Since leaving office, former president George W. Bush has carefully refrained from second-guessing his successor in the Oval Office. Bush’s advisers — not so much.
President Obama’s handling of the chemical weapons crisis in Syria has led to anxiety in Congress and among the public, but also to a chorus of chortling from former Bush administration officials, who are eagerly piling on as Obama has trouble building domestic and international support for a U.S. military strike.
The latest salvo came Friday when former Bush political adviser Karl Rove wrote on Twitter: “Obama’s policies leave longing for decisive George W.” Rove added a link to a column with a similar title in the New York Post by former Bush speechwriter William McGurn.
“With President Obama’s foreign policy in tatters across the Middle East,” McGurn wrote, “maybe we’ve finally arrived at a moment where we can look at what we threw out when we replaced the Bush Doctrine with the Obama Doctrine.”
The tenor of the Bush camp criticism has lent the sense that it is delivering a bit of long-awaited payback to Obama, whose popularity in 2008 was based largely on his opposition to many of Bush’s foreign policies, especially the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been the most outspoken, ripping Obama’s Syria strategy as “mindless” in numerous television appearances. During a brief interview with The Washington Post this week, Rumsfeld contended that Obama has failed to be clear with Congress, international allies and the public about the objectives of a Syria strike.
"The way you get unity of purpose is with clarity and a vision, and the White House has not provided that, which is the reason you see the confusion in the Congress and the lack of a coalition,” Rumsfeld said. Obama’s policies have “been confused, and it's awfully hard for people to sign on. You want at least a reasonable prospect that when you do whatever it is you're going to do, that things will be better, not worse.”
Much of the criticism has focused on Bush’s supposed clarity of vision, compared with what the Bush contingent considers Obama’s inconsistency and wavering. “You might not agree with it,” McGurn wrote of Bush’s foreign policy. “But it had purpose. And friend and foe alike had no doubt where he stood.”
Ironically, Obama has been criticized by the left in recent months after disclosures that he has authorized the National Security Agency to continue broad-based domestic and foreign spying programs. Obama also has faced complaints over his administration’s use of drones and his failure to convince Congress to shutter the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Yet the Bushie barbs have frustrated the administration, nonetheless. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said on MSNBC on Thursday that the Bush officials are “so discredited” by Iraq war that “it’s hard to see that they have a judgment today that is relevant to this.”
Obama has gotten support from some former Bush officials, including former defense secretary Robert Gates, who also served Obama. Gates told Politico that he strongly urges Congress “to approve the president's request for authorization to use force in Syria.”
And Stephen Hadley, Bush’s former national security adviser, told Bloomberg TV’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” in an interview that will air Sunday that Republicans should endorse Obama’s use-of-force resolution even if they disagree with his foreign policy.
“I think there are some legitimate grounds for saying that we shouldn't be where we are,” Hadley said. “But being where we are, there's really no alternative but to authorize action in Syria.”
As for the 43rd president, Bush told Fox News last week during a charity golf tournament that Obama has a “tough choice to make” and noted that he was “not a fan” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But Bush, unlike his onetime underlings, did not feel the need to say much more.
“I know that you’re trying to subtly rope me in to the issues of the day,” he told Fox. “I refuse to be roped in.”