In remarks at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas this weekend first reported by The New York Times, George W. Bush address the 2016 presidential elections—avoiding comments on Hillary Clinton and acknowledging he could be a liability for his brother, Jeb, as he runs for presidents—as well as President Obama's handling of foreign policy.
While President Bush has largely declined to make public statements about his successor's policies, he has not been a fan. The Times reports on Bush's comments:
Mr. Bush, whose war in Iraq eventually became deeply unpopular and fueled President Obama's 2008 candidacy, weighed back in on the Middle East and the administration's current pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran, which was strongly opposed by most the people in the room.
He said he was skeptical about lifting sanctions against Iran at a time when its government seemed to be caving in, attendees said, and regretted the leverage the United States would lose as a result of lifting the sanctions. He questioned whether the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, under whom the current framework for a deal has been discussed, represents a new policy or a "new spokesman" for the old regime, Mr. Weingarten recalled. He said that Mr. Bush talked about how there is "no transparency in Iran," because the supreme leader, and not the will of the people, picked the presidents.
Bush's comments on Iran are unfortunate, given his own attempts early in his administration to negotiate with North Korea, even after labeling it, along with Iraq and Iran, a part of an "axis of evil." There may be "no transparency in Iran," but there's no transparency in Saudi Arabia either, but that hasn't stopped the U.S. from entangling itself in a costly relationship with the country. In Iran's case, the goal is an agreement over the country's controversial nuclear program, not a relationship in which the U.S. is saddled with more security and cooperation responsibilities in the Middle East.
Although not reported in the Times, speaking about the Middle East Bush also reportedly asked, "You think the Middle East is chaotic now? Imagine what it looks like for our grandchildren. That's how Americans should view the deal." That comment is particularly unfortunate—what particular concern is the state of the Middle East to "our" grandchildren, who will most likely live more than 6,000 miles away from the Middle East like we do? Will the Iran deal destabilize the Middle East the way, say, the U.S. invasion of Iraq did? President Bush is concerned about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) too, but does not appear to have come to terms with his role in helping to bring the group to life.
And he was animated when speaking about the group calling itself the Islamic State, which he referred to as the "second act" of Al Qaeda.
Several attendees sensed a tacit critique of Mr. Obama and his failure to follow through on his threats to use force when Mr. Bush said "you gotta mean it" when talking tough, and that America's allies and enemies needed to know where an American leader stood. He also discussed his own approach in Iraq, saying he changed course when it was warranted.
"You call in the military and say, 'Here's my goal. What's your plan to help me achieve that goal?'" attendees quoted him as saying. He added that when asked what had to be done with terrorists bent on America's destruction, the answer was "well, you kill 'em," several attendees recalled.
Bush also reportedly criticized the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, something he originally negotiated, arguing the intention was to re-negotiate a new deadline at a later date—President Obama tried, but failed, to do so.