The Slatest

George H.W. Bush’s Opinion of His Son’s Middle East Policy Is Remarkably Unbiased

George H.W. Bush, with a retired Army serviceman named Mike Elliott, parachutes out of a helicopter on June 12, 2014, in Kennebunkport, Maine, to celebrate his 90th birthday.

Photo by Eric Shea/Getty Images

It was often observed during the George W. Bush administration that the biggest mistakes W. made in Iraq—aggressively deploying forces without a clear goal, turning a successful military operation into a quagmire of occupation—were the exact mistakes his father hadn’t made during the first Gulf War, when the U.S. expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait but chose not to seize Baghdad or oust Saddam Hussein. George H.W. Bush was never critical of W. during that time, which makes sense, because people don’t tend to say (publicly) that their children are bad at their jobs. But a report about critical comments attributed to H.W. in a new biography indicates that his opinions on W.’s Middle East policy aren’t, in fact, actually that much different than what you’d expect them to be if the 43rd president had been named John Smith instead of George Bush. From the New York Times:

In interviews with his biographer, Mr. Bush said that Mr. Cheney had 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. Mr. Rumsfeld, the elder Mr. Bush said, was an “arrogant fellow” who could not see how others thought and “served the president badly.”

H.W. said Cheney, who had served as his Secretary of Defense, seemed during W.’s tenure to be “knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East” and said Rumsfeld’s belligerent worldview “hurt the president.” Bush apparently even critiqued his son’s own “Axis of Evil” speech, asserting that “hot rhetoric” makes headlines but “doesn’t necessarily solve the diplomatic problem.” Bush senior nonetheless called Hussein’s removal from power a “proud moment” and said that “with him went a lot of brutality and nastiness and awfulness.” Of W.’s tenure overall, he said, “He’s my son, he did his best and I’m for him.”