George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have created the most secretive presidency of my lifetime. Their secrecy is far worse than during Watergate, and it bodes even more serious consequences. Their secrecy is extreme – not merely unjustified and excessive but obsessive.” With these ominous words, John Dean begins his self-described indictment of the presidency of George W. Bush.
Dean, a former counsel to the late President Richard Nixon, is no stranger to dirty politics and was a key figure in bringing down Nixon. Now, he warns Americans that George W. Bush may be much worse. In fact, Dean observes that Bush and Cheney “have pushed dirty tactics into a new dimension” and what we now have is “government by virtual gag order.”
Dean has intended that his book be a bill of particulars supporting an argument for the indictment of the Bush administration. He argues that their secrecy is out-of-hand and is “so pervasive and troubling that it must be called sinister, for it has dreadful potential consequences for all Americans.” Dean charges that the post-9/11 actions of Bush are “carefully calculated policies and plans,” and it is an understatement to refer to their secret presidency as “undemocratic.”
The author’s greatest fear is that in the event of another 9/11-type terrorist incident, “we have the wrong leaders,”and Dean fears for the very fabric of our Constitution, which he expects could become unraveled. He believes that Bush and Cheney have exploited and politically manipulated the aftermath of 9/11 for their own selfish political ends.
Likewise, Dean views both Bush and Cheney as “zealots who are convinced of their own wisdom, oblivious to not only what Americans think but the opinions of the entire world.”
Dean says the vice president has become a “co-president incognito” who “works behind closed doors and does not answer to Congress or the public.” He further asserts that “Bush is not sufficiently knowledgeable about their policies, to answer questions about them adequately. … It is not that he is stupid, only ignorant and apparently by design.” Dean cites columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, who observed, “With this court, Dick Cheney has become George Bush’s Cardinal Richelieu,” i.e., a shrewd tyrant who believes the end justifies the means. The author also cites cynics who say “that if anything happens to Cheney, Bush would become president.”
The author first compares and contrasts the Bush administration with the Nixon administration and then organizes the chapters of his bill of particulars into five, often overlapping, topical areas that include stonewalling, obsessive secrecy, secret government, hidden agendas, and scandals or worse.
In terms of stonewalling, Dean’s explains that Bush and Cheney have put all of their personal and private matters off-limits, beginning with the campaign in 2000. Bush will not discuss his younger years and refuses questions on his background and character. He cites his proudest career accomplishments starting at the age of 42. Likewise, Cheney has never been forthcoming about his health, which includes five heart attacks. Dean cites medical experts who believe Cheney’s health problems could pose a very serious liability.
Dean describes the administration’s tight control of the White House as shrink-wrapping (which is what Bush literally did to his Texas gubernatorial papers when he illegally stashed them away from public scrutiny.)
When traveling, Bush used “his advance men and the Secret Service to remove demonstrators from his sight” – an illegal practice also carried out by Nixon. The administration is tight-lipped. Dean observes, “Officials have largely stopped talking to the press except in set-piece briefings. Interviews are refused. Phone inquiries are left unanswered.”
The events of 9/11 proved a real turning point for Bush. Dean claims that during the crisis it was both Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who were more engaged in what experts call “Supreme Command” than was the commander-in-chief himself, who initially continued to read a story to school children in Florida.
“For Cheney and like-minded associates, 9/11 was a perfect storm, a moment they had even anticipated when looking earlier for a catalyst necessary to accomplish their broader goals.” Dean accuses Cheney and associates of working for years to find an opportunity to implement a hidden agenda. 9/11 and the so-called war on terror provided an excuse to use government secrecy to hide a major part of their real agenda – world dominance and a preemptive strike military policy.
Dean charges that the administration has deliberately hidden their agenda from the American people and, as a necessary consequence, misled this country into the war in Iraq. “They wanted war and felt that without their distortions, they would be unable to muster public and congressional support.” Dean deduces that “the facts are clear – however they are sliced, diced, spun – that Bush and Cheney took this nation to war on their hunches, their unreliable beliefs, and their unsubstantiated intelligence – and used deception with Congress, both before and after launching their war.”
Dean also adds that no part of the hidden agenda “is more disturbing than the stealth mistreatment of the environment” and he charges Bush with initiating many rollbacks of environmental laws, mostly in secrecy. These changes are either not widely publicized or very hard to obtain through normal Freedom of Information Act channels. Dean notes that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has estimated that this administration has rolled back over 200 environmental laws.
Finally, Dean cautions: “This White House cannot – and should not – be trusted in times of emergency since it has its own agenda.” The attacks by the Bush administration on our democratic freedoms in the name of fighting terror leads Dean to conclude: “Indeed, this administration is surely Osama bin Laden’s dream team, given its governing techniques.”
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(See related story below)
During the days following the 9/11 terrorist attack, at a time when all commercial and private aviation was grounded in the United States, the Bush administration coordinated the air pickup and exodus of over 140 Saudi citizens who were in this country. The departees were from two families: the royal Saudi family and the family of the Bin Ladens – Osama’s family. Craig Unger, author of “House of Bush, House of Saud,” gave additional information when interviewed on the new progressive radio network, Air America. He noted that 24 of the Saudis were members of the Bin Laden family, and that eight airplanes were sent to 12 U.S. cities for the pickup.
Given that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 terrorists were Saudis, it seemed unusual that none of the repatriated Saudis were reportedly even questioned.
Unger states in his book, “In the end, the FBI was only able to check papers and identify everyone on the flights.”
Unger further notes that permission for departure would have to come from “the highest levels of the executive branch of the President George W. Bush’s administration.”
The author views the Bush administration evacuation of Saudis a result of a two decades-long, largely unknown, personal and business relationship that had developed between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family.
Unger elaborates on some of the activities carried on between the two families, which included the Iran-Contra scandal, continued support of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in his long war with Iran even after it became widely known that Hussein was using poison chemical weapons, Saudi money going into an ailing oil company in which George W. Bush had a substantial stake, Saudis making common business cause with the elder Bush (George H.W.) by investing in the Carlyle Group, and Saudis fighting side-by-side with George H. W. in the Gulf War.
The Bush-Saudi relationship developed from major Saudi investment in the U.S., which began shortly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Saudi Arabia was awash in hundreds of billions of dollars made from rising oil prices in 1973-74, and it needed a military partner to protect its financial interests (the U.S.), and a place to safely stash its cash (again, the U.S.).
The Saudis wove a tight military, political, and economic alliance with the United States.
Houston, Texas, more than any other city in our country, was the greatest beneficiary of Saudi cash, as over 80 Houston-based companies developed “strong business relationships with the Saudis.”
In conjunction with their investments, the Saudis successfully developed powerful political ties with American power brokers using the influence gained from their large investments. Saudi investors would even dump money into troubled companies with debt or regulatory problems especially if they “just happened to be owned by men who had or might have White House ties.”
Eventually, the Texas connections paid off and led to ties with James A. Baker III, powerful Houston attorney, a chief of staff under Reagan, and close personal friend of Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush.
By this time, the Saudi royal family felt increasingly threatened by the rising tide of militant Islamic fundamentalism, especially in revolutionary Iran. The United States, feeling the loss of its loyal puppet, the Shah of Iran, in 1979, chose Saudi Arabia to replace Iran as its primary Muslim ally in the Mideast. Conveniently, Saudi Arabia had no constitutional restraints on covert operations and acted accordingly.
Unger notes that Saudi-American relations became “an ever more complex web of international defense and oil deals, foreign policy decisions, covert operations, and potentially compromising financial relationships between Saudis and American politicians who shuttled back and forth between the public and private sectors.” Standing right in the center of this complex web for 20 years has been the Bush family, first, George H.W. and then his son George W., and also Prince Bandar of the royal family – a personal friend of the Bushes, and longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Central to the Saudi-American relationship is what Unger terms “a double marriage.” The author explains that “if one thought of the U.S.-Saudi activities as a steady relationship, the Saudis were already married to someone else.”
The Saudi royal family has based its political legitimacy on an alliance with the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi sect of Islam. Wahhabism dates back to the 18th century when marriages between the family of prophet Ibn Abd al-Wahhabi and the clan of al Saud created the alliance. The two families agreed to share power from generation to generation and still do today. Modern Saudi Arabia was founded in a sea of blood during the 1920s as the influence of the two families spread throughout the Arabian peninsula. They finally consolidated their political control following a bloody conflict in which rival tribes were massacred, 350,000 suffered amputations, and 40,000 were publicly executed (out of a population of 4 million at that time).
In what is an otherwise very informative and politically useful book, the work suffers from the lack of a chapter or so describing the state of modern Saudi Arabia, which would have added a stronger element of disgrace to the Bush family’s close relations with one of the worst violators of human rights.
There seems to be an unstated assumption that the reader is aware of the horrors that exist in Saudi society. Modern Saudi Arabia today stands for values that are the antithesis of secular and democratic values. It is a religious police state lacking the most rudimentary protections of individual rights. Religion and the state are the same.
The brutal authority of the state is enforced by religious police and a criminal “justice” system based on the Wahhabi interpretation of the Muslim holy book, the Koran. Torture of prisoners is routine and condemned prisoners are publicly beheaded. Women have no rights, and there is not even the tiniest shred of a democratic facade.
The Saudis put their religious money where their mouth is, and they have spent over $70 billion since 1975 spreading Wahhabi religious propaganda around the world. It is hardly surprising that the Bush administration classified 28 pages pertaining to Saudi Arabia in the 900-page congressional report on 9/11 released last summer.
Bush’s relations with the Saudis should be a matter of public record and knowledge. Unger’s book is an important contribution to this end.
– Al Olson