Fun with faces 

Our administration officials paired with their Axis of Evil business buddies

Dick Cheney-Saddam Hussein
Dick Cheney is gravely concerned about Saddam Hussein. You can hear it in the mumbles that come out of the side of his mouth on Sunday news shows. They get a bit more pitched and staccato when he talks about the Iraqi dictator.

You'd never know that Dick and Saddam are pals from way back. In 1989, George the Elder sent Dick to Baghdad to help Saddam in his righteous mission to murder as many of his own people and the Iranians as he possibly could -- in the process of stealing Iran's oil fields.

Back then, George and Dick liked Saddam, because he was fighting the Iranians. So we sent him anthrax and all kinds of good stuff. But Saddam was running into trouble and needed a little help from his D.C. buddies.

That's why Dick went to Baghdad: He brought along satellite photos that he personally gave to Saddam to help his buddy target chemical attacks on Iranian troops. A beautiful friendship was born.

Things got a bit rocky between Dick and Saddam during the Gulf War. He mumbled fiercely out of the side of his mouth about that, too. But, in the end, Dick and George stopped short of toppling their old ally. Before George the Elder left office, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq. Occasionally, President Clinton bombed the country.

But if you think Cheney forgets his friends, you don't know Dick. In 1995, he became CEO of Halliburton Co. Halliburton is a huge oil-industry construction firm; after its war with the allied troops, Iraq needed a lot of oil-industry construction.

Dick's recall of his company's dealings with Saddam is a bit hazy. At first, he said there was a "firm policy" against any dealings with Iraq; then, some Halliburton execs told the Washington Post there was no such policy.

Dick also told the Post two Halliburton subsidiaries weren't doing any business with Iraq when he bought them. But then he said Halliburton "divested ourselves of those interests." Finally, it turned out there was no divestment! In the year-and-a-half after Dick bought the subsidiaries, Halliburton sold more than $73 million in equipment and parts to Iraq, according to the Post.

The Clinton administration barred Halliburton from an additional $2.5 million in Iraq deals. The nerve! But, now, Halliburton, which is competing for a $900 million in contracts to rebuild Iraq after the war, will be able to set up offices in Baghdad -- Saddam or no Saddam.

It looks like a good time for Dick to go ahead and exercise his $8 million in Halliburton stock options. So what if he's been talking out of both sides of his mouth all along?



Donald Rumsfeld-Kim Jong Il
We think Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's nickname derives from his name, not his drinking habits (though his penchant for ranting insults at our allies makes you wonder).

If he is as big a partier as his name implies, Ol' Rummy might have a fun time hanging with Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, best known for his Lyle Lovett-style haircut, orgies and lust for nuclear bombs.

So far Rummy's relationship with Kim has been all business. Their story together starts in 1994, when Bill Clinton reached a deal with the North Koreans. The deal offered help to North Korea in building two nuclear power plants if North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program.

Rummy chaired a commission that criticized Clinton for giving up too much in the deal. He was a bit more circumspect two years later when the same issue came up in another setting.

Rumsfeld served on the board of Swiss technology giant ABB, which approved a $200 million contract to provide equipment and supplies the very plants Rumsfeld had criticized, according to the Zurich daily Neuen Zurcher Zeitung.

But Rummy's friendship with Kim has had nearly as many twists and turns as the one between Cheney and Saddam. After Bush the Younger took office, his new defense secretary again criticized the deal. It turned out that North Korea had secretly continued its nuclear weapons program, and the Bushies went, uhmm, ballistic. By naming North Korea to the "Axis of Evil" and declaring they wouldn't even speak to the North Koreans, Rumsfeld and Co. made the paranoid maniacs from Pyongyang even more paranoid. Now, North Korea's building nuclear bombs like they're widgets and boasting that their missiles can carry warheads as far as L.A. and points east.

Didn't this guy ever hear that thing about the customer always being right?



George Bush-Mr. bin Laden
OK. OK. The picture for this one's a bit of a stretch. George W. Bush isn't doing business with Osama bin Laden. But the facts may the creepiest of all.

Unlike Jimmy Carter, who has dedicated his life to the search for world peace, George the Elder has dedicated his life to influence peddling. Bush is senior trustee of the Carlyle Group, an investment firm run by former GOP White House officials. George specializes in doing business with the Saudis. Guess who his top clients were before 9-11?

That's right: the bin Ladens! Now, that's not to say all the bin Ladens are terrorists or even terrorist sympathizers. Basically, their job is to inherit of wealth (much like the Bushes, except more).

Things get sticky, though, when you wonder what services George H.W. Bush -- who spent most of his life in the CIA and the executive branch, not in finance -- does for his clients.

Soon after Sept. 11, the bin Ladens withdrew their money from the Carlyle Group as a public relations move. You'd think, however, that the many siblings and cousins of Osama bin Laden in the United States would be among the folks law enforcement wanted to interview.

While less influential Arabs were held and questioned for weeks after the attacks, however, the bin Ladens were unaccountably shuttled out of the country, according to The New Republic.

Did Bush the Elder use his influence in the administration to help Osama's brothers and sisters avoid the embarrassment of interviews with law enforcement? Maybe. Maybe not. The New Republic suggests a second possibility: Perhaps a former lawyer of George the Younger, a guy named Robert W. Jordan, helped out in this endeavor. He's now the ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

How cozy.

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