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House of Bush House of Saud

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Since September 11 2001, the world has changed dramatically in several ways. War, paranoia, and instability in the Middle East are all direct consequences of 9/11. Many people blame the Bush administration for a great deal of these changes for the worst. This book seeks to throw light on the nature of that administration and, above all, its relationship with Saudi Arabia, the largest oil exporter in the world, possessing an estimated 25% of all known oil reserves. House of Bush, House of Saud is a title that suggests a conspiracy, but this book does not belong to the conspiracy genre. Instead, it tries to plot the relationship between the Bushes, senior and junior, together with their associates, and the elite Saudi families. Sometimes the link seems a little questionable, but for the most part this is a very powerful, well-researched book that leaves the reader enlightened and a little disturbed. The reader will certainly view the Bush administration and American policy-making with a different perspective in future.

The close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia goes back 60 years, but what engendered its special intimacy was the oil crisis of 1973. Starting in 1970, American oil production began to fall and the country was increasingly dependent on foreign oil. Saudi Arabia became critical to the maintenance of the American way of life. A large proportion of the petroleum dollars that flowed into the bank accounts of the Saudi royal family because of the oil price hike, were invested in the United States. Unger estimates that since the mid 1970's, 85,000 extremely rich Saudi Arabians have invested a total of at least $860 billion dollars in American companies. Houston Texas, the oil capital of the United States, has benefited more than any other city and now has a significant Saudi presence.

The Bush family has had connections with oil industry for years. George H. Bush bought an oil company in the 1950's and sold it, at a striking profit, a decade later. His confidant and lifetime collaborator, James Baker, is similarly connected with the oil business. Being a partner in Baker Botts, a big Houston law firm that represents oil-industry interests. When Bush began to put together his presidential team in 1978, it was based on a new political network in Houston, that of Big Oil. His son George W. Bush's administration has taken this much further, nakedly representing the oil industry like never before. Not surprisingly, this slowly became entangled with Saudi interests. Prince Bandar, a member of the royal family and for many years the Saudi ambassador to the US, slowly and painstakingly sought access to the American political elite, most successfully of all with the House of Bush. Prince Bandar, for long the central Saudi figure in the US, hugely rich on his own account, has been a close confidante of George Bush Sr. for two decades.

George W. Bush had a similar path, establishing his own oil company in the late 70s, until bought out by Harken Oil. When Harken acquired it, he became a director and ironically, it was saved from extinction by a very wealthy Saudi investor. The same wheels within wheels were turning. Unger is interesting on the differences between father and son. George Sr. was a product of the East Coast establishment and later adopted Texas as his home. In contrast, George Jr. was unashamedly, a Texan, born and brought up in American's oil state. The misperception of what he would be like as a president had much to do with his father's reputation and experience, which was largely to prove a false lead.

The United States - Saudi Arabian relationship blossomed in the period of two crucial wars, both of which the US fought by proxy. The Iran - Iraq war and the Afghan war. The American administration was deeply concerned about the impact of Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran, previously the US's most powerful ally other than Israel. It used Saddam Hussein, in strategy well detailed by Unger, as a means by which to counter the Iranian regime, secretly supplying him, for a decade or more, with weapons and cash. The Saudis, who effectively replaced Iran as America's regional ally, were intimately involved in the intricacies of American policy. They even came to the aid of the Americans by secretly funding, at the Reagan administration's request, the Contras in Nicaragua after Congress had blocked presidential support.

Unlikely as the American - Saudi alliance might seem, during the cold war there was a mutual sympathy. Of course, the central component was, and remains an elemental interest. The US depended on a reliable supply of cheap oil, while the Saudi regime needed a military guarantor for what was a deeply insecure regime in a profoundly unstable region. They both had very strong interests in each other. Both regarded the Soviet Union as the infidel, albeit for the Americans a secular one, and for the Saudis religious. These interests coincided most closely in Afghanistan.



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