Former US president George W. Bush harshly criticized his successor Barack Obama over a recent nuclear agreement with Iran that, he said, shows a lack of understanding of the Iranian leadership and would be bad for US national security in the long term.
Bush, who normally refrains from attacking the administration, made the comments during a meeting Saturday of the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas over the weekend, according to a Bloomberg report.
An attendee at the session in the hotel, which is owned by Sheldon Adelson, transcribed Bush’s comments accusing Obama of wrongly interpreting Iran’s intentions regarding its nuclear program and slamming the deal, strongly backed by Obama, that US-led world powers made with Tehran at the beginning of the month.
“You think the Middle East is chaotic now? Imagine what it looks like for our grandchildren,” Bush reportedly warned. “That’s how Americans should view the deal.”
The framework agreement — set to be finalized by June 30 — called for a scaling back of Iran’s uranium enrichment program along with comprehensive inspections of its nuclear facilities to ensure it is not developing atomic weapons. In return, Iran demanded that global sanctions that have crippled its economy be lifted.
Bush said that Obama was too quick in agreeing to lift the sanctions, an opinion that has been voiced by opponents of the deal, and suggested that while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may appear more moderate than his predecessors, his true intentions could be just as radical.
“He’s smooth,” Bush said. “And you’ve got to ask yourself, is there a new policy or did they just change the spokesman?”
The nuclear deal, Bush said, would be bad for US national security in the long run. Contrary to assertions from Obama, added Bush, once sanctions are lifted they would not be easily reapplied should Iran renege on the agreement.
During the same meeting two Texans, US Senator Ted Cruz and former governor Rick Perry, also addressed the RJC’s anxiety about the Iran deal, which was repeatedly described as a threat to Israel’s existence.
“Will the subsequent maps of the world show a nation of Israel?” Cruz asked the crowd during his speech. “That’s what the stakes are.”
Republican Jewish Coalition Chairman David Flaum kicked off the morning meeting calling on President Obama to “hit the pause button, negotiate a better deal.”
Cruz, famous for triggering the 2013 US government shutdown, vowed to do “everything humanly possible” in the Senate to stop the nuclear deal. Perry said he also wants to stop the agreement, and further called for expanded defense spending, troops on the Polish border to contain a newly-aggressive Russia and a clear posture against Islamic extremism.
“This isn’t a call to war,” Perry said. “It’s a call to the type of strength that prevents a war.”
In his remarks Saturday, Bush also claimed that he had a better track record than his successor at dealing with terrorism and the rise of Islamic extremists, pointing to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed to the brutal beheading of Jewish reporter Daniel Perl of the Wall Street Journal.
Obama, on the other hand, has no strategy for dealing with the Islamic State, Bush asserted.
“Just remember the guy who slit Danny Pearl’s throat is in Gitmo [Guantanamo Bay], and now they’re doing it on TV,” he said. “In order to be an effective president … when you say something you have to mean it… You gotta kill em.”
Regarding the upcoming US presidential race, Bush admitted that his family name may be a hindrance to his brother Jeb, who is a potential candidate, because dynasties don’t go down well with the US public. As for Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton, Bush said she is caught between embracing Obama’s policies — which he said would be an admission of failure — and condemning them, which would put her at odds with the president.
Republicans are hopeful that concern over Obama’s deal with Iran will translate into increased support from Jewish voters in 2016. “The political climate right now is very strong for us, and everybody here feels that opportunity,” coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said.
Democrats contend otherwise.
“Jewish voters would be more receptive to Republicans if the party stopped trying to politicize the US-Israel relationship and started focusing on economic and human dignity and service issues important to American Jews,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a call with reporters Friday.