Have you ever wondered who really benefited from the Gulf War, which will be celebrated this week at the Republican National Convention as the crowning, if singular, achievement of the presidency of George H.W. Bush? There were no other major successes to crow about, certainly not the US economy, which sputtered badly under the Bush administration, or social policy, which catered to the whims of the likes of Pat Robertson and Jesse Helms.
No, when you think of the reign of Bush the First–the sole justification for the anointing of his callow son–its only striking achievement was that of keeping Arab oil in the hands of tyrants presumed friendly to us.
As it turned out, Dick Cheney, Bush’s secretary of Defense and Junior’s pick for vice president, would later enrich himself enormously from his friendship with the oil sheiks he saved. But the fruits of that victory for others have been nil. The Iraqi people suffer far more than ever before under Saddam Hussein; Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are still repressive theocracies stuck somewhere in the Middle Ages, and the price of gas for US consumers is skyrocketing.
But from the vantage point of Cheney, the war was wonderful. It landed him a job in the oil business and a whopping $43 million windfall in salary and stock options after only five years as head of the Halliburton Colorado, a Texas-based oil services firm.
Halliburton is the parent company of Brown and Root, which continues to enrich itself from a decision made by Cheney at the Pentagon to privatize the military’s logistical support facilities, giving Brown and Root lucrative Pentagon contracts in Kuwait and throughout the world. Joe Lopez, Cheney’s aide in the Defense Department, is now chief operating officer of Brown and Root.
Cheney was totally lacking in business experience or knowledge of the petroleum industry when he was selected to head Halliburton, although he had been much admired by oil industry lobbyists for his virulent anti-environment voting record in Congress. The obvious reason for his selection was his worldwide contacts with oil-producing nations, led by those same oil kingdoms that Cheney saved. “Halliburton played to his strengths, which were contacts in the Arab world and dealing with governments,” is the way his friend Kenneth Adelman, a veteran of the Reagan administration, put it in an interview with the New York Times.
The newspaper summarized an extensive review of Cheney’s career at Halliburton with the assessment that, “Mr. Cheney has been able to rely heavily on the high-level contacts in the Middle East he made as Defense secretary to win business in the roughneck world of international oil.”
In pursuit of that business, Cheney has adopted the standard that what is good for big oil is good for the world. He has been a major advocate of ending sanctions on US investment in Iran, despite that country representing every bit as much a destabilizing force in the world as Iraq.
He has been an equally strong opponent of sanctions against investment in Burma, renamed Myanmar and run by arguably the world’s most repressive regime, though loved by the oil companies that find a haven there. Cheney and his company have supported lobbying efforts in Congress to end the sanctions against Burma and worked successfully toward getting the US Supreme Court to overrule a Massachusetts state law that penalized companies doing business with Burma.
Cheney has been far more successful in the oil business than his running mate, who sunk millions of dollars entrusted to him by family and friends in various losing oil ventures. But W. emerged from those failed efforts a wealthy man, and it is safe to say that he shares with Cheney a perspective of the industry like no prospective presidential team has ever had.
Both have a record of hostility toward environmental restraints on oil exploration and development, and both are convinced that higher oil prices are as beneficial to the well-being of life on the planet as it has been to their own personal fortunes.
Bush entered the oil business in 1973 at the height of the Arab oil embargo, when skyrocketing prices were causing immense suffering for American motorists. For Bush, the rise in oil prices proved inspirational, prompting his desire to become a player in the industry. As he later told the Los Angeles Times, “It was exciting to me. I was inebriated with the atmosphere out there.”
Inebriated is a good word for the many voters taken in by the soft-shoe sales job of Bush and Cheney, but the voters could sober up real fast if they focus on the two Texas oil moguls at the head of the Republican ticket whenever they pull up at the pump and feel the sting from the exorbitant price of gas.