profound conclusion is that Cheney was a more dangerous figure than anyone knew.