You have to hand it to George Bush the senior for hustle. Back in 1998, he took at least $80,000 in stock from Global Crossing in return for speaking for the company in Tokyo. The payment was made as the company was about to go public and the stock’s value quickly multiplied 175-fold to $14 million. Maybe some congressional committee will turn up how much of that stock the former president sold before the company went belly up a few weeks ago.
But that score was nothing compared with the elder Bush’s own global crossings as a highly paid consultant to the Carlyle Group, a $12-billion equity investment firm heavy into the defense and energy games. Carlyle’s chairman, Frank Carlucci, who was Reagan’s Defense secretary, is a close friend of the current secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, his Princeton wrestling partner. The Carlyle company roster also includes top vets of the first Bush administration, led by ex-Secretary of State James Baker--a political gunslinger who worked hard on George W. Bush’s postelection campaign to secure Florida’s electoral votes and the White House.
In fact, the government alums in the Carlyle Group are so well connected internationally that, until Sept. 11, the group was even trusted to invest the funds of the Bin Laden family--although not those controlled by the family black sheep, who is charged with slaughtering several thousand innocents using Saudi recruits and money. The elder Bush himself is well connected with the Saudis, having fought the Gulf War to save the royal kingdom from being gobbled up by wicked Saddam Hussein.
Last year, after George W. assumed the presidency, grateful Saudis welcomed his Poppy and his colleagues from the Carlyle Group who were in town to sign new contracts based on oil wealth. Hey, fair is fair: Bush the senior had saved the sheiks’ bacon and now they give him a slice.
Most former presidents putter around their presidential libraries, getting in a game of golf or two while they shuffle papers for their memoirs. Then there’s Jimmy Carter, trying to atone for sins he didn’t commit in office by becoming a carpenter for the poor, and poor Bill Clinton who still has to prove to right-wing talk show nuts and their spokespersons in Congress that his wife didn’t steal the White House silverware.
Nothing like that for George, who has returned to the spirit of his early days, when he used the connections of his family name to strike it rich in the Texas oil fields. This time, the big prize lies in the defense budget. With his son the president defending the biggest military buildup since the darkest days of the Cold War by pointing to the grim work of Saudi-sponsored terrorists, no weapons system is too gaudy or implausible to be embraced with bipartisan fervor.
That’s fortunate for the buddies of the president’s father over at Carlyle, who have invested heavily in military equipment without military purpose.
Take the 80,000-ton Crusader howitzer cannon designed to defeat the tanks of the Soviet army in a conventional war in Central Europe. As a candidate, even George W. Bush made fun of the antiquated weapon as he campaigned on the principle of a leaner, more efficient military built for modern wars.
But perhaps nobody had told him that the Crusader is being built by a defense contractor called United Defense, owned by the Carlyle Group. Clinton, on the advice of the Pentagon, was set to bury the weapon as a Cold War artifact. Now Bush the younger has embraced it--and Carlyle suddenly found the confidence to take United Defense public after holding off for a decade.
No biggie. What’s $11 billion for the Crusader in a defense budget designed to grow to $451 billion by 2007? Only a bleeding heart pinko pacifist would point out that $11 billion is what this “education” president is planning to spend on educating the nation’s poor children under next year’s Title I appropriation. But hey, child poverty is not the Carlyle Group’s business.
Robert Scheer is a syndicated columnist.