Bush has stuck to his memorable declaration that he owes Obama his silence, while Cheney continues to grant colorful interviews in which he warns that the Democrat’s policies are making the country less safe.
One Cheney supporter referred to “confusion” and “bewilderment” among conservatives that Bush has not taken the same tack.
“A lot of conservatives would have like to have heard from President Bush on this issue,” the Cheney supporter said. “On such a fundamental issue, when such clear untruths are being told, conservatives have wondered why President Bush has been silent.”
A Cheney source said: “Not only does President Obama disagree with the policy, he goes out of his way to attack us. The notion that we shouldn't publicly defend our record, and tell the American people the truth, makes no sense."
Bush and Cheney talk on the phone frequently, friends said. And a person familiar with Bush’s thinking said he “is appreciative that the vice president is out defending the administration’s record,” but that as a member of the former president’s club, he believes he should stay on the sidelines. The person added that Bush’s views on national-security issues are well-known.
But some of the second-guessing goes both ways. Another former White House official under Bush said some White House alumni wish Cheney would cool it.
“We all sort of feel the same way: It’s his right to do it,” the former official said. “We don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea.
The former official said the difference in approach reflects “a division that stretches back pretty far.”
“There were a lot of differences of opinion” when the two were in the White House, the former official said. “The president prevailed, because he was president. The vice president sat back and was dutiful and loyal. But that is a different situation than you have now.”
Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Bush had always said that whenever he became an ex-president – whether in 2005 or 2009 – “he was going to exit the stage.”
“He took that out of the pages of history, based on how he had seen other ex-presidents treat their successors,” Perino said.
Perino said Cheney’s situation was “a little bit different” than Bush’s because he is not a former president, and because he “has been so viciously attacked across the board by the Democrats.”
“He thought that he had an obligation – and a desire – to defend the policies of the previous administration,” Perino said. “And I think it’s been a good thing, because we have been able to now have a very clarifying, frank and honest discussion about the issues. And it’s helped you guys sell a lot of newspapers.”
A Bush friend said the former president does not look or sound “weary of the fight,” but nevertheless wants to preserve “the Bush family creed: Gentlemen are gentlemen at all times, we disagree agreeably, and all that.”
“You know how Karen [Hughes] always used to say, ‘The president is decisive and resolute’?” the friend recalled. “He is decisive and resolute about not engaging Obama on foreign policy. He believes that an ex-president should not be in the debate.”
In an appearance before a Michigan business group on Thursday, Bush defended his terrorist-interrogation policies by saying: “I can tell you, the information gained saved lives.”
But the 43rd president repeated his determination not to undrmine the 44th: “I didn't like it when a former president criticized me, so therefore I am not going to criticize my successor. I wish him all the best.”
Not so his former vice president, who spelled out his view forcefully a few weeks ago in an interview with Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard.
“I have strong feelings about what happened and what we did or didn't do and what's happening now,” Cheney said. “And I don't have any reason not to forthrightly express those views. … I went through the Iran-contra hearings and watched the way administration officials ran for cover and left the little guys out to dry. And I was bound and determined that wasn't going to happen this time. … [T]his time around I'll do my damndest to defend anybody out there--be they in the [CIA] carrying out the orders or the lawyers who wrote the opinions. I don't know whether anybody else will, but I sure as hell will.”
A person close to Cheney said he is thinking about the future, and wants to “make sure this issue didn’t just slip away.”
“What drives Cheney,” the person said. “is an attempt to institutionalize the more muscular, much more military and much more coercive approach to fighting terror than the Obama strategy, which is based on engagement, enforcement and diplomacy.”
The Bush friend said the former president is “not looking to settle scores” and appears at peace as he works on his memoir about the great decisions of his eventful life.
The friend said: “His view is: ‘I was a two-term president. I had some successes. I had some things that didn’t quite – that haven’t yet become successes. [Chuckles] That’s how I equal things out – that’s my score-settling.’ ”