Bush, Kerry, and The Council on Foreign Relations

by Laurence H. Shoup

Z magazine, October 2004


George Walker Bush and John Forbes Kerry are wealthy members of the upper class. They are both multimillionaires born into privilege, educated in the finest New England private schools, and holding memberships in the most exclusive private clubs.

The wealth of the Bush-Walker family comes from oil, banking, sports teams, and the military-industrial complex. Historically, they have been economically connected to the Rockefeller and Harriman families. Exact figures are hard to come by, but the current president's personal wealth has been estimated at $10 to $26 million. Bush family wealth would, of course, be much greater.

Kerry is part of the Boston Brahmin Forbes family, historically intermarried with prominent New England families like the Winthrops, Lowells, Cabots, and Emersons. The Kerry-Forbes family wealth comes from land ownership and John Kerry's marriage to Teresa Heinz, who controls the Heinz foods fortune. Largely as a result of this marriage, Kerry's personal wealth is estimated to range from $165 to $839 million.

As his father did, George W. Bush graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, an exclusive preparatory school. As a youth, John F. Kerry went to a Swiss boarding school and to the prestigious St. Paul's preparatory school in Concord, New Hampshire. Both Bush and Kerry went on to Yale University and both were members of Skull and Bones, an elite secret society and the most exclusive social club at Yale. Bush vacations at Camp David, at the family retreat at Kennebunkport, Maine, or at his Texas "ranch," a site purchased and. built specifically for political purposes. Kerry flies around the country in his $35 million Gulfstream V private jet, cruises on his $800,000, 42-foot speedboat, or vacations in one of the five multimillion dollar houses he and Teresa Heinz-Kerry own. (These five houses are collectively worth $29.5 million according to the May 3, 2004 issue of Newsweek.)

The running mates of these two candidates are also very wealthy: Vice President Richard Cheney's fortune is estimated at about $50 million and vice presidential candidate John Edwards's at $12 to $60 million. Forbes magazine remarked that this year's presidential election has "probably the richest set of candidates in U.S. history...maybe the first time in history when all four major-party candidates could afford to work for free."

The CFR & the Ruling Class

One of the prime characteristics of the U.S. upper class is its high level of organization. One of the central organizations, accurately called "the citadel of America's establishment," is the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Founded in 1921, the CFR is the most influential of all private policy planning groups. Its great strength is mainly exercised behind the scenes and stems from its unique position among policy groups: it is simultaneously both a think tank for foreign and economic policy and also has a large membership comprising some of the most important individuals in U.S. economic, intellectual, and political life. The Council has a yearly budget of about $30 million and a staff of over 200.

The CFR's think tank consists of three overlapping activities. One is convening an "influential forum," mainly held in New York and Washington, DC, where senior government and corporate leaders, prominent intellectuals, and foreign dignitaries meet with Council members to discuss and debate the U.S. role in the world and the strategy and tactics required to accomplish U.S. goals. Another think tank function is organizing and implementing a wide-ranging studies program where CFR fellows draw on members and others to collectively study a foreign policy issue. The result of this work is then reported and often presented to government officials as policy recommendations.

Council employees and members are often tapped to serve in the federal government in appointed positions, although a number also serve as elected officials, especially at the higher levels. Finally, the CFR publishes Foreign Affairs magazine, which often prints study group recommendations written by a prominent CFR fellow or member and in this way shapes policy debates as they emerge.

The Council's second key source of power, its membership function, is more informal, involving a network of almost 4,200 members from many backgrounds and professions. Membership in the Council is by invitation only: a potential member must be a U.S. citizen who has been nominated and seconded by other CFR members and elected by the Board of Directors. Two-thirds live in the New York and Washington, DC areas. Fully 31 percent (1,299 individuals) are from the corporate ("business") sector, with another 25 percent (1,071 individuals) coming from varied academic settings (professors, university administrators, researchers, fellows). Nonprofits contribute 15 percent (640), government 13 percent (541), law 8 percent (319), the media 6 percent (248), and "other" 2 percent (74). Members pay a yearly fee on a sliding scale, depending on age, occupation, and residence.

There is also a special category of corporate membership: executives from 200 "leading international companies representing a range of sectors" participate in special CFR programs. Corporations representing capital in its most abstract forms-the financial sector, the largest commercial and investment banks, insurance companies, and strategic planning corporations-are most heavily represented in the Council. Petroleum, military, and media companies also have fairly close connections. A review of director lists of major corporations found that the following corporations have at least three of their directors who are also CFR members:

* American Insurance Group and Citigroup: Eight directors
* J.P. Morgan Chase, Boeing: Six directors
* The Blackstone Group, Conoco, Disney/ABC: Five directors
* Kissinger-McLarty Associates, IBM, Exxon Mobil, Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, Viacom/CBS, Time Warner: Four directors
* The Carlyle Group, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, First Boston. Washington Post/Newsweek, Chevron Texaco, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Alliance Capital: Three directors

The Council's membership network consists of people one would expect to be CFR members-David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, Peter G. Peterson, George Soros, Maurice Greenberg, Robert Rubin, George P. Shultz, Alan Greenspan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard B. Cheney, and George Tenet-as well as individuals whose membership is more unexpected, such as John Sweeney, Jessie Jackson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Richard J. Barnet, and Daniel Schorr.

Bush, Kerry, and the CFR

Both Bush and Kerry are close to the CFR, draw most of their top foreign and economic policy advisers from this elite organization, and receive significant political funding from a number of Council-related individuals. While Bush is not personally a member of the CFR, his father was a member and a director of the Council in the 1970s and a large number of key members of his Administration are members. These include the so-called "neo-conservatives" who first became prominent in the CFR in the 1980s, when Reagan was president, and who have continued to play an important role since then. One of the key neo-con groups, Project for the New American Century, established in 1997 and identified by many as being the central organization behind the Bush administration, is heavily connected to the CFR. Fully 17 of the 25 founders of the Project for the New American Century are Council members.

CFR members who support Bush include key advisers or government officials in his Administration and also some key fundraisers who have helped make the Bush campaign fund by far the largest in the history of U.S. politics. In John Kerry's case, he is not only a long-time member (over 10 years) of the CFR, Teresa Heinz-Kerry is also a member. He has an even longer list of prominent Council supporters than Bush. Many of these supporters are economic and foreign policy advisers likely to play key roles in any Kerry presidency. Five current CFR directors and one current employee are openly supporting Kerry, most of them in advisory roles.

Keeping Iraq out of the U.S. Elections

At the end of March 2004, two corporate leaders-former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director James R. Schlesinger and former State Department official and Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering-published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Keep Iraq Above Politics." In this article, Schlesinger (now the chair of Mitre Corporation) and Pickering (senior vice president of Boeing Corporation) argued that the current presidential candidates must "rise above partisanship," and "reaffirm their willingness to sustain our financial and military commitment" to Iraq in the "months and years ahead." They suggested that the fundamentals of the U.S. government's Iraq policy should not be subject to open democratic discussion and debate in this year's presidential election. They put forth this argument because of weak public support at a time when "the United States has no alternative to remaining deeply engaged in Iraq. Failure to do so... could lead to long-term instability in the production and supply of oil" and "would also represent a monumental policy failure for the United States, with an attendant loss of U.S. credibility, power and influence in the region and the world."

This summary of the real reasons for going to war is not just Schlesinger's and Pickering's personal views. A closer look reveals that these two men were co-chairs of an "Independent Task Force on Post-Conflict Iraq," sponsored by the CFR. Both Schlesinger and Pickering are prominent members of the Council; Pickering is also a CFR director. Twenty other individuals, almost all of them Council members, studied and discussed this topic for more than three months prior to issuing their report, which was completed just prior to the publication of the Schlesinger-Pickering Los Angeles Times article. The task force members included leaders of corporations, academic institutions, think tanks, law firms, elite policy planning groups, non-governmental organizations, as well as former top government officials and military officers.

The Council report, entitled "Iraq: One Year After," not only contained the above quote found in the Los Angeles Times article, it also stressed "the geopolitical stakes" involved in Iraq, but did not spell out what it meant by this term. It is likely that the CFR report did not elaborate because its readers in ruling class circles already know the meaning of "geopolitical stakes" and agree on their importance. In addition, the Council is undoubtedly extremely sensitive about being charged with advocating war and colonial occupation in order to seize the world's main oil supplies. Geopolitics has to do with the ongoing worldwide struggle among nation-states and other actors for economic, political, and military power. Since Iraq does not have significant industry, a large population, a powerful military, or strategic position along sea or air routes, the reference to "geopolitical stakes" can only mean Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil wealth and the significance of this "prize" for corporate profits, political power, and global strategic advantage. The CFR's website (www.cfr.org) also had this statement in April 2004: "The United States is the world's largest consumer of oil .... Much of the world's oil lies beneath Iraq and its Gulf neighbors... experts say oil played a significant role in the decision to confront Iraq. The United States has a long-standing interest in the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf ...."

The Iraq war, however, has had multiple goals. In addition to seeking control of oil for general strategic and specific economic value, including increasing the profits of some corporations, the United States is also trying to use the control of oil to favorably reshape political and military relations with Europe and Asia. Important nations-like France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and China-also depend on Middle Eastern oil for their energy requirements and economic survival. The U.S. is especially trying to prevent China from becoming the center of a cohesive regional political economy, while trying to transform it into a U.S. dependency. U.S. control over oil supplies that China needs would give it a potentially decisive form of power over China.

Emerging Tactics in U.S. Policy

Since the years immediately following World War II, there has been a general CFR-promoted unity regarding the goals of foreign policy and domestic economic policy within the United States ruling class.

Abroad, the U.S. has worked to create and preserve a system of worldwide economic, political, and military dependencies/protectorates. This system initially was used to "contain" the Eurasian and Latin American left, but has evolved into a welfare system for United States-based multinational corporations. Under this system, the U.S. corporate state has been given effective control over many of the internal and external policies of its dependent client states, laying down the pro-corporate economic and political rules that they must follow. These rules on open markets and open investments-including dollar dominance, IMF/World Bank policies, huge capital flows into the United States, and the correct pricing of oil-have greatly benefited corporations controlled by the U.S. ruling class, helping make them the world's most powerful economic actors. Domestic policy at home has focused on creating a massive welfare state for corporations even as the minimal welfare state benefiting the majority of the people was dismantled.

While the goals of this Pax Americana have been bi-partisan, there have often been disagreements over tactics. Some of these disputes have revolved around advantage for one or another party in the political arena. The Bush administration's preemptive war on Iraq is one such case. The failures of preemption in Iraq have created an opening for the Democrats to gain political advantage by criticizing Bush's tactics in much the same way that Eisenhower took advantage of Truman and Stevenson on Korea and Nixon benefited from the unpopularity of the Kennedy/Johnson war on Vietnam. Since most Democrats supported the Iraq war, and both Kerry and Edwards voted for it and support the occupation, they clearly do not disagree with the attempt to take over Iraq and its oil resources, only the failure to succeed.

The failure of the Bush administration's reactionary policies of preemptive war abroad and tax cuts for the rich and general repression at home have helped create the beginnings of an oppositional force within the U.S. This force is mainly rank and file and has mass potential, but is still unorganized. Abroad, in the poverty-stricken ghettos of the world, anti-Americanism is rapidly growing. The more moderate and liberal forces within the U.S. ruling class, including an important sector of the Council on Foreign Relations, want a tactical policy that focuses more on legitimating the system and less on direct accumulation for corporations and the already wealthy. They hope that such a focus and related concessions to those rebelling, or beginning to rebel, at home and abroad will contain the opposition and channel it in benign directions. Kerry is their candidate and their tactics for the future can be seen in his policy statements, those of his advisers, and those in the CFR and related organizations who have openly opposed Bush administration policies.

Kerry's statements on Iraq, foreign policy, and economic policy are illuminating. They illustrate that tactical differences are all that separate him from George W. Bush on the key questions of the occupation of Iraq and domestic economic policy. Prior to the war on Iraq, John Kerry made statements showing that he had the same policy goals as Bush and the Republicans: "The threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real ... without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein .... He presents a particularly grievous threat..." Just after the war started, Kerry stated that U.S. armed forces will conquer Saddam "and I support their doing so." Kerry has stated that Bush's utopian goal of attempting to forcibly remake Iraq and the Middle East in "America's" image is his own. He has said, "We must help bring modernity to the greater Middle East," adding that the countries of the region "suffer from too little globalization, not too much. " As the latest colonial occupation of Iraq developed into a quagmire, Kerry stated, "The stakes in Iraq couldn't be higher," "failure is not an option," and that we must "finish the mission in Iraq." He says, "If our commanders believe they need more American troops ... they should get them." Kerry also adds in his speeches that a "peacekeeping force will be needed in Iraq for a long time to come. " On domestic economic policy, Kerry wants tax cuts for corporations as a way to stimulate economic growth and the creation of jobs. He says he will reduce the taxes of 99 percent of U.S. corporations. While Bush offers tax cuts directly to the rich, Kerry would offer tax cuts to the same people, but indirectly through corporate tax cuts.

On foreign policy generally, Kerry, like Bush, believes in militarism and war as a main way to solve the world's problems. In May 2004, Kerry said, "America must always be the world's paramount military power As president, I will never hesitate to use American power to defend our interests anywhere in the world. I will make America's armed forces even stronger by adding troops .... I will modernize our military to match its new missions. " Finally, Kerry would partner with NATO and the United Nations and use more diplomacy and offer greater concessions to European and other nations to convince them to share the burden of successfully conquering Iraq. The Bush administration has, of course, already attempted to go substantially in this direction ("alliance building") due to its problems in overcoming Iraqi resistance to colonial occupation.

The most comprehensive statement of the projected alternative foreign policy strategy of Kerry and the Democrats was produced by Kerry adviser and Council member Sandy Berger and published in the May-June 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs. Berger, Clinton's National Security Adviser, begins by praising Bush's stated goals in the Middle East, adding, "The foreign policy debate in this year's presidential election is as much about means as it is about ends." Berger says that Democrats agree with Bush that for "the foreseeable future, the United States and its allies must be prepared to employ raw military and economic power to check the ambitions of those who threaten our interests. A posture of strength and resolve... are clearly the right approach for dealing with our adversaries..." But Berger critiques the "with us or against us" mentality guiding the way that Bush has tried to force other nations to join the U.S. effort. This tactical approach, along with Bush's dismissal of the need for the legitimacy that UN authorization and involvement would have bestowed, is what Berger views as threatening the success of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Berger argues that the Bush approach has isolated the U.S., alienated it from natural allies, and made its actions appear illegitimate to much of the world. Cooperation and a "strategic bargain" with these natural allies are, to Berger, the key to the legitimacy needed for future success.

Restoring the U.S. "global moral and political authority," Berger says, involves "persuasion, not power." Berger sums up his article by stating, "...having the right aims is not enough. The United States needs leaders who ensure that our means do not undermine our ends .... We need, in short, to reunite our power with moral authority. Only that combination will weaken our enemies and inspire our friends." Berger is referring, without openly stating the obvious, to the fact that perhaps Bush's most serious mistake was his refusal to share the potentially vast oil-related spoils ("geopolitical stakes") with allies like France and Germany. These countries already had oil exploration and development deals with Saddam Hussein, agreements that were cancelled by the U.S. invasion. Behind this refusal is something that Berger politely declines to talk about-the drive for world domination through control of oil. At least partly, this is because Berger believes that "regardless of whether the war was justified, everyone now has a profound stake in Iraq's success," requiring "continuous involvement in Iraq's reconstruction and political development." Berger favors a "generational commitment" to Iraq, something that he thinks can only be achieved with and not against Europe. In sum, Berger's article helps make clear that the Bushites favor unilateral world domination by the U.S., whereas the Kerry camp is satisfied with multilateral world domination in cooperation with Europe.

Many other CFR members besides Berger have critiqued the Bush administration's tactical approach to foreign policy. The 27 signatories of the statement of Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, which assails the Bush administration for its "disastrous" policies, include 21 current CFR members (almost 80 percent of the total). This group of retired U.S. diplomats and top military officers are angry because the "structure of respect and influence .for the United States" that they helped build over many decades is crumbling due to Bush's failed policies, which amount to a "moral and political disaster." Included in this disaster is the undermining of the U.S. military by the "morally corrosive" environment into which it was thrust in Iraq. They call for Bush's defeat in November and "regime change" in Washington, DC.

Another example of a similar CFR-connected critique of Bush is the recent book, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy by Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsey. Daalder is a CFR member and a Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the CFR connected Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Lindsey is a CFR member and also a vice president of the Council and its director of studies. These two prominent foreign policy intellectuals, both of whom served in the Clinton administration, argue that Bush created a unilateralist revolution in foreign policy, redefining how the U.S. engages the world by shredding the constraints that allies and international institutions have imposed on its freedom of action. Raw power-domination-has been used to attempt to run the world. Daalder and, Lindsey say that Bush's policy has created great resentment abroad and could eventually leave the U.S. alone in the world, with most countries "against us" instead of "with us." They also conclude that Bush's policy of preemptive war in Iraq has been shown a complete failure.

The calculus of preemption now looks much less attractive to U. S. leaders, including military leaders. Iran and North Korea, two other nations that Bush has prominently targeted for attack, both present far more daunting military and political challenges than Iraq and so are unlikely to ever be attacked. Although Bush will not publicly bury his preemption doctrine, all such policies must be measured against experience, so Daalder and Lindsey conclude that preemption is essentially dead.

Senator and CFR member Chuck Hagel wrote the Republicans' answer to Berger's articles, which was printed in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs. Surprisingly, although it is billed as "A Republican Foreign Policy," it is not a defense of the Bush administration's foreign policies. In fact, the main foreign policy contours of Bush's three and a half years in office are either not discussed (Iraq and preemptive war) or are explicitly repudiated (Bush's appeals to God and his dismissal of alliances, international institutions, the UN, and "old Europe"). Hagel writes, "The UN is more relevant today than it has ever been" and "U.S. interests are not mutually exclusive from the interests of its friends and allies." He further states that the "success of our policies will depend not only on the extent of our power, but also on an appreciation of its limits. History has taught us that foreign policy must not succumb to the distraction of divine mission." In addition, "the United States and the European Union can benefit by teaming up to address the global issues of the coming era" and the "United States can continue to set an example, not arrogantly, but cooperatively, through strong leadership and partnership." To be sure, the Republican approach, according to Chuck Hagel, still stresses the need to "assure stable and secure supplies of oil and natural gas" by the "judicious" use of military force, in turn requiring a "strong national defense," and very high levels of military spending-just like the Democrats.

Democracy, Peace, and Justice

We do not have a real democracy in our country. In the current system, elections and political power are for sale to those who have the money and media access to purchase and advertise the candidates they want to see in power. The occasional weak efforts to control money in politics have clearly failed and the media has become even more concentrated and influential. The poster child illustrating this power is "establishment outsider" Howard Dean, the once popular Democratic presidential candidate who was crushed by adverse media coverage, especially by CFR-connected media corporations. Furthermore, the winner-take-all election system without runoffs means that "spoiling" and "lesser evil" voting are built into the structure of the system.

The winner-take-all election system disenfranchises large sections of the electorate, when, for example, a party, group, or person supported by 49 percent of the voters in a district gets zero representation. The Bush administration's preemptive war doctrine, its disdain for allies, treaties, and international organizations, its refusal to consider or respect the interests of others, its attempts to shred constitutional rights and to justify torture and other illegal and immoral activity all occurred with considerable help from the Democratic Party. These policies have increased anti-Americanism in the Middle East and worldwide. This will translate into significant support for terrorism against the U.S. and its interests even if Kerry is elected and his Administration applies a different set of tactics.

The ongoing question facing the vast majority of people in the United States is how to build a social movement that can effectively put democracy and a peaceful foreign policy on the national agenda. Only then can some of our other key needs be addressed. Something more basic than a mere switch in the means of empire is needed at this juncture in human history, something more fundamental than an imperial agenda dressed in the classic Democratic Party garb of multilateralism, something better than merely fastening a progressive tail to Kerry's Democratic kite.

What is needed is a mass social movement acting directly and independently in its own name. Only when it is independent can a social movement undertake the kind of bold and uncompromising militancy required to put key issues on the agenda and to effect a fundamental reconstruction of society. People want health care for all, full employment at a living wage, excellent public education, good retirement benefits, the right of workers to freely organize unions, affordable decent housing, ecological sanity, economic democracy, civil liberties, an end to all racism, sexism, and discrimination, fundamental electoral reform, and the democratization of the media. A unified social movement to demand a working people's agenda needs to be born.


Laurence H. Shoup has taught U. S. history at a number of universities and written three books, including: Imperial Brain Trust: the Council on Foreign Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy (with William Minter), first published by Monthly Review Press in 1977, reprinted by iUniverse in 2004.

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