Former President George W. Bush blasted President Obama’s Middle East policies Saturday night at a closed-door meeting with Jewish donors in Las Vegas.
At the tightly controlled event (off the record, with a “no notes” rule), hosted at the Venetian hotel and casino by wealthy owner and Republican supporter Sheldon Adelson, Bush answered guest questions for an hour on topics ranging from national security threats to the 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Times reported Sunday.
Bush, who has largely refrained from criticizing Obama since leaving office, opened up about Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran, which most Republicans oppose strongly.
Bloomberg reported on one audience member as saying Bush noted that Iran has a new president, Hassan Rouhani. “He’s smooth,” Bush said. “And you’ve got to ask yourself, is there a new policy or did they just change the spokesman?”
Bush remarked on how there is “no transparency in Iran,” because the supreme leader, and not the will of the people, picks the presidents. He regretted that lifting sanctions against Iran just when its government may be caving in would cost the United States leverage, according to others who attended.
Blasting Obama’s failure to follow through on threats of force against Al Queda, Bush grew animated in his remarks about the Islamic State, referring to them as the “second act” of Al Queda. He said when you talk tough, “you gotta mean it,” and that America’s allies and enemies need to know where an American leader stands.
Bush said, “You call in the military and say, ‘Here’s my goal. What’s your plan to help me achieve that goal?’” those who attended recalled.
In response to a question on what the U.S. must do with terrorists bent on America’s destruction, those who attended quoted Bush saying, “well, you kill ‘em.”
The former president said he was reluctant to take a public role in his younger brother Jeb Bush’s likely presidential campaign, because it would be unhelpful. “That’s why you won’t see me,” Bush said, according to some who attended.
Jeb Bush is expected to formally announce his candidacy for president in 2016 within days, after months of building a war chest.
Bush remarked that Jeb Bush faces challenges “being a Bush,” and that “people don’t want dynasties in America,” according to those who attended.
In another swipe at Obama, Bush said that Hillary Clinton faces her own challenge after four years as Obama’s secretary of state. He said, “It’s going to be hard for her to defend or support” the president’s legacy.