Allen Lane, £18.99
American Dynasty, by Kevin Phillips
Charting the rise of the Bush clan
Tuesday 17 February 2004
Since George W Bush was inaugurated as US President, much comment has focused on the relationship between corporate conservatives like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, on the one hand, and "neo-conservative" intellectuals such as Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol. Such comment has typically presented Bush as a secondary figure, if not actually a puppet.
Kevin Phillips' new book about the Bush dynasty puts George W back in the middle of the picture. It draws attention to another relationship which explains much about him: the connection between the new Texas-based conservatism, with its roots in evangelical religion and oil and gas wealth, and the older, Eastern banking and foreign-policy establishment.
George W and his father grew up in New England and went to Yale before moving to Texas, although, as Phillips shows, Midland, Texas, (where George Snr set up in the oil business) was full of upper-class Yankees. George W has a Texas twang, but he, too, attended Andover (the American Winchester), Yale and Harvard Business School. Three generations of Bushes were members of the ultra-secretive and snobbish Yale club, Skull and Bones. Bonesmen have materialised with contacts or capital at crucial stages of both father's and son's careers.
Phillips shows with painstaking research that the dynasty's two founding fathers in the fourth generation back - George Herbert Walker, an investment banker, and Samuel Bush, a Mid-Western manufacturer - were far richer and more interesting than family myth would have us believe. Brown Brothers and Harriman, the family's New York bank, was investing in Germany and Soviet Russia in the 1920s, and continued to support German rearmament long after the Nazis came to power.
More recently, Phillips suggests both Presidents Bush were caught up in the political and business ramifications of the Middle East, involved with sundry Saudi businessmen - including members of the Bin Laden family. He shows too that the family has intelligence connections going back three generations.
Phillips argues that the rise of the Bush family was built "on the five pillars of American global sway": international investment banking, the giantism of the military-industrial complex, the ballooning CIA, control of global oil supplies, and close alliance with Britain. He sometimes has to speculate, and this might sound like a hatchet-job were it not for his copious research and track record. Phillips started out as a Republican: his 1969 book, The Emerging Republican Majority, which predicted the rise of the "sunbelt" in politics, influenced a generation of conservatives.
He relates the Bush clan's rise to a "dynastisation" of America, and cites amusing instances of the new preoccupation with genealogy, including the Bushes' claim to be of royal blood. Phillips is a formidable controversialist, whose book will make us wonder on what sort of new friends our Labour prime minister has staked his reputation.
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