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“A Multigenerational Family of Fibbers”–Fmr. Top Republican Strategist Examines the History of the Bush Family

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We hear a speech by Kevin Phillips, a former top Republican strategist, who was generally acknowledged as the Republican party’s principal electoral theoretician after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. His latest book, “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush” examines how the Bush family has been consolidating its power for four generations. [includes transcript]

An alleged one-year gap in President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service during the early 70s has once again come to the mainstream media’s attention.

The controversy has been dubbed AWOL-gate and is coming under increasing scrutiny. But what is not being widely reported is that AWOL-gate is only the latest in a series of scandals within the Bush family, such as Iraq-gate, Iran-Contra, that date back generations.

Well today we take a look at the Bush Dynasty with author and former top Republican strategist Kevin Phillips.

Kevin Phillips first became well known in 1969 with the publication of his book “The Emerging Republican Majority” which Newsweek described as “the political bible of the Nixon Administration.”

After Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Phillips was generally acknowledged as the Republican Party’s principal electoral theoretician. In 1982, the Wall Street Journal described him as “the leading conservative electoral analyst — the man who invented the Sun Belt, named the New Right, and prophesied 'The Emerging Republican Majority' in 1969.”

He has since become a prolific writer and a critic of the current state of the Republican Party. Among his books are “Wealth and Democracy” and “The Politics of Rich and Poor.”

His latest book is “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.” It examines how the Bush family has been consolidating its power for four generations and how the Bushes have been staging their ascent to national power since World War I.

He spoke at Berkeley Community Theatre last month along with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and comedian and political commentator Al Franken.

  • Kevin Phillips, former top Republican strategist and author speaking at Berkeley Community Theatre on January 18, 2004.
  • See Democracy Now!’s interview__ with Kevin Phillips.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we take a look at the Bush Dynasty with author and former top Republican strategist, Kevin Phillips. Kevin Phillips first became well-known in 1969 with the publication of his book, The Emerging Republican Majority which Newsweek described as, “the political bible of the Nixon administration.” After Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Phillips was generally acknowledged as the Republican Party’s principal electoral theoretician. In 1982 The Wall Street Journal described him as, “the leading conservative electoral analyst, the man who invented the Sunbelt, named the New Right, and prophesized the emerging Republican majority in 1969. Phillips has since become a prolific writer and a critic of the current state of the Republican Party. Among his books, Wealth and Democracy and The Politics of Rich and Poor. His latest book is called American Dynasty — Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. It examines how the Bush Family has been consolidating its power for four generations and how the Bushes have been staging their assent to national power since World War I. He spoke in January at the Berkeley Community Theater in California at an event I moderated along with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and political commentator, Al Franken. This is Kevin Phillips.

Kevin Phillips: What I’m going to try to talk about today will be — it’s only humorous in a kind of odd vein. It’s the notion of having the Bushes as America’s first real dynasty, and what that signifies, and what it means, and how it developed, and, more to the point, where it’s going. I’ll try to look at this — and I think it’s an effective way to illustrate what they are, and some of what’s been carrying through in the Middle East. I’ll try to go through five episodes of Bushes and scandals in the Middle East. It’s not hard to do at all. That’s the amazing thing, and we talk about the economics and other aspects, things that have been omitted from the dialogue in the last five or six years. This is certainly one of them.

But let me start by talking about the question of “lying Presidents.” Because obviously, it didn’t start with the Bushes. We can all remember Linden Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton. These were major league prevaricators. That’s a fact. But they were all first-generation fibbers. What we’re looking at with the Bushes is a multigenerational family of fibbers. And they share aspects of this, and rationales and antecedents for the pattern. They have a distinct logic. From the beginnings of the Bush Dynasty, in the period around World War I, with two of the current President’s great-grandfathers, what we have had is a family that has emerged over the years in close contact with what Eisenhower later referred to as the “military industrial complex,” and very close relations with the intelligence community, and in a whole series of episodes that drew on the relations with armaments, arms dealers, intelligence, rogue banks, all kinds of things like that. And there’s enough of a pattern that you would think that when the dynasty was about to become fulfilled, if that’s the word, by the advent of George W., that this would have been worth some comment. Now, it’s hard for me to make something funny out of this. It’s kind of tragic. As I go through these five episodes quickly, you will notice that some of the people that I refer to, who were involved in blowing the whistle on them, were Republicans. Part of what I think is at stake here tonight is understanding that there’s much more involved here than ordinary ideology. You’re not in some respects talking as much about left and right as you might think. This is a development in American history that’s rife with negative meaning, for democracy with a small d and for republicanism with a small r, for American traditions going way back.

So let me start by looking at the first of the Bush scandals, and I use the term advisedly, going back to 1979 and 1980. Now, these all involve the Middle East, which provides a framework for looking at exactly what has happened here, and how this dynasty has absolutely unprecedented connections with one part of the world to the enormous detriment of American policy, and I think frankly, to the embarrassment of the United States, perhaps in 9-11, and certainly in Iraq. Let me start back in 1979. George Herbert Walker Bush decided, announced, that he was running for President that year. Three years earlier, he had been the director for about 13 or 14 months of the CIA. In that role, he was principally involved with the concern that was growing about oil in the Middle East because of the oil price increase. He was involved in opening up and strengthening U.S. relations with the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia and Iran, in particular. After this role, he gets out, he takes up a role as chairman of the executive committee of a major Texas bank, spends a fair amount of time in London making contacts with Middle Eastern financial institutions. In the meantime, Jimmy Carter, having taken over the Presidency, fires a whole lot of people who have been in the clandestine covert operations side of the CIA. They leave office, and they’re looking for a place to gather, politically, governmentally, what have you. In 1979, George Bush announces that he’s running for President. A lot of people in the Republican Party said “President of what? President of a company or something?” It wasn’t too easy to believe. Here was a guy that had his clock cleaned running for senator from Texas twice, but he was a certain type of a fungus. You can’t get rid of him. He had real contacts, if you know what I mean. He was a made man, in a certain sense.

Well, when he made his announcement, one of his consultants, who currently is the president of the American Conservative Union, David Keene, said, and I pretty much quote here, “Half of the people in the audience were wearing trench coats.” Now, this is significant because he left the CIA and became a Presidential candidate with the unique set of relationships with the CIA. Now, in 1980, the 50-odd hostages that had been seized in Iran by the Ayatollah’s government were being held, and there was an attempt made to rescue them in April of 1980 by the Carter administration. It didn’t work. The helicopters were shot down. At this point, pollsters in both parties calculated that you had about six to ten points of the vote hanging on the outcome of whether or not the hostages were released. If Carter could get them back, that vote would swing to Carter, if not, that vote would swing to the Republican nominee who quickly became Ronald Reagan with George H.W. Bush as his running mate.

Now, in the summer, because of this enormous importance of the six to ten points on which the election was hanging and on which you had this focus on the return of the hostages, both sides got very much concerned with this; and the Republicans set something in motion, allegedly, that has been covered in several books, and became a scandal known as “The October Surprise.”

In essence, there were ties sought, and then relationships opened with the Ayatollahs and the revolutionary government of Iran, and the allegation is, in these several books, that basically, contact was made by George Bush and Bill Casey, who later became the next CIA director, and had been in the OSS in World War II; and the point was that the Iranian government was being offered money and arms if they held onto the hostages. In other words, you don’t free the hostages before the election. You hold onto them. Now, I remember not paying too much attention to this. It became an issue in 1991 and 1992, belatedly, way after the event, because a group of scandals were gathering around Bush, and this was one of them. A book came out in 1991 that was sort of dismissed by the media. It wasn’t thought to have had all of the necessary details and back-stopping.

But George Bush was defeated in 1992. He got 37.7% of the vote, the worst showing for an incumbent president since William Howard Taft in 1912. He was shellacked. So they just folded up the investigations of these different scandals. But in December of 1992 and January of 1993, the congressional informal investigation had received material from the French and from the Russians that related to the fact that they had observed and noticed that these negotiations were in fact held. A book was later published by Pierre Salinger, who was with ABC news in France at the time, that made mention of these negotiations, and the French intelligence people had helped Bill Casey arrange them. So, there was confirmation from the French. It did not say that George H.W. Bush was involved. The Russians sent back a communication that their intelligence services had in fact observed, and been reported to, that the Republicans talked to the Iranians in Paris, and that both George Bush and Bill Casey were there. An Israeli agent named Ari Ben-Menashe said the same thing in a book, but he was essentially repudiated by the Israeli government. He said he wasn’t anybody, he didn’t know much, and that sort of dragged along. Nobody credited him, but in 1998 an examination came out, the history of the Israeli Mossad, by an English writer, that said basically, he was subject to a disinformation campaign. This did in fact happen. So, there you are. There’s recent material from the French, from the Russians, and from the Israelis, that the odds are much higher that this did in fact take place.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Phillips, former Republican strategist, author of called American Dynasty — Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. We’ll be back with him in just a minute.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: We had in 2000 an election said to be stolen, by some, by the Republicans. You would think that some of this question about 1980 would have come up. It never did. Frankly, I cannot say that I remembered it at the time. It was only when I got into researching these continuities of scandals that it came up.

Let me turn to the second scandal. This one, you will remember. Everybody remembers it: Iran-Contra. Iran-Contra was a sort of October Surprise II, in a sense, because what you had was the provision, by the Reagan-Bush administration, of arms to Iran in order to get help from the Iranian government, in negotiating the release, by Islamic radicals in Lebanon, of a new set of American hostages taken there.

This became known in late 1986, and a special prosecutor was appointed, and he was not exactly a major Pinko or Liberal. He was Eisenhower’s former deputy Attorney General, Larry Walsh. He wound up indicting Casper Weinberger, the Defense Secretary, and right before the election in '92, he made a re-indictment of Weinberger, in which he discussed how George H.W. Bush had been in the loop. He was part of this. There were two or three laws violated. It was serious stuff. Bush denied that he was in the loop. It was so close to the election. This petered out after Bush was defeated, but in December of ’92, Bush pardoned Weinberger, so there could not be a trial, in which Weinberger would have implicated Bush and some other people. So, that's the second of the scandals in the Middle East.

The third scandal is something called “Iraqgate.” Now most of you have probably forgotten about Iraqgate. These things got pushed aside, when George Bush was defeated in '92. The upshot of Iraqgate was that George Bush, as Vice President, got involved in a program of providing arms to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Not just arms, other supplies, dual use technology, biological cultures, nuclear know-how. All of the sort of things that were described as existing in the form of weapons of mass destruction in 2003. You know, funny thing, the family had an acquaintance with this somewhat earlier. Most of you won't remember this. That’s the amazing thing. The media people mostly do remember it. They may not remember it very sharply, but you would think it was relevant. Let me read you a quote from Ted Koppel. This was the introduction to ABC news’ “Newsnight” on June 9, 1992. “It is becoming increasingly clear that George Bush, operating largely behind the scenes, through the 1980’s, initiated and supported much of the financing and intelligence and military help that built Saddam’s Iraq into the aggressive power that the United States ultimately had to destroy.” It’s quite an extraordinary circumstance. First time in American history that a father, who was President, built up an enemy he had to fight, and then passed on the animosity to his son, who had the second war. If you want a dynastic element of history, you can look at that one. There was much more to what happened in Iraq than just the simple building up and the war.

One of the points that I make in the book, and it’s not hard to find the material. Saddam invaded Kuwait in the beginning of August, 1990. During June and July of 1990, the State Department people had been flashing a green light to him to go ahead and take a small slice of the northern remallia oil fields in Iraq. That’s what he wanted. So, there are all of these quotes from Margaret Tutwyler, who was Jimmy Baker’s spokeswoman, and the assistant Secretary of the near east, that we had no obligation to defend Kuwait. The United States was not concerned about the oil disputes. It was repeated time after time. We did not have a responsibility to defend Kuwait.

So, on August 2, after hearing all of this stuff, and after the CIA had briefed President Bush Sr. on the fact that they were just expected to take a little slice at the top of Kuwait, Saddam said, you know, why go for the bronze when you can go for the gold? They went right in and they took Kuwait. Now, this was, obviously, embarrassing to the administration potentially, after all of the green lights and after all of the buildup. So, they had to take Saddam, who, up to this point, was just your ordinary garden variety authoritarian bum, and he had to become the second Hitler. That wasn’t too hard because you had a lot to work with. But essentially, they had to throw in a little more for good luck.

There was a hearing conducted in Congress in 1990, in the fall, and there was testimony by a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nahiryah, that 300-odd premature babies had been ripped out of incubators by the Iraqis when they invaded Kuwait. Well, it turns out nobody — no babies were ripped out of incubators. This was pretty much made up, pumped up by a major U.S. Public relations firm. It was cited a number of times by president Bush, 312 babies ripped out of incubators, but they weren’t. This girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. She was part of the ruling family.

So, what you have in here was just an enormous patchwork of lies and fake-outs and deceits, and, as this became known better by people in 1991 and '92, it became an enormous problem for Bush. I would say that the average American didn't know all about it, but enough people knew, and Bill Safire, that notorious left-wing columnist for The New York Times, he was so disgusted with Bush, he wrote a column saying how he couldn’t endorse him and couldn’t vote for him in 1992 because of this. There you have a succession of three scandals involving the first Bush president in the Middle East.

Now we jump to a dual scandal that sort of picks up the continuity of generations. This is the Bushes, BCCI and the bin Ladens. Now, they go back. That’s the thing. You wouldn’t think that they do, but they do. In the 1970’s, when George Sr. was the C.I.A director, part of what he did, to watch for developments in the Middle East and the oil industry, involved enlisting as a C.I.A. asset a fellow named James Bath. This is reported in a book by two Time magazine correspondents. Enlisted James Bath, who was the North American representative of two Saudi families — the family of Khalid bin Mafus, and the bin Laden family. But this was Salem bin Laden. Nobody knew about Osama at that time.

Then after his father was in the C.I.A., he leaves. He does his banking and has his Middle East connections, but George W., at this point, is establishing his famous first oil firm. This is Arbusto. Arbusto is Spanish for shrub. I don’t think he knew at the time shrub was going to be a nickname. It was Bush, obviously. So, it turns out as they’re raising money for the firm, he gets $50,000 from James Bath, the North American representative of the bin Ladens and the bin Mafuses. According to the book by the two people from Time, they’re sure that Bath didn’t use his own money, he used the money of his two client families in Saudi Arabia. So, that’s the first connection that brings the bin Ladens into the Bush orbit.

Then we jump ahead to the 1990’s. George senior gets out of office, gets out of the Presidency, and he gets involved in the Carlyle group. The Carlyle group is a merchant bank that I’m sure a number of you know. It consisted of a number of senior people in the Bush and Reagan administrations, Defense Secretary Carlucci, from the first Bush administration, Secretary of State, Jimmy Baker. George Bush Sr., himself becomes a member of the advisory board of the Carlyle group, gives speeches for them, raises money for them. They wind up getting money from 12 Saudi families. And the Saudis are encouraged to give, according to a story in the Washington Post, sort of out of respect for former President Bush. Now, as most of you will probably guess, what is the name of one of the 12 Saudi families, the bin Ladens. So, there they are. They’re in the inner recesses of the Carlysle group and were up until 2001. Nobody exactly knows what they all talked about at these various meetings, but the media have identified that a planeload of bin Ladens were sent back after 9-11, that a number of conferences included from the Carlyle group the former President and some of the bin Ladens, but no real details.

I should say that no family in the American presidency has ever been involved in an overseas region like the Bushes have been involved in the Middle East. George Bush Sr. had his first oil venture dealing with the Persian Gulf in 1961. By 1980’s, the family had basically come to see the region as a spigot. By the 1990’s, not only did you have George W. connected to BCCI and the gulf oil people and the bin Laden family and et cetera, but you had his brothers. His brother, who is now the Governor of Florida, has been reported to have been very friendly during the early 1980’s with the chief Washington and national representative of BCCI, the bank of credit and commerce international that funded a lot of these arms operations. Also known in common parlance as the bank of crooks and criminals internationally.

Jeb was friendly with a fellow who ran it who was based in Miami. Neil, of course, this is the Silverado kid. America’s moral exemplar from the oval office. He has been involved with several different dimensions of this. His business partner down in Houston was described as a Syrian-American businessman in a big Financial Times article that appeared September 12. He was also described, and I don’t think I believe this, as one of the founders of the Ba’ath party in Syria and Iraq. Kind of amazing. Marvin Bush — this is the youngest brother. Marvin Bush went to Kuwait after the war, and made some good business connections. He became a shareholder and director of Kuwait-American corporation and something called Secure-Acom, partly owned by the Kuwatis. For several years, it was one of the contractors for security at the World Trade Center before 2001. You know, that’s kind of amazing, I would think.

So, you have got Bushes and 9-11. What’s the connection? Now, I don’t think that some of the groups that organize with a whole set of Halloween scary stuff are making a great contribution, but I think there is a relationship. Nobody knows quite what it is. Did the Saudi ties interfere with the investigation of 9-11, or taking it seriously before it happened? Did the Saudi ties provoke? Was this part of a reason why the animosity for the United States was so strong? Was it connected to the family? Well, essentially, we don’t know. But there’s some people concerned. You may have seen a former governor, Tom Kane, of New Jersey, running the 9-11 commission, very unhappy about not getting the material from the White House and suggesting that they might have to take measures. He’s a former Republican Governor of New Jersey. Well, then, by the time you start adding up some of the Republicans in this, you may get the sense that this is not that much, purely, a matter of ideology and I think that’s right.

Now, let me turn to the question of Iraq, the inherited war. Now, this, to me, is amazing that you could have had all of these developments in Iraqgate that involve Bush Sr., and the media did not pick up on this, when we had George W. taking office, virtually from the start, obviously looking for a war with Iraq, and maneuvering towards it, and there was just no real linkage of his role and his attitude with his father’s circumstances. The lies about the weapons of mass destruction go right back, and it reminds me of the whole business about the 312 babies in the incubators that never existed and so forth. There’s seemingly no great compunction about making a lot of this stuff up.

The second thing is, you may remember, that right after 9-11, George W. talked about a crusade. Very unfortunate language, because there was nothing more calculated to arouse the Muslims in the Middle East, but it wasn’t just George W., it was this personal circus of religious right leaders that he has dancing around. Falwell referred to Mohammad as a terrorist. The great prophet of Islam is a wild-eyed fanatic. Franklin Graham, Billie’s son, “Islam is evil.” And Jerry Vines, head of the Southern Baptist convention, who referred to Mohammad as a demon-possessed pedophile. These people are unbelievable. We’re trying to convince the Muslims that this is not a holy war, and you have got all of these flaky fundamentalists running loose with every sort of drivel that you can imagine.

And then a lot of people missed the personal aspect of all of this. When George W. was down giving a speech to a Republican audience in Texas in 2002, he said that Iraq was a special preoccupation of the United States, and he was referring to talk about an assassination attempt on his father. He said, Iraq was a special U.S. preoccupation because they tried to kill my dad. I mean, you don’t start a war because of a rumored assassination attempt on your father after he was out of office. You carry that as a grudge, but that’s — you know, that’s something else.

Then you get here the incredible military incompetence of George W. Bush. I don’t see why this hasn’t been an issue from word one. I’m not a total fan of General Clark, but he seems to be making that an issue, and there’s one thing the Republicans cannot say about a man who has four stars on his uniform, and that’s that he is not a patriot. He’s serving a very useful purpose there. But you all remember the George W. and the great top gun moment in May, went out to the carrier and land and announced that the fighting was over. You know, and he wouldn’t know fighting was over any more than a chocolate bar would know what was happening in August sun. And worse than that — and this is the sort of thing that ought to be raised outside of every military base in the Sunbelt. I don’t agree with what Michael Moore said that George W. was a deserter from the Texas Air National Guard. I think that’s excessive. You certainly cannot prove it. But what seems almost beyond a doubt was that he was Absent Without Leave, and I think he should be renamed for the duration of this fighting in the Middle East, Commander AWOL.

Let me stop here, and what I’ll suggest, I’m going to make one suggestion to Liberals, Progressives and Democrats — these are the sort of issues, I think, that if used correctly can do something that will have an enormous effect on the 2004 election. They’ll take back the American flag. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Phillips, former top Republican strategist in the Nixon White House. His new book is called “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.” This is DemocracyNow!. Back in a minute.

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