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 regime’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.
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U.S. President George W. Bush (L-R), his daughter Jenna Hager and her husband Henry Hager participate in a commemorative tree planting ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington September 27, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES)
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“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 himself 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.”
WASHINGTON, DC -- NOVEMBER 9: (L-R) First Lady Nancy Reagan, President-Elect George H.W. Bush, President Ronald Reagan, Mrs. Barbara Bush, Vice President-Elect Dan Quayle, and Mrs. Marilyn Quayle at a welcoming ceremony at the Rose Garden on November 9, 1988 in Washington, DC. President-Elect Bush had just won the presidential election the day before. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
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This file photo shows former First Lady Barbara Bush(L) talking to her dog Millie(C) as she and grandaughter Barbara Bush(R), age nine, wait for US President George Bush to return to the White House 13 September 1991, in Washington,DC. The President was undergoing a medical checkup at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. Grandaughter Barbara is the daughter of President George W. Bush. AFP PHOTO/Jennifer LAW (Photo credit should read JENNIFER LAW/AFP/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 7: This file photo shows former US First Lady Barbara Bush (L) as she prepares to throw a rugby ball 07 February 1992,in Washington,DC, after receiving it from Mary Sullivan (R), captain of the US national women's rugby team. The US team, which won the World Cup, received the Team Spirit Award from Mrs. Bush. (Photo credit should read ROBERT GIROUX/AFP/Getty Images)
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US First Lady Barbara Bush and her son George Bush Jr attend the 1992 Republican National Convention on August 17, 1992 in Houston. AFP PHOTO CHRIS WILKINS (Photo credit should read CHRIS WILKINS/AFP/Getty Images)
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First Lady Barbara Bush waving to crowd at campaign rally. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
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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 smoke 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. And result of her soul being comforted on the deathbed, my soul is comforted.”