Bush, Kerry, and The Council on
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
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
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,
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
* American Insurance Group and Citigroup:
* 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
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
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
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
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
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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