President George Bush’s lightning public-relations strike on Baghdad last week will have provided him with powerful television imagery with which to launch his re-election campaign next year. But the sight of the President serving Thanksgiving turkey to the troops has also served to overshadow – at least for the moment – a catalogue of potential political embarrassments created by his younger brother. Neil Bush caused trouble for their father, President Bush the first, more than a decade ago because of his role in the collapse of a savings and loan company that ended up costing American taxpayers $1.3bn (£750m). Now he is in trouble again, largely as a result of the startling revelations from a highly acrimonious divorce.
Some have been tawdry in a strictly sexual sense. First, that Neil had run off with the female half of a couple he and his ex-wife, Sharon, both once regarded as good friends. (Sharon Bush now suspects the two-year-old son of Neil’s new girlfriend might be his, although she is being sued by the girlfriend’s ex-husband for saying so.)
Or, that he had had sex during business trips to Thailand and Hong Kong with a series of women who, according to his sworn testimony, had spontaneously appeared at his hotel door without expecting payment… Asked whether the women were prostitutes, he told his ex-wife’s lawyers he didn’t know, but acknowledged that the arrangement was “very unusual”.
Potentially more damaging revelations – certainly for the Oval Office – concern business rather than pleasure, and the strong impression that Neil might have taken brazen advantage of his membership of America’s most powerful political family to make a killing on business deals.
Exhibit A is a consultancy with Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing of Shanghai, under which Neil is due to be paid $2m over the next five years to provide occasional “expertized advices” [sic] and attend board meetings. When Sharon’s lawyers confronted him with the fact that he had no background in semiconductors, he answered: “That’s correct.”
Exhibit B is a contract with a Washington-based firm that helps companies secure reconstruction work in post-war Iraq. Neil Bush said that he was providing “miscellaneous consulting services” to Crest Investment, including “answering phone calls”, for about three hours a week. For this he is being paid $60,000 a year.
The suspicion is that Neil Bush’s real role is to provide access to the White House. Both companies have strong political connections – Grace via its co-founder, the son of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, and Crest via Joe Allbaugh, George Bush’s 2000 campaign director, who is in business with Crest’s chief executive, Jamal Daniel.
Whether any of this might damage the President or not, it adds to a conviction that the Bush family has been trading off its political connections for years. In 1993, George Bush Snr took Neil, his brother Marvin and a clutch of outgoing White House officials to Kuwait where they all ended up doing lucrative business deals.
On that occasion, Neil sold anti-pollution equipment to Kuwaiti oil contractors. An executive with the company he was representing told The New Yorker: “There is no conflict of interest … We’re just capitalising on whatever good feelings exist.”
Go back and read this story again. Only this time, take yourself back about five or ten years. Every time you see the words “Neil” and/or “Bush”, substitute the words “Roger” and/or “Clinton.”
Now, imagine the screams coming from the Republican side of the aisle.
Now, take out the words Roger and Clinton and put the words Neil and Bush back in. Hear the screams?
What’s that you say?
No screams? You don’t hear any screams?
How very, very strange.