Not the Faith of Their Fathers

June 1, 2004 Topic: Society Tags: BusinessIraq War

Not the Faith of Their Fathers

Mini Teaser: Two unlikely adherents to their respective faiths, Bush and Blair find peace in war.

by Author(s): Martin Walker

"Never before has an American President been so closely tied to a foreign power that harbors and supports our country's mortal enemies", Unger concludes. In an appendix, he spells out what he suggests is a billion-dollar connection, a total of $1,477,100,000, which he says are

"financial transactions through which individuals and entities connected with the House of Saud transferred money to individuals and entities closely connected to the House of Bush."

Unger casts his net very wide, but the vast bulk of this money, over $1.2 billion, is attributed to the Carlyle Group, for which Bush 41 is a consultant. The Bin Laden family were early investors in Carlyle. Another $180 million is attributed to Halliburton; $25 million is said to be the financing of Harken, and a final puny $3.5 million is listed as "charitable donations." They are $1 million from King Fahd to Barbara Bush's literacy campaign, $1 million from Prince Bandar to the Elder Bush's Presidential Library, plus another $1 million oil painting of a buffalo hunt, also to the Bush Library, and a $500,000 scholarship to Bush's old school, Andover, donated by Prince Talal.

What does one make of this, given that one of Unger's stories, of another Saudi evacuation flight after 9/11, has itself been discredited by the 9/11 Commission? It does not seem to prove a great deal beyond the astuteness of Saudi investors, the ability of the Carlyle Group and Halliburton to use their contacts and skills to make money, and the intelligence of the Saudis in directing their charity to maximum effect. The rich around the world share what a Marxist would call a class interest. They want to protect their money and to make more of it, and powerful and influential Americans profitably cooperated with the Saudis to their mutual benefit. For Unger--whose familiarity with Saudi history, the Wahhabis, Islam and the al-Saud family seems but half-digested from secondary sources--all this amounts to a great scandal.

It can be put more simply. The United States wants Saudi oil and also wants access to the money the Saudis get for it. The Saudis want protection, and the Americans are happy to provide it. The Saudis have also sought protection from their own Islamic militants, which they first secured by buying them off. But then when the Americans asked the Saudis to help finance and support the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a period when the Carter and Reagan Administrations were supporting the young volunteer Osama bin Laden, Americans and Saudis alike created a sorcerer's apprentice, a dangerous tool they could no longer control. And within the obvious political constraints of Saudi politics, they are now cooperating to destroy that threat to them both, and not making a very impressive job of it.

At least Unger sticks to the Saudis. Kevin Phillips, a first-rate historian (The Cousins' Wars) and the brilliant political analyst who predicted and defined The Emerging Republican Majority back in 1968, covers the global waterfront in his vendetta against the Bush family. This book is not an easy read, and Phillips, for all the credit he has built up with his previous work, began to lose this reader when he delved deeply into comparisons between the rise of the Bush dynasty and the restoration of European royal houses. He found it particularly sinister that the ancestors of some of those seeking to be restored to their thrones these days had fascist links in the 1930s and 1940s. This way madness lies.

Phillips takes the rise of the Bush family dynasty as a personal affront and a mockery of the grand republican principles of meritocracy. He sees in their CIA connections the shadowy influence of the national security state, and makes much of Bush 41's term as CIA director (and possibly as a CIA asset in his time running Zapata), and of his father. Senator Prescott Bush, Phillips writes, "of Yale, Skull and Bones, and Brown Brothers Harriman, was an off-the-books eminence grise, a Man Who Could Be Trusted, perhaps even a shadow CIA Director."

The evidence of Prescott Bush's intelligence connections--other than being a member in good standing of the New York financial establishment, a member of Yale's Skull and Bones club, and a friend of the Dulles family--is thin. (What evidence there is points to him having even closer connections to British Intelligence, with one source claiming Prescott had been "trained by Stewart Menzies, later head of the British secret service during World War II.") Phillips makes much of Prescott Bush's financial connections with Nazi Germany before 1941, through Brown Brothers Harriman, a banking house which also worked closely with Soviet Russia--thus confirming the obvious, that money is money, and can be made in the most unsavory places. Like Bush 41 with the Carlyle group (which trades in weaponry, among other things), Prescott (and George Herbert Walker, described by Phillips as "the founding father and spiritual progenitor of the Bush clan") were connected to the arms trade, through the Remington Arms group, Union Banking Corporation, the Hamburg-Amerika shipping line and so on.

From these various connections, which are not exactly unusual for international banking houses, Phillips sees a monstrous precursor of Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex", complete with Nazi gold and Soviet oil. His shotgun scattering of guilt by association can get confusing: it is not clear whether Phillips is trying to imply that Prescott Bush was a covert Nazi, a British agent, a Soviet cat's-paw, all three, or just a ruthless and ambitious American financier making contacts and money wherever he could. Phillips goes on to cover much of the same ground as Unger on the Saudi connection, and concludes somewhat over-heatedly that the republic is in danger:

National governance has, at least temporarily, moved away from the proven tradition of a leader chosen democratically, by a majority or plurality of the electorate, to the succession of a dynastic heir whose unfortunate inheritance is privileged, covert, and globally embroiling.

Whatever view one takes of the messy outcome of the 2000 election, Bush is hardly an illegitimate president. He has been sworn to the office with the blessing of the Supreme Court, the body constitutionally empowered to resolve the unfortunate difficulties that attended the Florida vote (which he clearly won in the official and unofficial recount process). He has the backing of Congress and has a good chance of being re-elected. The safeguards of the Constitution, along with the unwritten traditions of the British system, mean that if Anglo-American voters want to evict Bush and Blair for leading them into dubious battle, they can do so. The same freedoms that protect the American republic and the British kingdom also protect the rights of Phillips and Unger to produce the kind of woolly and malevolent tosh now under review.

It may be significant that Unger's publishers decided not to issue his book in Britain, where the libel laws are a great deal less forgiving. It may also be significant that Unger's book has no reference to Blair nor to Margaret Thatcher, which seems curious in a book about the Saudi connection, when the British fought two wars in the region in alliance with successive Bush presidents. Phillips has one passing reference to Blair and three to Thatcher, only one of which is useful. He cites her urging Bush to go to war at Aspen in 1990 for political reasons: "George, I was about to be defeated in England when the Falklands conflict happened. I stayed in office for eight years after that." Characteristically, Phillips does not ask the obvious question: If Bush was so locked into the Saudi connection, why did he need Thatcher to stop him going wobbly?

One final anecdote from the admirable Stothard-Stephens books may help to put the personal qualities and the relationship of the current president and prime minister into a useful perspective. Bush, it is no secret, is no admirer of Bill Clinton, the man who defeated his father, and in Bush's phrase "dishonored" the White House. So when Clinton offered to write an op-ed article for a British newspaper, to appear on the morning of the crucial vote on the Iraq War in the House of Commons, Blair judged that courtesy and protocol required him to ask whether this open letter of support for Blair from the last president would be a problem for the current one. Not in the least, Bush replied: an excellent idea.

Essay Types: Essay