President Barack Obama shakes hands with former President George W. Bush in Selma, Ala. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP)
Former President George W. Bush reportedly delivered his toughest publicized criticisms of President Barack Obama at a closed-door meeting in Las Vegas Saturday night.
The former commander in chief, who has been reluctant to criticize Obama since leaving the White House, said he feared his successor is naive about Iran and may be putting the United States in a position of retreat around the world, Bloomberg News reported.
According to Bush, Obama’s plan to lift sanctions on Iran —with the caveat that they can be reinstated at any time — is not reasonable. He also thinks the controversial deal could have long-term negative repercussions for U.S. national security and the stability of the region.
“You think the Middle East is chaotic now? Imagine what it looks like for our grandchildren,” he said. “That’s how Americans should view the deal.”
Bloomberg View, the editorial division of the news agency, obtained a transcript of Bush’s remarks to donors at the Republican Jewish Coalition session at the Venetian Hotel.
The hotel and casino’s owner — Sheldon Adelson, a business magnate with an estimated net worth of $29 billion and a major Republican Party donor — was in attendance.
Bush also criticized his successor’s handling of the turmoil in Iraq. Quoting South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, he said Obama’s decision to withdraw American soldiers from the war-torn country in 2011 was a “strategic blunder.”
The Texas Republican, who sees the Islamic State as the “second act” of al-Qaida, said that Obama never developed a complete strategy for defeating the terrorists, despite promising to destroy them.
“In order to be an effective president … when you say something, you have to mean it,” he said. “You gotta kill ’em.”
Leaving the ballroom, guests told the New York Times that Bush also conceded that he could be a roadblock on his brother Jeb Bush’s path to the White House.
“He essentially said people don’t want dynasties in America,” attendee Elise Weingarten said.
The event at the Italian-themed hotel and casino was supposed to be off the record; a no-notes policy was announced at the beginning, according to the Times.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it appears Bush did not intend to violate his own policy of not publicly criticizing Obama because the evening was in an ostensibly private setting.
“At the same time, he didn’t renounce his ability or his right to share his views on a range of issues, including foreign policy,” he said at a White House briefing on Monday. “As a former president of the United States, he is somebody who’s spent a lot of time thinking about these issues and he certainly is entitled to share those views in public or in private with whomever he likes.”
According to Earnest, it should come as no surprise to anybody in the briefing room that Bush might have differences with Obama when it comes to foreign policy.
“In the minds of many people, it’s the principal reason that President Obama is sitting in the Oval Office right now,” he added.
Earnest also noted that al-Qaida was not in Iraq prior to Bush’s decision to establish a significant American military presence in the country.
Bush has dealt with his fair share of condemnation. His approval rating dipped to historic lows toward the end of his tenure in the Oval Office. In December 2008, a Pew Research Center survey found that only 11 percent of Americans thought he would be remembered as an outstanding or above-average president.
Critics often cite the Iraq War, his tax cuts, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial crisis as proof that Bush’s presidency hurt the country.
Bush’s comments at the Venetian Hotel mark a deviation from his typically tight-lipped modus operandi when asked about Obama.
“I don’t think it does any good,” Bush said to CNN in 2013. “It’s a hard job. He’s got plenty on his agenda. It’s difficult. A former president doesn’t need to make it any harder. Other presidents have taken different decisions; that’s mine.”
Just last year, in a conversation with Fox News pundit Sean Hannity, Bush reiterated that he has little interest in generating publicity for himself through political attacks and is perfectly content to stay out of the limelight.
“I don’t think it’s good for the country to have a former president undermine a current president,” he said. “I think it’s bad for the presidency, for that matter.”
With reporting from Yahoo News White House correspondent Olivier Knox