Shock and. . . Oil?

George W. Bush leaves office, pundits are reviewing "The Bush legacy"
-- a legacy sure to be defined by the disastrous Iraq war (with
financial meltdown as icing on the cake). In the new book Family of Secrets,
a probing history of the Bush dynasty, investigative journalist Russ
Baker, shows that George W.

George W. Bush leaves office, pundits are reviewing "The Bush legacy"
-- a legacy sure to be defined by the disastrous Iraq war (with
financial meltdown as icing on the cake). In the new book Family of Secrets,
a probing history of the Bush dynasty, investigative journalist Russ
Baker, shows that George W. Bush was hatching ideas for war on Iraq not
only before 9/11, but even before he was elected president.

reveals that as early as 1999, Bush candidly said that being a
victorious war president would be essential to securing his place in
history. His father, he believed, had "wasted" the political capital
from the first Gulf War, but "If I have a chance to invade . . . I'm
going to get everything passed that I want to get passed." Tragically
for Bush, he failed to contemplate the flip side of his fantasy: by
launching a calamitous war, he assured most of his other big
initiatives would be defeated or forgotten. In this excerpt, Baker
gives us a look at the pre-presidential Bush, blowing smoke about his
own abbreviated military service even as he daydreamed of sending other
Americans to war:

During his presidential campaign, W. collaborated with a professional writer on A Charge to Keep,
a book that was intended to introduce the candidate to the American
public. Mickey Herskowitz was a longtime Texas journalist, known both
as a sports columnist and as a prolific ghostwriter of biographies. He
had worked with a wide range of political, media, and sports figures,
including Texas governor John Connally, Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle,
Reagan adviser Michael Deaver, and newsman Dan Rather.

The project originally had been his agent's idea. Herskowitz whom I
interviewed in October 2004, considered himself a friend of the Bush
family, and has been a guest at the family vacation home in
Kennebunkport. In the late 1960s, Herskowitz designated President
Bush's father, then-congressman George H. W. Bush, to replace him
briefly as a guest sports columnist at the Houston Chronicle, and the two had remained close since.

In 1999, when Herskowitz called the George W. Bush presidential
campaign, to propose a book "by W.," it was supposed to be Karl Rove's
decision whether to green-light the book project. But Rove was busy
with other things, and he said that if it was okay with W., it was okay
with him. W. said he was amenable as long as he didn't have to do too
much. Most of all, he wanted to know how much money was involved.
Herskowitz, whom I interviewed in 2004, said that he and Bush quickly
arrived at an agreement in which they would split the proceeds.

W. did have one other concern: he worried whether there would be
enough content for such a book. He openly fretted to Herskowitz: what
had he accomplished that was worth talking about? Bush thought it a
better idea for the book to focus on his policy objectives. And what
might those be? Herskowitz inquired. Ask Karl, Bush replied.

Finally, though, the two began what would total approximately
twenty meetings so Bush could share his thoughts. As a writer,
Herskowitz knew that too much canned, self-serving material could be
commercially toxic. Even in a book intended to be self-serving, it
could destroy the credibility -- and hence the marketability -- of the
product. So he hoped to tease out some unguarded revelations, on the
assumption that these would simply humanize his subject. At the
beginning, Herskowitz had no idea the extent to which W. was treading
on eggshells.

According to Herskowitz, W. was a confusing combination of cautious
and candid. Sometimes, he would say something in an offhanded way that
would later prove to be explosive. One such bombshell concerned his
military service.

Herskowitz says that Bush was reluctant to discuss his time in the
Air National Guard -- and inconsistent when he did so. Among other
things, he provided conflicting explanations of how he came to bypass a
waiting list and obtain a coveted Guard slot as a domestic alternative
to Vietnam.

When the subject came up, W. sought to quickly deflect the
conversation to the summer of 1972 -- when he moved to Montgomery,
Alabama, to work on the Winton Blount senatorial campaign. And what did
you do about your remaining military service? Herskowitz asked.
"Nothing," Bush replied. "I was excused." [emphasis added]

It didn't take Herskowitz and Bush long to work through W.'s life
story and accomplishments. Soon they were discussing what Bush hoped to
achieve as president. While W. seemed somewhat hazy on specifics, on
one point he was clear: the many benefits that would accrue if he were
to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Herskowitz recalled that Bush and his
advisers were sold on the idea that it was difficult for a president to
realize his legislative agenda without the high approval numbers that
accompany successful -- even if modest -- wars.

"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," Herskowitz told me
in our 2004 interview, leaning in a little to make sure I could hear
him properly. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to
being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander in chief.'
And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he
drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have
a chance to invade . . . if I had that much capital, I'm not going to
waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed,
and I'm going to have a successful presidency.' "

Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an
underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive
military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's

That opportunity, of course, would come in the wake of the
September 11 attacks. "Suddenly, he's at ninety-one percent in the
polls," Herskowitz said, "and he'd barely crawled out of the bunker."
Just four days before, according to a Gallup poll, his approval rating
was 51 percent.

Herskowitz said that George W. Bush's beliefs on Iraq were based in
part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House, and ascribed in
part to Dick Cheney, who was then a powerful congressman. "Start a
small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on,
go ahead and invade."

Bush's circle of preelection advisers had a fixation on the
political capital that British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had
amassed from the Falklands War with Argentina. Said Herskowitz: "They
were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the
troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher]
and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these
magnificent speeches." It was a masterpiece of "perception management"
-- a lesson in how to maneuver the media and public into supporting a
war, irrespective of the actual merits.

The above is an excerpt from the book Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, The Powerful Forces That Put it in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America by Russ Baker (Published by Bloomsbury Press; 978-1596915572).

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