Here’s a true story that came too late to make it into Kevin Phillips’s American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, but it fits perfectly with its thesis. As all the world knows, Halliburton, the company that made Dick Cheney rich, has been given multibillion-dollar contracts, without competitive bidding, in occupied Iraq. Suspicions of profiteering are widespread; critics think they have found a smoking gun in the case of gasoline imports. For Halliburton has been charging the US authorities in Iraq remarkably high prices for fuel—far above local spot prices.
The company denies wrongdoing, saying that its prices in Baghdad reflect the prices it has to pay its Kuwaiti supplier. That’s not quite true; Halliburton’s reported expenses for transporting gasoline are, for some reason, much higher than anyone else’s. But the real question is why Halliburton chose that particular supplier—a company with little experience in the oil business, mysteriously selected as the sole source of gasoline after what appears to have been a highly improper bidding procedure. Why did it get the job? We don’t know. But it’s interesting to note that the company appears to be closely connected with the al-Sabahs, Kuwait’s royal family. And the al-Sabahs, in turn, have in the past had close business ties with the Bush family, in particular the President’s brother Marvin.
In any previous administration—at least any administration of the past seventy years—this sort of incestuous relationship among foreign governments, private businesses, and the personal fortunes of people in or close to the US government would have been considered unusual and prima facie scandalous. What we learn from Kevin Phillips’s new book, however, is that this kind of intertwining of public policy and personal self-interest has been standard operating procedure not just for George W. Bush, but for his entire family.
American Dynasty and Ron Suskind’s new book, The Price of Loyalty, can be seen as a second wave of Bush critiques. The first wave, exemplified by Molly Ivins’s Bushwhacked, Joe Conason’s Big Lies, and David Corn’s The Lies of George W. Bush, described what Bush has been doing these past three years. But they offered only scant explanations of how and why the Bush administration does what it does. (I made a brief stab at an explanation in the introduction to my own The Great Unraveling, but it was no more than a sketch.)
The new books go deeper into the agonizing question of what is happening to our country. Ron Suskind—an investigative reporter with a knack for getting insiders to tell what they know—offers a detailed, deeply disturbing look at how the Bush administration makes policy. Kevin Phillips—a former Republican strategist who feels that his party has betrayed the principles he supported—investigates the history of the Bush clan, and argues that this family history provides the key to understanding George W.’s motives and even his technique of governing.
Phillips is well aware that some will dismiss his work as “conspiracy theory.” But…
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