George W. Bush: U.S. should be tough on Russia — ‘not belligerent, but forceful’

Former President George W. Bush said on Monday that he has “always felt” the United States should be tough in countering Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

“He’s a very smart tactician,” Bush said in an interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. “The problem is, his whole attitude on most issues is, ’I’m going to win and U.S. is going to lose.’”

“He is a very aggressive person who wants to reinstate Soviet influence,” Bush continued. “And therefore I always felt it was very important for the United States to be very forceful in dealing with Putin — not belligerent, but forceful.”

Bush’s comments come as President Trump is reportedly weighing new sanctions on Russia to respond to Moscow’s ongoing support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his government’s chemical weapons attacks against the Syrian people. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that the administration was poised to impose fresh sanctions on Russia — which drew the ire of Trump, according to the New York Times.

Trump has long been criticized for his reluctance to publicly denounce Putin, fueling speculation, mostly among Democrats, that the Kremlin may have compromising information about him.

Bush refused to criticize Trump when asked whether he felt the United States is “being forceful enough” on Putin.

“I don’t know,” the former president said. “I’ve made it a point not to second-guess my successors. You know, we’ll just have to see.”

Bush did not always talk tough about Putin. In 2001, he praised the Russian leader after a meeting with him.

“I looked the man in the eye,” Bush said at the time. “I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul — a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

On Wednesday, he elaborated on those remarks.

“When I looked in his eyes and saw his soul, Russia was broke,” Bush said. “Short-term broke. And the price of oil goes up and then Putin changed.”

Bush was also asked to weigh in on global threats, including ISIS-inspired attacks on the United States.

“People are forgetting the lessons of 9/11,” Bush said. “And one of the major lessons of 9/11 is the human condition elsewhere matters to our national security.”

“It’s in our nation’s interests for women to be successful in the Middle East, for example, or for civil society to take hold,” he added. “Because it’s with civil society and people having a say in the future of their governments that the foundation for peace is laid.”

Former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush are interviewed at the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas on Wednesday. (Photo: Brandon Wade/AP)

The live interview was conducted from the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas a day after the death of his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, at her home in Houston. She was 92.

Bush said he visited his mother in the hospital on April 7, when he was able to say goodbye.

“We had a wonderful visit,” Bush said. “She was strong, lucid, funny. She and I were needling each other. The doctor came in, and she turned to the doctor and said, ‘You want to know why George W. is the way he is?’ And the doctor looked somewhat surprised, and she said, ‘Because I drank and smoked when I was pregnant with him.’”

“She had great faith,” he added. “She truly believes that there is an afterlife, that she will be wonderfully received in the arms of a loving God, and therefore did not fear death. As result of her soul being comforted on the deathbed, my soul is comforted.”

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