Conservative Historian Links Bush Family to Oil Scandals

By DYLAN FOLEYFeaturewell
Tuesday February 24, 2004

In his new book “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush” (Viking, $25.95), historian and political commentator Kevin Phillips, a populist social critic who has decried the growing gap between rich and poor, writes a scathing assessment of the four-generation Bush dynasty that includes the forty-third President George W. Bush. Phillips follows the Bush family preoccupations with the finance industry, oil and covert operations, and the scandals they have been attached to, from Iran-Contra to Enron. 


Phillips traces the rise of the Bush dynasty to George Herbert Walker and Samuel Bush, the great-grandfathers of the President. He explores the influence of the Skull and Bones Society at Yale on the Bushes, Prescott Bush’s dealings with companies in Nazi Germany after World War II began, and the families close ties with the C.I.A. Phillips advances theories on possible deceptions and lies made by Bush Sr., arguing that he was involved in the “October Surprise,” where American hostages in Iran were not released in 1980 to secure a Reagan presidential victory, and that he helped arm Saddam Hussein, up until his invasion of Kuwait. Phillips chronicles how George W. Bush evolved from an Ivy League preppie into a tob acco-chewing born-again Christian Texan, and how he may be the de facto leader of the Christian Right. Phillips also warns of what he calls the “crony capitalism” of the Bush family and other  

American political dynasties. 

Phillips, 63, was raised in New York City and educated at Colgate University, the University of Edinburgh and Harvard Law School. He worked on the Nixon campaign in 1968, and was an aide to Watergate conspirator John Mitchell, the U.S, Attorney General under Nixon. Phillips is the author of the 1969 classic “The Emerging Republican Majority” and “Wealth and Democracy,” as well as eight other books. He is married with three children, and lives with his wife in Connecticut and Washington D.C., where he spoke by telephone with free-lance writer Dylan Foley. 

Q. How did you develop your view on the existence of a Bush family political dynasty? 


A. If you’re looking at the dynasty aspect, it became clear as George W. emerged politically. The dynasty certainly started in a meaningful way with the two great-grandfathers, [industrialist] George Herbert Walker and Samuel Bush. [George W.’s grandfather] Prescott Bush was a senator from 1952 to 1962. It was clear that he thought if he had gotten started earlier, he could have been president. By the early 1960s, George W. was telling people at Andover that his father wanted to be president. You had three generations of Bushes thinking presidentially. 


Q. What was your own interaction with the Bushes? 


A. I met George Sr. several times. My distaste for the Bushes in a mild way goes back to the Nixon years. Nixon used George Sr. for essentially social missions. When he was ambassador to the United Nations, what he did was entertain people. He belonged to a lot of clubs. There was an element of him be ing Nixon’s ambassador to club land. He was a walking preppy watchband. 


Q. What are your own politics? Were you a Nixon Republican? 


A.. Yes. I worked for John Mitchell in the Nixon White House for 13 or 14 months, leaving in 1970. I was a little annoyed at the administration. When Watergate came along, it didn’t make me into an independent. I voted for Reagan twice. I became a registered independent in the 1990s. 


Q. In your book, the readers get these almost contradictory images of the Bushes as poorly spoken, nonintellectual men who are also Machiavellian schemers. How do you reconcile this? 


A. The bumbling is certainly there. You have to go back to the Yale Skull and Bones and the O.S.S., the World War II intelligence agency. There was this whole id ea of the gentleman amateur, where serious clandestine activities were threaded through with comic book stuff. They also have some physical aspect, where they speed up and have short attention spans. It makes for an odd character. The family has been involved in clandestine things since the great-grandfathers in World War I. They have been involved with things they want to keep secret or blurred. 


Q. How do you see George W.’s relationship with the Religious Right? 


A. I don’t doubt the sincerity of G.W.’s born-again experience. He does have a decisive side, that he believes that he has been chosen by god for this leadership role. He was clearly telling people in 2000 that god wanted him to run for the Presidency, and god was speaking to him. In 2000, whe n Pat Robertson stepped down as head of the Christian Coalition, a Washington Post reporter was calling around to get reactions from people on the religious right, as to who would succeed Robertson. The reaction was that the Religious Right had a leader and it was George W., based on his personal religiosity and his view on being  

chosen by god. 


Q. Why do you argue that the Bush family has a pattern of using deception and secrecy? 


A. In the last 25 years, the deception has taken its form from George Sr.’s time heading the C.I.A. in 1976. He was spending time on Saudi Arabia and Iran, and it is pretty likely at this time that he got knowledgeable about B.C.C.I. [the arms and banking scandal]. He was involved in one scandal after another—there was the Oct ober Surprise and Iran-Contra. I pretty much believe the circumstantial evidence on the October Surprise is meaningful. 


Q. Do you think that the Iraq War could make or break George W.? 


A. It probably would be a just result if he was made or broken by wh at happens in Iraq. George Bush Sr. was involved in building up Iraq in a major way, up until 1990. As Act II rolled around in 2002, the Democrats should have been primed to discuss Bush Sr. building up Iraq. They didn’t seem to grasp any of it. 


Q. Do you see a problem with political dynasties in America? 


A. You obviously have “great family” politics in America. The Kennedys made their last run for the White House in 1980. With the Clintons, you have the obvious standard bearer in Hillary. If we’ve got dynastic succession, we’ve got this fundamental problem of hereditary politics undercutting democratic traditions with a small “d” and republican traditions with a small “r”. The solution has to be to put some focus on it. 


This interview first appeared in the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger.