George H.W. Bush Slams Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in New Biography

In 1989, George H.W. Bush nominated Dick Cheney to be his secretary of defense. In a new biography, Bush criticizes Cheney, who went on to serve as George W. Bush's vice president. Tim Aubry/REUTERS

George H.W. Bush thinks that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were both "iron-asses" whose conduct of the Iraq War was disastrous.

Iron-ass appears to be George H.W. Bush's go-to insult, meaning rigid, inflexible and incapable to seeing other points of view. He leveled the same charge against Lynne Cheney, a conservative historian whom he felt had a great deal of influence on her husband's hard-line positions.

According to a number of reports, Bush had strong criticisms for both men when speaking to his biographer, Pulitzer prize–winning author and former Newsweek Editor-in-Chief Jon Meacham, for interviews contained in Destiny and Power, which will be released on November 10. Bush as well as his son, former President George W. Bush, gave Meacham unprecedented access—sitting for long interviews and opening up the private diaries of both George H.W. and Barbara Bush.

The biography reportedly claims that Jeb Bush argued in 1992 that his father should jettison Dan Quayle from the Republican ticket. It also says that Bush considered not running for re-election in 1992 because he felt that the first Gulf War and its successful coalition would be the high-water mark of his presidency and that it made no sense to continue in office. Bush, of course, did seek re-election, losing to Bill Clinton.

Although Bush allowed that Cheney was a "good man," he laments his former defense secretary's post 9/11 hawkishness. According to CNN, Bush said that Cheney's reaction to 9/11 was "hard-line" and "just iron-ass," adding that the vice president seemed to become one of "the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East."

Cheney served as Bush's secretary of defense before working his way onto the presidential ticket in 2000. He became infamous to the public for the amount of power he appeared to wield in the administration, which Bush described as "his own empire."

"The big mistake…was letting Cheney bring in kind of his own State Department," Bush said of his son's presidency.

Bush's criticisms of the handling of the Iraq War isn't entirely surprising. While the former president kept mum during the run-up to the war and its aftermath, close allies of his, like National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, criticized the war. Scowcroft's opinions were seen as a proxy for the elder Bush's.

Bush's dislike of Rumsfeld has already been documented. According to passages in Bob Woodward's Bush at War the two men feuded while serving in the Ford administration, when Rumsfeld was secretary of defense and Bush was head of the CIA. Bush told Meacham that Rumsfeld was "arrogant" had "an iron-ass view of everything" that "hurt the president."

Cheney told Fox News that he takes the "iron-ass" epithet as "a mark of pride."