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High Plains Grifter

The Life and Crimes of George W. Bush

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Part Three: More Pricks Than Kicks

Relations inside the Bush cabinet have not always collegial and harmonious. Take Richard Armitage, the longtime diplomatic fixer. Armitage had originally been slated by the Bush transition team for installation as the number two man at the Pentagon. But Armitage despised Donald Rumsfeld’s megalomaniacal style and reportedly denounced openly him as "a prick." Armitage ended up back at State and Paul Wolfowitz, the crafty neo-con, became Rumsfeld’s slavishly devoted deputy.

Rumsfeld had good reason to fear Armitage and some of the other old hands at State. Not because Armitage and Powell weren’t itching for war with Iraq. Oh, no. It was a tussle over who would call the shots and how it would be launched: Powell’s office wanted a reprise of the 1990 coalition; Rummy wanted war on his own terms. The men and women at Foggy Bottom knew some unsavory tidbits about Rumsfeld’s past relations with two pillars in Bush’s Axis of Evil: Iraq and North Korea.

In the early 1980s, Rummy was grazing in the corporate pastures as a top executive fixer at G.D. Searle, the drug giant involved in the aspartame scandal. Then Reagan called. The Gipper summoned Rumsfeld to serve as his special emissary for the Middle East, assigned with the delicate mission of delivering back channel communications from the White House to Baghdad. This was the beginning of the so-called Iraq Tilt, the subtle backing of Saddam during the gruesome Iran/Iraq war.

December 20, 1983 found Rumsfeld in Baghdad supping with Saddam and Iraq’s foreign minister Tariq Aziz. By all accounts the day long session was amiable and cordial. Rumsfeld chose not to issue a remonstrance about Iraq’s lethal use of chemical weapons against Iran. Rumsfeld, known as the Prince of Darkness by some of his staffers, was well acquainted with the slaughter. He was in possession of a State Department memo dated November 1, 1983 by Middle East specialist Jonathan Howe who warned the administration of "almost daily use of CW by Iraq against Iranian forces."

Rumsfeld blew off the reports of atrocities and instead encouraged Saddam to press his war on Iran. By February 1984, a UN investigation publicly confirmed the gassings, but that didn’t deter Rumsfeld from meeting with Tariq Aziz again on March 26, 1984, where he again failed to reprimand the Iraqis (now essentially pursuing a proxy war for the US) for the war crimes. Two decades later, Rumsfeld, without cracking a grin, repeatedly invoked Saddam’s use of poison gas in the 1980s as a justification for Bush’s pre-emptive war.

Cut to 1994. Now Rumsfeld plying his craft back in the corporate milieu, this time for the Swiss engineering giant ABB, which specializes in the construction of nuclear power plants. In the fall of that year, ABB received a $200 million contract to construct two light-water reactors for the Pyongyang government, under a deal sanctioned by the State Department during the Clinton years. Oddly, Rumsfeld was later to cite the reactors as evidence of North Korea’s malign intention to pursue the development of nuclear weapons and used the reactors as justification for sinking billions in Bush’s Star Wars scheme. When confronted by the fact that the reactors under scrutiny had been sold to North Korea by his very own company, Rumsfeld feigned ignorance, just has he had done when presented with a videotape of him greeting Saddam. But the boys at the State Department knew the score on both counts and Rummy didn’t like it.

Indeed, Rumsfeld, the Polonius of the Bush team, so distrusted the ecumenicalists in the State Department that he set up an off-the-shelf operation sequestered firmly under his control called the Office for Special Plans, headed by Douglas Feith. Sound familiar? It should. The OSP is not all that different from the William Casey/Oliver North operation that had its stealthy hands in illegal meddlings from Iran and Afghanistan to Honduras and Nicaragua. But see how far we’ve matured as a nation in 20 years. Rumsfeld’s group was an open secret, shedding even the pretense of covertness.

The OSP operates as kind of cut-and-paste intelligence shop that served up as fact any gothic tale peddled by Ahmed Chalabi or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Feith made a pest of himself, meddling in the affairs of the war planners. He was reviled by Gen. Tommy Franks, who called him "the dumbest motherfucker on the face of the Earth."

This didn’t deter Feith in the least. He recruited a roster of pliant neo-cons into his office, who generated the phantasmagorical briefs for the war to topple Saddam, which he had hungered for since at least 1994. Feith’s OSP office was known by State Department hands as the Fantasy Factory. Among Feith’s pack of underlings, two have received special attention, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, for their intimate relationship with the state of Israel. Franklin, perhaps the scapegoat for a larger scandal, finds himself the target an FBI investigation into Israeli espionage ring in the Pentagon and National Security Council.

Feith himself is no stranger to such inquiries into leaking classified information to the Israeli. In 1982, Feith was fired from his position as an analyst on Middle East issues in the Reagan administration’s National Security Council on suspicion of leaking material to the an official with the Israeli embassy in Washington. Don’t cry for Feith. He simply moved out of the White House and over to the Pentagon as a "special assistant" to Richard Perle, then assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Policy.

When the Republicans were driven from office in 1992, Feith settled into a comfortable niche as a DC lawyer/lobbyist with the firm Feith and Zell, where he represented the interests of many Israeli firms hot to see the demise of Saddam. After Feith joined the Bush 2 administration, his former law partner, Marc Zell, moved the firm to Tel Aviv.

During the war on Iraq, Feith was given the responsibility’s planning for the occupation of Iraq and its reconstruction. Obviously, Feith spent little of his attention on the troublesome details of the occupation, swallowing the line that Iraqis would welcome their conquistadors. Instead, Feith devoted himself to the lucrative task of awarding many of the Coalition Provisional Authority’s reconstruction contracts. He steered many of the most lucrative deals, often on a no-bid basis, to clients associated with his former law firm, including Diligence, New Bridge Strategies and the Iraqi International Law Group, headed by Salem Chalabi-the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi. No sooner had Salem Chalabi, whose Law Group billed itself as "your professional gateway to the new Iraq," been appointed chief prosecutor in war crime trial of Saddam Hussein than he found himself indicted by an Iraqi prosecutor for involvement in a strange political murder plot. Now Salem Chalabi is on the lam in London.

Feith is one of those Washington creatures who seems to live his political life on the ropes, always saved by the paranoid solidarity of the neo-con claque, which suspects, rightly, that if one of their number topples he may take the rest down with him. Of course, even if Feith is forced to walk the plank at the Pentagon, he will almost certainly make a soft landing in the private sector, embraced by the firms he abetted while in office.

Sometimes even the stupidest motherfucker on the face of the earth can make out like a bandit.

* * *

Even Bush Sr. stood in line to profit handsomely from his son’s war-making. The former president on retainer with the Carlyle Group, the largest privately held defense contractor in the nation. Carlyle is run by Frank Carlucci, who served as the National Security advisor and Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan. Carlucci was also Donald Rumsfeld’s college roommate at Princeton.

Bush Sr. serves as a kind of global emissary for Carlyle. The ex-president doesn’t negotiate arms deals; he simply opens the door for them, a kind of high level meet-and-greet. His special area of influence is the Middle East, primarily Saudi Arabia, where the Bush family has extensive business and political ties. According to an account in the Washington Post, Bush Sr. earns at least $100,000 for each speech he makes on Carlyle’s behalf.

One of the Saudi investors lured to Carlyle by Bush was the BinLaden Group, the construction conglomerate owned by the family of Osama bin Laden. According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, Bush convinced Shafiq Bin Laden, Osama’s half brother, to sink $2 million of BinLaden Group money into Carlyle’s accounts. In a pr move, the Carlyle group cut its ties to the BinLaden Group in October 2001.

One of Bush Sr.’s top sidekicks, James Baker, is also a key player at Carlyle. Baker joined the weapons firm in 1993, fresh from his stint as Bush’s secretary of state and chief of staff. Packing a briefcase of global contacts, Baker parlayed his connections with heads of state, generals and international tycoons into a bonanza for Carlyle. After Baker joined the company, Carlyle’s revenues more than tripled.

Like Bush Sr., Baker’s main function was to manage Carlyle’s lucrative relationship with Saudi potentates, who had invested tens of millions of dollars in the company. Baker helped secure one of Carlyle’s most lucrative deals: the contract to run the Saudi offset program, a multi-billion dollar scheme wherein international companies winning Saudi contracts are required under terms of the contracts to invest a percentage of the profits in Saudi companies.

Baker not only greases the way for investment deals and arms sales, but he also plays the role of seasoned troubleshooter, protecting the interests of key clients and regimes. A case in point: when the Justice Department launched an investigation into the financial dealings of Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi prince sought out Baker’s help. Baker is currently defending the prince in a law suit brought by the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks that he used Islamic charities as a pass-through for sending millions of dollars to al-Qaeda linked operations.

Baker and Carlyle enjoy another ace in the hole when it comes to looking out for their Saudi friends. Baker prevailed on Bush Jr. to appoint his former law partner, Bob Jordan, as the administration’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Carlyle and its network of investors is well-positioned to cash in on Bush Jr.’s expansion of the defense and Homeland Security department budgets. Two Carlyle companies, Federal Data Systems and US Investigations Services, hold multi-billion dollar contracts to provide background checks for commercial airlines, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security. USIS was once a federal agency called the Office Federal Investigations, but it was privatized in 1996 at the urging of Baker and others and was soon gobbled up by Carlyle. The company is now housed in "high-security, state-of-the-art, underground complex" in Annandale, Pennsylvania. USIS now does 2.4 million background checks a year, largely for the federal government.

* * *

Thanks to Paul O’Neill, Bush’s former treasury secretary, we now know what we’d suspected all along: that the Iraq war was plotted long before al-Qaeda struck New York and Washington. Bush himself is depicted as entering office seething with vindictive rage like a character in a Jacobean revenge play. After all, he believed that Saddam had tried to kill his daddy in a bungled bomb plot during Bush Sr.’s triumphal entry into Kuwait City in 1993. Here we have one of the colorful features of the new dynastic politics of America: familial retribution as foreign policy.

O’Neill’s version is backed up by Richard Clarke, the former NSC terrorism staffer. Clarke charges that Iraq was an idée fixe with the Bush team since their entry into Washington. In his book, Clarke describes a meeting with the president a few days after the 9/11 attacks when it was clear to nearly everyone that they had been orchestrated by Bin Laden. Bush needled Clarke about finding a link to Saddam. Clarke said there was none. But his answer seemed to bounce off Bush’s brain like a handball off the back wall.

A few months later the invasion on Iraq seemed set in stone. "Fuck Saddam," Bush fumed at a meeting of the National Security Council in March of 2002. "We’re taking him out." Call it a case of pre-meditated pre-emption.

The game plan for deposing Saddam, seizing his oil fields and installing a puppet regime headed by a compliant thug such as Ahmed Chalabi or, as it turned out, the CIA favorite Ahmed Allawi, was drafted and tweaked by the National Security Council within weeks of taking office. Cheney’s shadowy energy task force even produced maps allocating Iraqi reserves to different oil companies. Of course, they didn’t offer an exit strategy. Perhaps, they didn’t plan on leaving?

On the remote chance that impeachment charges are ever leveled against this coven of pre-emptive warriors, Bush may have a minor case for plausible deniability here. According to O’Neill, the president drifts off during the excruciating tedium of these sessions. Bush only perks up during cabinet meetings when Condi Rice strolls into the room, whereupon he cleaves to each sanguinary phrase, nodding excitedly like his very own bobblehead doll.

Not that Bush seems to care all that much about the veracity of his briefings, but Rice’s information is not always noted for its reliability. For example, Rice, who got her start in politics working on the 1988 presidential campaign of Gary Hart, persisted for months in pushing the the preposterous notion that Iran was working with Pakistan to inflame anti-American sentiments across Southwest Asia. Of course, the rulers of Iran are Shiites and the elites of Pakistan are Sunni Muslim and, thus, as bitter rivals as Iran and Iraq-that is, until, the Bush administration succeeded in congealing their desperation and rage.

Tomorrow: Jesus Told Me Where to Bomb

Part One: The Ties That Blind

Part Two: Mark His Words

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and, with Alexander Cockburn, Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils.