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Context of 'Fall 1997: Former President Bush Calls on Saudi Prince Bandar to Educate His Son on Foreign Affairs'

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Prince Bandar bin Sultan.Prince Bandar bin Sultan. [Source: CBS News]Former President George H. W. Bush calls on his longtime friend, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and asks him to meet with his son, Texas Governor George W. Bush. His son has an important decision to make, the elder Bush tells Bandar, and needs the prince’s advice. Bandar flies to Austin, Texas, planning on using a visit to a Dallas Cowboys game as a “cover” for his visit. He lands in Austin, and is surprised when Governor Bush boards the plane before Bandar can disembark. Bush comes straight to the point: he is considering a run for the presidency, and though he already knows what his domestic agenda will be, says, “I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy.” Bandar runs through his experiences with various world leaders, including the USSR’s Mikhail Gorbachev, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, the Pope, and former US President Ronald Reagan. Finally, Bush says, “There are people who are your enemies in this country who also think my dad is your enemy.” Bandar knows Bush is speaking of US supporters of Israel, and wants to know how he should handle the Israeli-Jewish lobby as well as the neoconservatives who loathe both the Saudis and the elder Bush. Bandar replies: “Can I give you one advice?… If you tell me that [you want to be president], I want to tell you one thing. To hell with Saudi Arabia or who likes Saudi Arabia or who doesn’t, who likes Bandar or who doesn’t. Anyone who you think hates your dad or your friend who can be important to make a difference in winning, swallow your pride and make friends of them. And I can help you. I can help you out and complain about you, make sure they understand that, and that will make sure they help you.” Bandar’s message is clear: if Bush needs the neoconservatives to help him win the presidency, then he should do what it takes to get them on his side. “Never mind if you really want to be honest,” Bandar continues. “This is not a confession booth.… In the big boys’ game, it’s cutthroat, it’s bloody and it’s not pleasant.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 154-155]

Entity Tags: John Paul II, Bandar bin Sultan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

America’s neoconservatives are initially leery of potential presidential candidate George W. Bush, currently the governor of Texas, mostly because they do not want a repeat of his father’s presidency. What they do not yet know is that the younger Bush has no intention of reprising his father. He is determined to establish an image and an identity of his own, separate from his father. Author Craig Unger will write in 2007, “Given his lack of knowledge when it comes to foreign policy (see Fall 1997), his limited experience as a hands-on executive, and the extraordinary bureaucratic skills of the neoconservatives, George W. Bush was an exceedingly easy mark (see December 1998 - Fall 1999).” A State Department official later says: “This guy was tabula rasa. He was an empty vessel. He was so ripe for the plucking.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 158]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, George W. Bush, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence

PNAC logo.PNAC logo. [Source: Project for the New American Century]The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter to President Clinton urging war against Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein because he is a “hazard” to “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil.” In a foretaste of what eventually happens, the letter calls for the US to go to war alone, attacks the United Nations, and says the US should not be “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” The letter is signed by many who will later lead the 2003 Iraq war. 10 of the 18 signatories later join the Bush Administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Paula Dobriansky, presidential adviser for the Middle East Elliott Abrams, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, and George W. Bush’s special Iraq envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Other signatories include William Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Peter Rodman, William Schneider, Vin Weber, and James Woolsey. [Project for the New American Century, 1/26/1998; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 3/16/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 158] Clinton does heavily bomb Iraq in late 1998, but the bombing doesn’t last long and its long term effect is the break off of United Nations weapons inspections. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] The PNAC neoconservatives do not seriously expect Clinton to attack Iraq in any meaningful sense, author Craig Unger will observe in 2007. Instead, they are positioning themselves for the future. “This was a key moment,” one State Department official will recall. “The neocons were maneuvering to put this issue in play and box Clinton in. Now, they could draw a dichotomy. They could argue to their next candidate, ‘Clinton was weak. You must be strong.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 158]

Entity Tags: Robert B. Zoellick, Vin Weber, William Kristol, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William Schneider Jr., Richard Perle, William J. Bennett, Richard Armitage, Robert Kagan, Paula J. Dobriansky, Donald Rumsfeld, Craig Unger, Peter Rodman, Elliott Abrams, John R. Bolton, James Woolsey, Francis Fukuyama, Jeffrey T. Bergner, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Former President Bush secretly invites two people to his Kennebunkport, Maine, compound: his son George W. Bush, and Condoleezza Rice, a longtime protege of his close friend and colleague Brent Scowcroft. Rice had been the elder Bush’s assistant on Soviet affairs from 1989 to 1991, and later became provost of Stanford University. Rice and the younger Bush spend many hours discussing foreign affairs, with Rice attempting to tutor him about the fundamentals of US relations with a host of other countries and regions. “We talked a lot about America’s role in the world,” Rice will recall. Bush “was doing due diligence on whether or not to run for president.” Rice will become “foreign policy coordinator” to the nascent Bush campaign. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 160]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” [Carter, 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 161-163] which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 85] The eight are:
bullet Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
bullet Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
bullet Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
bullet Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
bullet Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
bullet Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
bullet Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
bullet Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
bullet Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 85] Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). [Carter, 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 161-163] Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” [FindLaw, 11/7/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 269]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert B. Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Robert Blackwill, John McCain, Scott McClellan, Richard Perle, John Dean, James Lindsay, James Woolsey, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Dov S. Zakheim, George W. Bush, George Schulz, Stephen J. Hadley, Ivo Daalder, William Kristol

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence

The foreign affairs tutorial sessions for Governor George W. Bush continue in preparation for his presidential run (see December 1998 - Fall 1999). Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is a frequent participant. When asked about Cheney, Bush says: “It’s not the first time he’s been down here [in Texas]. It won’t be the last time he’ll be down here. He’s a person whose judgment I rely on a lot.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 118]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

As the presidential campaign of Texas Governor George W. Bush takes shape, many in the media assume that a Bush presidency would be much like the father’s: moderate and centrist with a pronounced but not extreme rightward tilt. Bush will be “on the 47-yard line in one direction,” says former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis, while Democratic contender Al Gore is “on the 47-yard line in the other.” But while the media continues to pursue that story, the hardliners and neoconservatives surrounding Bush (see December 1998 - Fall 1999) are working quietly to push their favored candidate much farther to the right, especially in foreign affairs, than anyone suspects. Two of the Bush campaign’s most prominent advisers, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, are making regular and secret visits to the governor’s mansion. “They were brought in and out under very tight security,” a source in the governor’s office will later recall. “They snuck in and snuck out. They didn’t hold press conferences. [Bush political adviser Karl] Rove didn’t want people to know what they were doing or what they were saying.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 165-168]
Bush is Willing to be Educated - Perle, like many other neoconservatives, is pleased that the younger Bush may well not be a repeat of the moderate policy stances of the father. “The first time I met [George W. Bush]… two things became clear,” Perle will recall in 2004. “One, he didn’t know very much. The other was that he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much.” [Slate, 5/7/2004] Perle will continue: “Most people are reluctant to say when they don’t know something—a word or a term they haven’t heard before. Not him.” A State Department source will put it more bluntly: “His ignorance of the world cannot be overstated.”
Rice a 'Fellow Traveler' with Neoconservatives - One of Bush’s most diligent tutors is Condoleezza Rice, a former Bush administration official. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who had mentored Rice, wrongly expects her to tutor Bush in his own “realist” world view, but Rice is far more aligned with the neoconservatives than Scowcroft realizes (see April-May 1999). “She was certainly a fellow traveler,” the State Department source will say. “She came at it more with a high-level academic approach while the other guys were operational. [Her role] was a surprise to Scowcroft. She had been a protege and the idea that she was going along with them was very frustrating to him.” The absence of retired General Colin Powell, one of the elder Bush’s most trusted and influential moderates, is no accident (see April-May 1999). “That’s a critical fact,” the State Department source will observe. “The very peculiar personal relationship between Rice and Bush solidified during those tutorials, and Wolfowitz established himself as the intellectual face of the neocons and the whole PNAC crew” (see June 3, 1997).
Wolfowitz: Redrawing the Map of the Middle East - Wolfowitz teaches Bush that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only incidental to the larger issues engulfing the Middle East (see March 8, 1992). The State Department source will recall: “Wolfowitz had gotten to Bush, and this is where Bush thought he would be seen as a great genius. Wolfowitz convinced him that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to leap over this constant conflict and to remake the context in which the conflict was taking place; that democracies don’t fight each other. [He convinced Bush] that the fundamental problem was the absence of democracy in the Middle East, and therefore we needed to promote democracy in the Middle East, and out of that there would be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The US must, Wolfowitz says, exert its moral and military might to eliminate the brutal dictators in the region and replace them with Western-style democratic leaders. Wolfowitz believes “[t]he road to peace in Jerusalem,” as author Craig Unger will write, “run[s] through Baghdad, Damascus, even Tehran.” It is unclear if Bush grasps the full implications of the theories of Wolfowitz and Rice. Certainly the idea of this “reverse domino theory,” as Unger will call it, is far different from anything previously espoused in US foreign affairs—a permanent “neo-war,” Unger will write, “colossal wars that would sweep through the entire Middle East and affect the world.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 165-168]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Craig Unger, Paul Wolfowitz, Lanny Davis, Richard Perle, Karl C. Rove, Condoleezza Rice, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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