George HW Bush and the Saudis; Bush and the Dorfmans; The Bush Family's Hidden History
December 7, 2018 Craig Unger / The Guardian & Ariel Dorfman / The Guardian & SGTreport
Commentary: The former president has been widely praised for his command of foreign policy. The reality, writes the author of House of Bush, House of Saud, was much more complex -- and dark. Also, a Chilean author and political activist recalls a close encounter with GHWB and a short video uncovers some unseemly history involving GHWB and the Bush family.
Bush's Sordid Saudi Ties Set Template for Trump -- Bush Was Just More Subtle Craig Unger / The Guardian
(December 4, 2018) -- Days after his death, reverent tributes continue to pour in for former president George HW Bush, celebrating his adroit handling of the end of the cold war and his victorious leadership in the 1991 Gulf war, all leavened with nostalgia for a bygone era in which an American leader could stand astride the world stage without causing the entire planet to titter in nervous laughter.
Refined, gracious and genteel, Bush, in many ways, was the polar opposite of the current resident of the White House. Nevertheless, his decorous manner often concealed objectives that were far darker than the "kinder, gentler" vision he promoted.
As head of the CIA under Gerald Ford, and later as vice-president, Bush was a consummate pragmatist capable of rapidly changing political positions as expediency demanded. Highly disciplined, he mastered the arts of compartmentalization and secrecy. Nobody in government was better at keeping secrets. With his posh pedigree and Ivy League credentials, Bush had the perfect resume to be a spy, and an effective mask with which to disguise his real agendas.
As Murray Waas and I wrote in the New Yorker, that was precisely the case in the summer of 1986, when Bush received a call from William J Casey, the gruff, perpetually disheveled spymaster who succeeded Bush as CIA director. Casey wanted Bush, then vice-president under Ronald Reagan, to run a covert operation that was part of what became known as the Iran-Contra and Iraqgate scandals.
Obstinate Iranian leaders had declined Casey's secret offer to exchange arms for hostages who were being held in Beirut by terrorists tied to Tehran. Casey decided he had to force Iran's hand. In August, Vice-President Bush was scheduled to visit the Middle East to "advance the peace process", as the New York Times reported.
Bush's true objectives were exactly the opposite of his stated goals. He was there to escalate the war between Iran and Iraq. Specifically, he had been tasked with delivering strategic military intelligence to Saddam Hussein, so that Iraq would intensify its bombing inside Iran. After a series of brutal air attacks, Bush and Casey reasoned, Iran would be forced to turn to the US for missiles and other weapons of air defense.
And they were right. Forty-eight hours after Bush executed his mission, Iraqis launched hundreds of strikes targeting oil facilities deep into Iran. Within a few weeks, Iran was back at the negotiating table. But that wasn't the end of it. Every time hostages were released, new ones were seized.
As for the Iraqi side of ledger, Bush and Casey were far less wary of Saddam than one might expect. "He and Casey both had great naivete, thinking you could be friends with Saddam Hussein," said Howard Teicher, who served on Reagan's National Security Council.
When Bush became president in 1989, his administration blithely ignored Saddam's military buildup and human rights violations and proceeded to send funding, intelligence and hi-tech exports, some of which could potentially be used in Iraq's nuclear weapons program. All of which left Saddam emboldened -- and that paved the way for the Gulf war of 1991.
A key factor in Bush's Middle East policies was his friendship with Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US. The two men were so close that Bandar was known to pop in unexpectedly at Bush's summer retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine. They went on hunting trips together. Later, when Bush was out of the White House, he even tasked Bandar with teaching his eldest son -- George W, then a presidential aspirant with no experience in international affairs -- all about foreign policy.
After his presidency was over, Bush and a number of his former cabinet officers also began participating in the Carlyle Group, a giant private equity firm heavily funded by Saudi billionaires -- including the Saudi family of Osama bin Laden. As I reported in House of Bush, House of Saud, in the end, nearly $1.5 billion made its way from the Saudis to individuals and institutions tied to the extended family of Bush cabinet officials and associates.
Such ties were particularly noteworthy because of the House of Saud's alliance with strident and puritanical Wahhabi fundamentalists, many of whom supported a violent jihad against the west. All of which raised disturbing questions after terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 people on 11 September 2001 in attacks orchestrated by Bin Laden.
George HW Bush was long out of office and his son had become president. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, when US air traffic was all but shut down, how is it that the White House approved the departure of more than 140 mostly Saudi passengers, many of whom were kin to Osama bin Laden?
Why did Saudi Arabia -- birthplace of 15 out of 19 hijackers -- get preferential treatment from George W Bush's White House at a time when Arab-Americans all over the country were being apprehended and interrogated? Had the Bushes' close ties to the Saudis led them to look the other way -- even after the worst terrorist attack in American history?
Seventeen years later, of course, a very different White House has turned a blind eye to a very different but equally horrifying Saudi atrocity -- namely, the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi after he was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
In response, Trump, predictably, could not have more deeply insulted the intelligence services Bush once led. Just a few days after the CIA determined that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the murder, Trump baldly defied CIA analysts and sided with the Saudis, asserting that Khashoggi's murder might never be solved.
"We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi," he said. "In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
With his understated style and his understanding of the diplomatic niceties, George HW Bush, of course, would have handled it very differently. But let us not forget that America's mercenary relationships with brutal foreign powers began long before Donald Trump.
Craig Unger is the author of House of Bush, House of Saud and House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia. His Twitter handle is @craigunger
"[I will] never apologize for the United States of America. Ever.
I don't care what the facts are."
-- President George H. W. Bush, after US jets downed an Iranian passenger jet, killing 290 civilian passengers and crew.
(December 2, 2018) -- As the world says goodbye to George HW Bush, I am tempted to add my own personal memories to the mix, and illuminate perhaps his legacy by recounting the two intense nights that my wife and I spent in close proximity to the former president at the end of October 2001.
It was at the Park Hyatt hotel in Sydney, where I had been invited to deliver the Centennial Lecture celebrating the Federation of Australia. The day after our arrival, the hotel manager -- a corpulent, affable man of Spanish extraction -- asked us if we wouldn't mind exchanging our suite, only for the next two days, he said, for another one, just as nice, he promised, elsewhere on the premises.
Having already unpacked, and enjoying the most spectacular view of the bay and the Opera House, it wasn't hard to respond that we had no intention of moving. Was there any reason for such an unexpected request?
The manager could not elaborate further, "due to reasons of security". Though he would honor our wishes, he regretted that our dinner reservation for that evening had been cancelled, as the dining room would be closed for a restricted event.
It was only that evening, when our centennial hosts had rescued us for a meal at another location, that their head of protocol mentioned, in passing, that we were sharing the Hyatt with none other than Bush the elder, who was in Sydney, with a large entourage, to attend a meeting of the Carlyle Group, the gigantic global asset management firm that he had been advising for the last three years (months later we realized that this was the summit where the Bin Laden family was "disinvested" from the firm).
On our way back to the hotel, Angelica and I could not contain our insane glee at depriving Bush of our room. For once, we chortled, we had bested one of the big fish who are used to seeing their every wish granted.
Our antipathy towards this particular big fish ran deep: those deplorable years as Reagan's vice-president, his racist campaign against Michael Dukakis, his invasion of Panama, his appointment of Clarence Thomas to the supreme court, his sabotage of global initiatives to reverse catastrophic climate change, the disastrous Nafta treaty, the vetoing of civil rights legislation, the presidential pardon of the neo-con Elliott Abrams, and, of course, Bush's mawkish "thousand points of light".
Well, here was a fact that the man who had helped to steal our country from us could not ignore: no way was he stealing our room!
We entered our quarters -- after passing two brawny security guards in the corridor outside the room next to ours -- and gleefully imagined him stewing on his mattress, foiled, frustrated, sleeplessly stymied by a couple of Chilean revolutionaries whose existence he could not even divine. Our mirth soon subsided, replaced by an ominous thought from my wife: "What if something happens to him tonight or tomorrow?"
The 9/11 attacks had occurred barely six weeks earlier, and what juicier target for terrorists than the father of the current US president, that other George Bush? We looked at each other in consternation: if, by some demented coincidence, there was an assault right now on Bush senior, who would be the first suspects, which guests had both motive and opportunity?
The two Chileans next door, that's who.
Had the security team used our absence that evening to check our room and bug it? If so, they had heard us laughing and referring to Bush in decidedly uncomplimentary terms.
It didn't take long for us to dispel our absurd paranoia, and yet, as I fell asleep, I couldn't help but note that the post-9/11 world was strangely reminiscent, with its pervasive fear and burgeoning surveillance society, to the Chile we had left for exile many decades ago. We could banish Bush from the accommodation of his choice, but the world still belonged to him, to his son, to their acolytes and accomplices.
Early the next morning, I had a chance to recognize, first hand, how irrefutable this dominion was.
I was on our private terrace, overlooking Sydney Bay, doing some warm-up yoga exercises, so close to the water I could almost touch it, when who should pop into view, two or three yards away, just below me on the esplanade separating the hotel from the sea, but Poppy himself, walking briskly towards the city skyline.
He was casually dressed, as if about to play golf, and surrounded by a sizeable entourage -- some muscled security heavies, some suited confederates, perhaps a secretary or two, all of them quietly obsequious, all of them situated at a prudent distance, respectful of an invisible protective boundary that isolated the politician who had once been the most powerful person on Earth. Closest to Bush, half a step behind him, was a bulky, crew-cut military man, with so many medals on his uniform that it was a miracle he wasn't sagging from the burden. A general, at least, I thought.
Suddenly, the former president lifted his right arm into the air, his fingers extended backward, snapping them without, however, deigning to look at the man behind him. The officer reacted with celerity, producing, seemingly out of nowhere, a tube that he deposited in his master's hand. It turned out to be a sun tan lotion, as George Senior, without losing his stride and definitely without thanking the aide, began to lavishly apply it to his exposed forearms and neck.
But our aversion had more personal roots: Bush had operated as head of the CIA from 30 January 1976 until 20 January 1977. As such, he was undoubtedly privy to exhaustive information about the devastation being inflicted by the US-supported Pinochet regime in Chile, at a time when opponents were being disappeared, concentration camps were still open and torture was rampant.
During his tenure, the American government facilitated the infamous Operation Condor, run by the intelligence services of six Latin American dictatorships to coordinate their repression of dissidents. Perhaps most inexcusable was that Bush remained unrepentant of his country's involvement in so much suffering.
Had he not stated -- when an American missile had blown up an Iranian aircraft with 290 innocent civilians aboard in 1988 -- that he would "never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don't care what the facts are."
That night, pondering the experience, I was the one who tossed and turned, slumberless, a few feet from the man who once held the fate of humanity in his hands. I was disturbed by the unintentional message he had sent me. Without the slightest notion that I was witnessing his cavalcade from my smug and far too self-satisfied position on a beautiful balcony, he had given me the finger, offered a lesson about what matters in the grand scheme of history.
Our puny possession of his favored room and view, our sweet vicarious victory, was insignificant when weighed against that gesture of his. Nothing we did to him could alter its meaning or implications, change his patrician certainty that he had been born to rule and could do no wrong. A certainty transmitted to his son, who ended up being the living incarnation of his father's finger-snapping imperium, who believed he owned the world as if it were a tube of sun lotion to be squeezed dry.
Paradoxically, it was that swaggering son who has helped me, over time, to soften my appraisal of Bush father's place in history. It's enough to remember the younger Bush's demolition of Iraq and Afghanistan and, for good measure, his wrecking of the US economy, to look upon the elder's presidency as almost respectable, to feel an almost doleful nostalgia for the Republican party of those years that was not entirely poisoned with hatred and blind greed -- and I haven't even started on Donald Trump.
Bush Senior might have been complicit for the thousands of corpses rotting on the Highway of Death in Iraq in 1991, but he did not forge ahead to Baghdad; indeed, that mayhem in the desert apparently made this veteran of the second world war, where he had served honorably, decide to stop the advance.
And then there's the American Disabilities Act, his relatively benign policies on immigration, his split with the National Rifle Association, the meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev that ended the cold war. And the considerable humanitarian works he did after leaving office. Not to mention his stark opinions about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, that dynamic duo of destruction, and his stubborn and principled refusal to endorse Trump, calling him, at one point, "a blowhard".
And yet, now that death has come for George HW Bush and he holds no sway in this world, now that the snap of his fingers cannot protect him from the fate suffered by every mortal or from the black sun of infinity, it is those fingers in that remote Australian morning that I cannot shake from my mind.
Partly this is because I ruefully understand that, for all the elder Bush's shortcomings, I would rather have a finger like his on the nuclear trigger than that of an ignorant bully and self-aggrandizing, insecure liar who can extinguish all of humanity with a simple command (and who also ominously brays that "we are not going to apologize for America . . . No more apologies"). But time has also given me a different perspective on that incident in Sydney.
Today that arrogant wave of the elder Bush's hand appears more forlorn, almost delusional in its certainty that his blue-blooded dynasty would endure and prevail.
Jeb's ignominious defeat -- the favorite son who was supposed to be the anointed winner of the primaries and the election itself -- forewarned of a pseudo-populist rebellion against privilege and prerogative; an anti-elite, anti-corporatist surge from vast swaths of the country that rode the boorish and unenlightened Trump into a White House where his presence would have seemed, to the Bushes as to most of humanity, as inconceivable as it was offensive.
The world did not belong to George Herbert Walker Bush and his children after all, at least not in the way he dreamed it.
Even less does it belong to me or my children or the children of most of those living on this planet today, so many of us farther than ever from affecting our own destiny.
Because what cannot be denied is how that imperial gesture of his that morning in Australia continues to exemplify all that is wrong with the patriarchal world the elder Bush reigned over, and that was complicit in creating the America that ultimately led, despite his own wishes, to Trump taking power, the unfortunate America we are doomed to share.
George Herbert Walker Bush does not rest in peace.
Nor do we.
Ariel Dorfman is the author of Darwin's Ghosts, and the collection of essays Homeland Security Ate My Speech
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes. IN MEMORIAM:
THE TRUTH ABOUT GEORGE H.W. BUSH SGTreport
Note:Despite the pro-Trump bias, this 9-minute conspiracy-doc covers many important but little-known episodes of Bush family history -- including patriarch Prescott Bush's support of Adolf Hitler and his involvement in the 1934 "Business Plot" to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt in a military coup. -- EAW.
(December 2, 2018) -- George H.W. Bush is dead at the age of 94 and the mainstream media mockingbirds are singing the praises of this "great man" and 41st President of the United States. But it may surprise some to learn the truth about H.W. and the Bush family. This is the story the mainstream media refuses to share with Americans.