Dick Cheney remembers George H.W. Bush as "masterful" on foreign policy

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as defense secretary in George H.W. Bush's administration, remembered the 41st president as "masterful" on foreign policy during unique and important moments in world history.

"The nation was lucky to have him at that particular time," Cheney said on "Face the Nation" Sunday.

Cheney, who also served as vice president under Mr. Bush's son, George W. Bush, said the elder president offered steady leadership during two crucial moments in history: the end of the Soviet Union and the Persian Gulf War. 

Transcript: Dick Cheney on "Face the Nation," December 2, 2018

Cheney said Mr. Bush, who died Friday at the age of 94, had a sharp sense of how to manage complex relationships around the world. Mr. Bush in office from January 1989 until January 1993.

"There were just remarkable events that took place during those four years," Cheney said. "Big changes, from the situation that existed since the end of World War II through the Cold War." 

In particular, Mr. Bush was "masterful" at shaping the relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Cheney said. 

"He understood that partly what was needed was to manage the U.S. reaction" to the collapse of the Soviet Union, "that there was a way, if you overdid it — if, say, people were dancing on the Berlin Wall — you could get into a situation where you'd make it tougher for Gorbachev to do what we wanted him to do."

Cheney said he wanted, as defense secretary, to put military attachés in all the former Soviet states. Mr. Bush "made sure we didn't go too fast. He didn't want to be in a position where we were embarrassing, if you will, Gorbachev and that we could wait a few months in some of those cases to get that done."

Cheney called Mr. Bush's leadership during the Gulf War "remarkable," and shared a story of how Mr. Bush's international relationships were an asset while in office.

"I can remember the first weekend of the Gulf crisis, he sent me out to get permission from Saudi Arabia and Egypt for the deployment of U.S. forces," Cheney said. "I turned around, I'd finished that, headed back, and he called me and said, 'We got to stop in Morocco,' because he had just gotten hold of the King of Morocco and wanted me to stop in and brief him and sign the Moroccans up. He was the best desk officer we ever had at the State Department because he knew all these folks."

Cheney also recalled Mr. Bush saying Cheney had become an "iron ass" as his son's vice president. 

"After he'd done it, I got a note from him saying, 'Dear Dick, I did it,' and then he went on to say nice things about me, but that year when the Alfalfa dinner was held here in Washington, he arranged for me to sit right next to him at the head table," Cheney said, smiling. "He wanted to make sure there was no perpetual aggravation there at all between 41 and myself."

Mr. Bush will be honored with a state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., this week, and laid to rest at his presidential library in College Station, Texas.