Dick Cheney and James Baker, who served as secretary of defense and secretary of state, respectively, under President George H.W. Bush, reflected Sunday morning on the life of the leader, colleague, and friend they admired as the nation mourns the loss of the 41st president.
The pair appeared on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace of Fox News.
Bush, who was 94, died at home in Houston on Friday evening.
President Donald Trump has said he will attend the funeral, and he is setting aside Wednesday, December 5, as a national day of mourning.
“[Bush] was the very best one-term president this country’s ever had and perhaps one of the very best presidents of all time,” said Baker, Bush 41’s close friend of more than 60 years, reflecting on a life of service to the nation and on Bush’s markedly humble nature despite many accomplishments.
Baker, now 88, served as secretary of state and as White House chief of staff for Bush during his presidency and as chief of staff and secretary of the Treasury when Bush was vice president under Presidet Ronald Reagan.
“He was an extraordinarily consequential president of the United States, particularly in the arena of foreign affairs,” Baker added, later discussing Bush’s role in facilitating a peaceful end to the Cold War and of his leadership and victory over Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war.
“He was a great leader,” added former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as Bush’s secretary of defense during the Gulf War.
Cheney added that Bush’s “knowledge of foreign leaders he’d worked with over the years, his understanding of the military, and his willingness to support the military” were vital keys to understanding his successful foreign policy, particularly during the Gulf War.
Baker called the Gulf War a “textbook example” of the way to fight a war. “You tell the world what you’re going to do, you get all the rest of the world behind you to do it, you do it. You do that and nothing more. You bring the troops home and then you get other countries to pay for it.”
George Herbert Walker Bush, of course, was once the Navy’s youngest pilot. He enlisted on his 18th birthday after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, as America’s Navy Forged by the Sea reported.
He flew 58 combat missions and was shot down during bombing raids on Chichi Jima in September 1944.
After his passing, the U.S. Navy tweeted, “Fair winds and following seas, Sir. We have the watch.”
Fair winds and following seas, Sir. We have the watch. pic.twitter.com/hI2aGJjdKK
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) December 1, 2018
“He was about taking on the hard challenges,” said Baker. “He was not afraid to take risks. No risk, no reward.”
Cheney chuckled when host Chris Wallace asked him about Bush’s remark in 2015 to a biographer; Bush 41 said he worried Cheney might have taken an “iron a**” approach in his son Bush 43’s White House.
“I was more, I guess, of an iron a** when I was vice president,” said Cheney, who explained that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, required a more steely approach as the United States transitioned into a war setting.
With an unmistakable look of fondness crossing his face, Cheney told Wallace that following that remark, Bush 41 had written him a note saying, “Dear Dick, I did it.”
Cheney added that in the note, which he said was “great to have,” Bush went on “at great length” to tell him what a great American he was.
Cheney sealed any question once and for all about whether the “iron a**” remark had ever tarnished their relationship — it hadn’t — and then recounted a story of Bush inviting him to sit at the head table with him at the annual Alfalfa Club dinner later that year.
Baker, on a split screen at the time, smiled — the story clearly resonating with his own memories of Bush 41 as well.
“I am a proud member of Team Iron A**,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Dick Cheney’s daughter, told Wallace later in the show.
Baker was present when his friend passed. He recounted those final hours, calling it a “sweet situation” and describing the passing itself as “gentle and peaceful.”
Baker and his wife Susan, as well as Bush’s son Neil and his wife Maria, his rector from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, a doctor, and some medical aides, all were there with the president when he passed. Arrangements were then made for his children to call in.
Bush’s final words, Baker said, were to his son George W., who told George H.W. that he loved him and would see him on the other side.
“I love you,” the senior Bush told his son, his final words recounted by Baker.
Baker described a particularly tender moment during Bush 41’s final evening — when Irish tenor Ronan Tynan serenaded him with “Silent Night” and Bush mouthed the words along with him.
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Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.