You can't judge most presidential candidates simply by their retinue of advisers and fundraisers, but Texas Governor George W. Bush may be a special case. Neither major party has nominated a candidate with so little national experience since the Republicans sent Kansas Governor and former oilman Alf Landon up against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were governors when they ran, but they had also participated for decades in national political debates and had accumulated their own opinions and experts and advisers. Except for minor posts in his father's presidential campaigns, George W. Bush has had no experience in national politics.
If he is elected, he will be unusually dependent on those who have this kind of experience. And guess whose administration these men and women will come from. The clearest sign yet of the young Bush's lack of self-reliance came in his choice of former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his running mate. Cheney is a charter member of former President George Bush's political fraternity. These former protégés, advisers, and retainers don't necessarily agree on every issue; they haven't been meeting secretly to plot the future, but they do share a common outlook on world affairs--one that would deeply influence another Bush presidency.
The senior Bush's fraternity can best be understood as a set of overlapping circles. Like the rings of spotlights that shine down on a figure skater, they promise to bathe the young Bush with the same colored light as his father. One circle consists of hundreds of former Bush administration aides and officials. These include Cheney, retired General Colin Powell, former National Security adviser Brent Scowcroft, former National Security aide Condoleezza Rice, former White House policy adviser and Federal Reserve appointee Lawrence Lindsey, former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz, and former State and Treasury official Robert Zoellick. Lindsey is the young Bush's chief economic adviser; and Rice, Wolfowitz, Scowcroft, and Zoellick are his chief foreign-policy advisers.
The second overlapping circle consists of investment and corporate consulting groups that have been established by Bush père alumni and that could be expected to influence and to stock a new administration. At the forefront is Washington's Carlyle Group, which employs former Bush officials Jim Baker and Richard Darman, and the former president himself, who has traveled on behalf of the investment group to Asia and the Middle East. Also important are the Thayer Capital, founded by Fred Malek, who ran the 1988 Republican convention and managed Bush's 1992 campaign; the Atlantic Partners, founded by Bush's former NATO Ambassador Alton Keel; and the Scowcroft Group and its satellites, which employ a host of former Bush administration officials. These groups of what Michael Lewis called "access capitalists" specialize in promoting foreign investment in countries like China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, where the key to success is access to foreign government officials.
The third circle comprises men who, like Bush the elder, have become rich off the oil industry--whether as drillers, refiners, suppliers, corporate lawyers, financiers, or landowners. They range from Cheney, the CEO of Halliburton, one of the world's largest oil equipment companies, to Kenneth Lay of Enron, a Houston oil producer and services company, to Saudi Prince Bandar and the royal family of Kuwait. Through his brief career in business, George W. Bush has also acquired some oil contacts himself, including Don Evans, who is his finance chairman, and Dallas investor Richard Rainwater. These CEOs, bankers, lawyers, and investors probably constitute the single largest donor group to his presidential campaign. You can't discover that from looking at Federal Election Commission records because many oil-related donations come from law firms like Houston's Vinson & Elkins or Dallas's Jenkens & Gilchrist, which depend on energy clients. Some of the largest donations also appear as soft money contributions to the Republicans--Enron's Lay, for instance, has already given $326,000 to the GOP this year.
The common thread that unites the former officials, the foreign investment groups, and the oil barons could be called conservative internationalism. Scowcroft, Cheney, and the access capitalists of the Carlyle Group are internationalists. They believe in an aggressive American foreign policy, backed by a strong military. They are happy to make use of foreign alliances, treaties, and organizations as well as domestic institutions like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Ex-Im Bank, to promote what they see as America's interests. It's how they define American interests that differentiates them from other internationalists. During the Cold War, liberals and conservatives were agreed that America's interests lay in defending democracy and capitalism against Soviet-led communism. But with the Cold War's end, conservatives like Scowcroft and Cheney have, in effect, narrowed the definition of America's overseas interests to defending the property rights of American investors. They don't subscribe to the Clinton administration's strategy of encouraging the growth of democracy. They are perfectly happy with monarchies in the Middle East or dictatorships in Asia as long as these regimes tolerate American investment. They don't believe in promoting human rights as an end in itself, and they reject any consideration of labor rights or environmental regulation in international relations. They favor increased military spending--not to enhance America's peacekeeping role, but to strengthen its ability to discourage economic competitors from becoming military rivals and to deter challenges from rouge states.
What's the evidence of this outlook? You can look at the Bush administration itself, which, while publicly condemning the Tiananmen Square massacre, secretly sent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to reassure the Chinese of American support. The administration enjoyed amicable relations with Iraq's Saddam Hussein--no one worried about chemical weapons attacks against the Kurds, the promotion of terrorism, and the creation of nuclear weapons--but when Saddam invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia's oil emirate, Bush drew a line in the sand. Bush's version of NAFTA, overseen by Zoellick, made no effort to discourage American firms from moving across the board to seek lower wages and avoid environmental regulations.
Or you can look at what former Bush officials have said and done since they left office. The Scowcroft Group did not merely defend China against congressional critics who wanted to revoke most-favored-nation trading status; it rejected any fair criticism of the Chinese regime. When the Clinton administration rightfully took the Chinese to task in 1996 for selling nuclear technology to Pakistan, the Scowcroft Group said the fault lay with the United States, not with China. It issued a brief by former Bush State Department official Arnold Kanter blaming the United States for "an accretion of nonproliferation legislation." Cheney criticized the Clinton administration in 1994 for intervening in Haiti, which, he said, "represents no significant threat to our interest nor is it an asset to U.S. policy." He also refused to brook any criticism of the Chinese. At a time in March 1995, when the Chinese were threatening the Philippines over some contested islands, Cheney, who was in China leading a delegation from Morgan Stanley, praised China's peaceful intentions. "I do not really perceive any threat from China to the world or to the region," he declared.
Of course, George W. Bush has said that he is going to be tougher on the Chinese than the Clinton administration has been. In a speech last Novem-ber at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, he promised to adopt toward China a policy of "competition" rather than "strategic partnership." But Bush's words were intended for domestic political consumption and should be given no more credence than the various statements Clinton made about China in October 1992. If Scowcroft, Cheney, and other former Bush officials dominate the young Bush's policy toward China, it will be even more conciliatory than the Clinton administration's. It will be based entirely on the promise of American investment.
Cheney can be understood as a prototype of both the former Bush official and the American oilman. Sixty years ago, American oilmen were the vanguard of a more liberal internationalism. Faced with a British monopoly in the Middle East, they advocated the breakup of the colonial empires. But once American firms won the upper hand in the 1950s, oilmen became the voice in Iran and elsewhere for the most conservative--and misguided--strands in American foreign policy. They still are, and in the late 1990s, Cheney was their principal foreign-policy spokesman. Just as Congressman Cheney had once opposed the use of sanctions against South African apartheid, CEO Cheney opposed the use of sanctions against governments in oil-rich Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, and Myanmar (Burma). Speaking for the American Petroleum Institute, Cheney attacked the administration's sanctions policy for its "failure at federal level to recognize the strategic asset of the oil and gas business."
Cheney and other oilmen that belong to the Bush circle were also at the forefront in opposing a new global warming treaty. The treaty itself is certainly flawed, but the oilmen oppose the very idea of international environmental regulation. In 1996 Cheney led a group of 54 oil executives in attacking the treaty because it advocated "the forced reduction of fossil fuel use." Why else have a treaty?
You could argue that in opposing the global warming treaty or in flacking for Azerbaijan strongman Heydar Aliyev, Cheney has been simply carrying out the mission of his office as the CEO of Halliburton and that if he became vice president, he would adopt a different view of American foreign policy. But to argue that is to misunderstand what Scowcroft, Cheney, and the other veterans of the Bush administration believe. They don't draw a distinction any more between business interests and the national interest. They see the oil lobby not as simply another interest group but as the representative of a "strategic asset." The real danger posed by George W. Bush's selection of Cheney as his running mate--and, more broadly, by the young Bush's reliance on his father's foreign-policy circles--is that if he is elected this November, this craven conception of the national interest will become the holy writ of American foreign policy. ¤
You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)