Bush Sr. Blames Neocons for Ruining W.’s Presidency: Is he Warning Jeb?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In interviews given for a new biography, George H. W. Bush, 91 lets loose against Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, whom he clearly blames for many of the failures of the presidency his son, George W. Bush. But if you attend carefully to what he said, it is clear that he actually was slamming the Neoconservative cabal that Cheney and Rumsfeld brought to Washington with them. He said:

“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.”

Who were the “hard-charging guys” who were constant war-mongers, to whom Cheney “knuckled under?”

They are mainly Neoconservatives, a group of old Cold Warriors, many of whom had been Democrats, who were dismayed by the Democratic Party’s turn left in the 1970s and the rise of a New Left within it that was critical of Israel. They therefore threw in with Ronald Reagan and then W. Most were Jewish Americans, though R. James Woolsey (former CIA director) and John Bolton were Neoconservatives as well (Woolsey said he was the only Episcopalian of the lot).

Richard Perle, who was appointed to the Pentagon oversight board.

Paul Wolfowitz, who had wanted to invade Baghdad at the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, but who was slapped down by Bush Sr., then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State James Baker.

Cheney and Rumsfeld brought Wolfowitz, who was obsessed with Iraq and alleged in sprng, 2001, that “Iraqi terrorism” was more of a menace than Usama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, to Washington in January 2001 as Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Douglas Feith, then the no. 3 man at the Pentagon, the biggest imperialist since Cecil B. Rhodes, opposed the Oslo Peace Accords and his former law partner was a spokesman for Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank. (I’ve been criticized for saying that Feith, Beitar and a Likudnik, had no place high in the US government, as though that were racial bigotry. Having suffered for decades with the idiotic calumny that criticizing Israeli government policy is a form of racism, must we now descend into a moral cesspool where criticizing the crypto-fascist Betar & Likud Party is labeled racism? Is it also racist to say that a supporter of Milosevic shouldn’t have had high office in the US?)

Feith in turn organized a black cell inside the Pentagon, the Office of Strategic Plans, which cherry-picked intelligence in support of an attack on Iraq.

John Bolton, an ill-tempered attorney with no foreign policy experience, who was made undersecretary of state for arms control with the portfolio for “weapons of mass destruction” and was later ambassador to the UN was also from Neocon circles.

George H. W. Bush went on to criticize his son for allowing Cheney to create “kind of his own state department”.

What did Bush Sr. mean by that?

I wrote an expose of Cheney’s policy shop for Salon in 2005.

The ‘hard-charging” warmongers on Cheney’s staff, who outmaneuvered Colin Powell’s State Department, included Cheney’s chief of staff, a Wolfowitz protege, Irv “Scooter” Libby, John Hannah of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a stridently pro-Israel thinktank) and David Wurmser (co-author of the infamous “Clean Break” policy paper for Binyamin Netanyahu about how to invade Iraq and reshape the Middle East).

Not coincidentally, Wolfowitz, Bolton and some of these other figures have been tapped by Jeb Bush to run his foreign policy, which must drive poor George Herbert Walker up the wall. You wonder whether he isn’t speaking out like this in part to warn Jeb publicly about the Neocons’ sticky fingers when it comes to policy-making.

We knew that Bush Sr. felt this way, and I at least tended to take Brent Scowcraft’s pronouncements as a proxy for the old man’s views. Scowcroft, Bush Sr.’s national security adviser, wrote an op-ed in August, 2002, attepting to forestall the building Iraq War. He gave a similar interview about Dick Cheney, who, he said, had changed and whom he did not recognized anymore.

I don’t actually think Cheney “knuckled under” to the Neoconservative warmongers. And I don’t think his determination to make war on Iraq was post-9/11. I think as of the late 1990s Cheney wanted to open Iraq’s oil fields to exploitation and get sanctions taken off that country, and he found it impossible to convince Congress to do that. So he decided only regime change could open Iraq to bids by the medium and smaller US oil companies, who were suffering because of the inability of geologists to discover new big fields. Regime change would be a hard argument to make, so he reached out to the Neoconservatives as allies, even though before he was CEO of Halliburton (1995-2000) he had been known instead as an Arabist. So I’d say he partnered with the Neoconservatives to get his way.

Tragically, Cheney did not anticipate two developments that would have made a war on Iraq unnecessary. One was hydraulic fracturing, which puts more oil on the market despite the failure to find new big accessible oil fields. The other is the growing awareness of the dangers of climate change from burning fossil fuels like petroleum and the turn in research and development to producing ever cheaper and more efficient solar panels and wind turbines and batteries. I drive a Volt and have solar panels on my roof, and don’t need Iraq’s oil or want it.

Bush Sr. also criticized W. for his “axis of evil speech” (grouping North Korea and Iraq with Iran– an Iran that had held candlelight vigils for the US after 9/11 and whose president, Khatami, spoke warmly of the American people in New York in September of that year). This is another slam of Neocons, since that diction was the work of Canadian pundit David Frum.

Bush Sr. was also critical of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, mainly for showboating and talking big. He didn’t go into details, but anyone who lived through it knows what he is talking about. “Democracy is messy,” he responded to the outbreak of looting and the breakdown in order in Iraq after he overthrew the government there. “Stuff happens.” “How many vases could they have?”, he responded to clips of looters stealing vases from shops. “Henny Penny the sky is falling,” he mocked people who worried that he was allowing Iraq to fall into disarray. He denied there was a guerrilla war. He later denied the 2006 civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Criticized for not providing armored vehicles to our troops facing roadside bombs, he opined “You go to war with the army you have.” The manufacturers said they could easily up-armor the jeeps.

One thing you take away from these remarks by George H. W. Bush is that he is nowadays basically a Democrat.

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Related Video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “George H.W. Bush Rips Cheney, Rumsfeld in New Book”

27 Responses

  1. Great piece. Has been clear for quite some time Bush Sr is the reasonable one.

    To think Cheney, Feith, Wolfowitz did not give one thought to the death and destruction their fanatical actions would have. If there is a hell they are going.

    Hope you write more about the actual numbers of dead in Iraq, injured, displaced.

    Was reading the other day about Mevrav Wurmser’s “Middle East Media Research Institute” Had read about it in the past although did not know that retired Israeli military and intelligence officers are employees. Interpret and translate news from middle east.

    If you tracked the mis-translation that the neocons were tossing out all of the time about what the former Iranian President had allegedly said about Israel would it lead back to this group?

  2. Dear Dr. Cole, thank you for these strong, well informed comments. It’s a shame the the MSM keeps you away from political discourse. The press control is harmful to our country.

  3. And how has Dick Cheney been punished for his war crimes? Yesterday Congress voted to honor him with a statue in the national Capitol building. I’ll say it until I am blue in the face: do 38 in a 25 zone and you will suffer more consequences than the bloody-minded junta that took over our country in 2001 (recall Gore won that puppy with the popular vote) and proceeded to shred our constitution and destroy a couple of countries, effectively creating an on-going humanitarian disaster. Last I checked law and accountability were as much if not more necessary for democracy than even free elections. Lovely.

    This is the way of the modern GOP: is there any candidate, except for maybe Rand Paul, who does not want to gin a war up with Iran? Boots on the ground in Syria? Escalation to go after ISIL?

    As I have stated before, at some point, if it does not peter out slowly due to demographics, the GOP will simply need to be outlawed as a Hate Group. I probably won’t live to see it, but I’d sure like to see the day when Cheney suffers a damnatio memoriae, his statue is defaced, and then dragged symbolically, like some Roman emperor, and tossed into the Potomac (which at that late date, with rising sea levels, will likely fill up the National Mall at high tide – so it need not be dragged far, just toss it off the steps [and oh, the irony!]).

    • Have you taken note that when people get up there in the years they generally don’t mince words.

  4. “One thing you take away from these remarks by George H. W. Bush is that he is nowadays basically a Democrat.”

    Ha! I think that says more about the Democrats than Bush 41! If he’s a Democrat, then there’s no mainstream left-leaning party in America anymore. I suppose we all knew that but it’s still hard to admit.

    People talk about the Republican party as a party in crisis but the truth is that the mainstream voter is now center-right. Only the extreme racist “fringe” keeps the Republicans from one-party rule. But it hardly matters given how much the Democrats have moved to the right.

    • Yes, I think this is spot on. The country has been, for half a hundred years now, like the proverbial frog in the pot who never detected that the water went from cold to boiling, and it is now cooked. The far right has grown so extreme that the middle (which the press desperately tries to occupy for fear of appearing “biased”) is somewhere to the right of Ronald Reagan – on a good day. Top that off with a zero regard for facts, truth, and any compassionate realistic policies that will enrich people’s lives, give them economic stability, maintain a clean environment, and make us competitive globally (except for our extreme militarism), and you have a fine recipe for disaster.

      But I am not sure the country is center right – poll after poll shows it is closer to Sanders on many social and economic policies – we are social democrats, we just don’t know it, and the powers that be make sure it stays that way.

  5. The biographical excerpts regarding Cheney and Rumsfeld are CYA for the Shrub. The attempts to shift blame for his son being slow and weak-of-will, unable to contain the “Iron-ass” Dick Cheney and the “arrogant” Donald Rumsfeld are signs of aging.

    The simple fact is President George W. Bush was a COMPLETE FAILURE as our President. It is not that he is an evil man, it is that he was far too incompetent, unqualified to be our President. It will take generations to undo the tragedy, mayhem and destruction from the arrogance and stupidity visited upon our world by this Bush and his 1950s mindset chickenhawks. No amount of family CYA hind-writing can shade that fact. It’s history.

    The real question should be – DO WE WANT THIS TO HAPPEN , AGAIN?

    We now have that chance.

  6. Pt 1— If you say something with enough adamance and for long enough, for decades if necessary, it will become the common wisdom. In minor matters with less actively associated dispute this sort of dissimulation may only take a few weeks. Therefore, as the neocons have learned, you can indeed make your own reality, at least as far as how history is commonly viewed.

    These guys have learned the same phenomena can be applied toward the present with a eye toward shaping events in the future. Managed correctly this process is a matter of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If bungled, go back to twisting history and try again, which we’ve seen since the events of 2003.

    Hence, the importance of putting-up that statue of Cheney, and the endless rounds of GOP-driven Reagan Worship we see that fly in the face of the real history of his record. Realists will fight some battles, but they cannot be everywhere, so the neocons approach their little problem with a subliminal stream of background distortions to frame perceptions to the benefit of their long-term agenda.

    Unless the other side of the story puts at least as much energy into their own narrative of events on each and every possible point of contention, over time the warped view becomes the reality.

    Actually, I think it was Hitler (often mis-attributed to Goebbels) who first came to understand how things worked along these line. For more about how closely the neocons are to fascism take a read here:

    link to consortiumnews.com

  7. Pt 2 — I’m glad Prof Cole has gone ahead and delicately nudged up against the edge of the Jewish-American link to all this perfidy. It’s difficult to do given the skill and alacrity with which “anti-semeticism” and associated memes are deployed by this small cabal of informal conspirators as a defense. It is astonishing how powerful such a small group of easily observed and nameable individuals can have.

  8. I don’t know that there are words strong enough for public consumption that properly condemn these neocon war criminals. And Professor Cole didn’t even mention the torture regime which will forever be a stain on US history. Stupid, hateful, immoral and disastrous only begin to describe the pernicious results of their policies.

    • And Professor Cole didn’t even mention the torture regime which will forever be a stain on US history.

      Stains on American history have a way of fading with time. The slavery side of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, et al, have been whitewashed and the heroics of pioneering the West have been a screen blocking the attendant genocide of Native Americans. How many people are aware of the unconscionable racism and slaughter in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War that inspired Mark Twain’s War Prayer – link to warprayer.org Then there was … well you get the idea.

      • Then there is the Pentagon’s attempt to sanitize the war on Vietnam that, for example, revised the My Lai Massacre to an “incident” at My Lai.

  9. Not sure if Bush Sr. is going that deep against all the Neo-cons as the Professor. Jeb! apparently still keeping in touch with a few of them, like Paul Wolfowitz, to be his national advisers.

    While absolving Bush jr., Bush Sr. makes hims sound not too bright…still a war criminal though and chose to be a Neo-con by surrounding himself with them and supporting their ways. I mean a character like John Bolton made an ambassador to the UN, showed the entire Bush regime’s contempt for the UN.

  10. H.W. is not “basically a Democrat”.
    He is far too critical of Republicans to qualify.

  11. One thing you take away from these remarks by George H. W. Bush is that he is nowadays basically a Democrat.

    GHW has shown some signs of class in the past, and this book appears to show more, but let’s not forget there is another side to him. For example: Iran-Contra and the illegal invasion of Panama to name just two. Becoming a Democrat is no Damascene conversion. That would be like changing dirty linen for something slightly less dirty.

  12. The neocons are getting a well-deserved bashing in Poppy’s book, here and elsewhere, but let’s not forget Hillary and other neoliberals and Democrats who also endorsed and pushed for the war on Iraq and more in Iran, Libya and Syria.

    • Bill, I remember what Clinton did and also what many other Democrats did in 2002. I also remember the heavy propaganda campaign Bush and his crew put together just after Labor Day, and less than two months before the 2002 midterms, and in the post-9/11 climate of fear which was still going strong. Hillary has admitted to making a mistake.

      Here’s what I’m going to do. If Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, I’ll vote for him and I will support him. If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, I will vote for her, and I will support her. I know too much now what a radical right wing Republican government will be like if Republicans are in charge of the House, Senate, White House and Supreme Court. No Republican now running is less radical and less incompetent than George W. was.

      It took awhile, but Obama has made headway on the economy and on global warming. A Republican victory will almost certainly sweep that away. And that’s before the neocons figure out what their next military campaign will be.

      • Craig: Presumably, you see Hillary as the lesser evil and voting for the lesser evil is another topic that will get a lot of attention between now and next November. There are two sides to this neither of which can claim supremacy, but one factor seems to be constant: The more we vote for the lesser evil the more evil the choices become.

        As for the GOP candidates, Rand Paul could be a disaster domestically, but at least he is opposed to more wars at this time. Similarly, Trump has big negatives, but I have a hunch he would be much less likely to wage war than Hillary.

  13. As for saving his son Jeb’s campaign, sorry, the barn door’s open, the horse has fled, and then was attacked by bees, sunk in quicksand, and then chopped up for dog food.

  14. Thanks for a good review and reminder.

    One sad quibble re “One thing you take away from these remarks by George H. W. Bush is that he is nowadays basically a Democrat.” — When it comes to foreign policy, is Mrs. Clinton much better than the neocons?

  15. GHW was in charge of the CIA and then VP to Reagan (just like Cheney to GW), during some of the uglier foreign relations episodes of the 70’s and 80’s. What he lacked in incompetence he made up for in other ways.

    But good commentary nonetheless. The NeoCon’s influence needs to go, if we hope to end the pattern of one interventionist disaster after another.

  16. Can Jeb be ‘saved’? Does he want to be? Before his brother ever took office, alone of the Bushes, Jeb had already signed on with the neoconservative think tank, the so-called Project for a New American Century. He’s not new to these people at all.

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