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Jewish World Review March 13, 2001 / 18 Adar, 5761

Dan K. Thomasson

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The senior Bush's
unseemly job

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THERE is something quite unseemly about former President George Bush's reported international activities on behalf of the Carlyle Group, a powerful private equity firm made up mainly of Washington insiders from three past presidential administrations.

The picture of any ex-chief executive using his influence in such a manner demeans the office he once held and clearly the nation has had enough of that over the last few years.

Bush, whose connection with the $12 billion enterprise is made more questionable by the fact his son now occupies the Oval Office, is not the only former world leader involved with the group. Former British Prime Minister John Major and former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, among others, also use their considerable global connections to peddle influence for Carlyle, according to published reports.

The success of the relatively young group has been phenomenal but hardly surprising given the list of those who have traded on their government service to make it one of the top national defense contractors. It includes former Secretary of State James Baker and Richard Darman, who headed the Office of Management and Budget for the senior Bush. The managing director and chairman is Frank Carlucci, defense secretary under Ronald Reagan.

One of the founding partners of the group is David Rubenstein, who worked in the White House under Jimmy Carter, and two directors of Carlyle-owned companies are Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bill Clinton, and former Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana. Coats, never of much influence in the Senate, is expected to be appointed as ambassador to Germany. If so, one would imagine he would give up his association with Carlyle.

He should be worried

To avoid regulations against former U.S. officials lobbying their own government, Bush, Baker and others apparently have confined their efforts to overseas where Carlyle has major holdings.

There was a time in Washington when outgoing officials scooted off to think tanks and politically connected nonprofits or back into established companies to await the possibility of returning to service. As Bush might say, nothing wrong with that. There also has been a long tradition of ex-members of Congress remaining in the capital to represent one interest group or another, always a thorny ethical issue.

Former presidents, one the other hand, generally have maintained an aloofness from this sort of commercial use of their influence, confining themselves to speech-making for substantial fees or lending their names to corporate directories of old-line companies or in diving into charitable causes or writing their biographies or raising money for their libraries. All these are seen as acceptable activities. Carter, for instance, has devoted himself to charitable causes.

Now and then, speaking fees, as in the $2 million the Japanese paid Reagan shortly after he left office, are high enough to raise eyebrows. But the public attitude generally is that under the circumstances, amounts ranging to $100,000 a speech, the figure Clinton apparently charges, are deserved for such an important personages as ex-presidents.

Nothing in recent history, however, seems to approach the success this group has had in the wholesale conversion of former high government rank to gigantic profits. In fact, its quick rise from an idea to incredible stature by buying up companies, holding some and selling others for big profits, has made it a powerhouse envied worldwide. But why not with the kind of door-opening ability and political knowledge possessed by its principals?

This isn't to suggest that there is anything untoward or illegal going on here. It would be naive of us to believe that because one has devoted some time to his country's interests he has no right to parlay that experience into personal gain. On the other hand, to use that influence at the highest levels to garner such enormous wealth and power presents an undeniably unsavory appearance.

The elder Bush not only is a former president, a position that carries with it a heavy responsibility for seemliness, but he is the father of the current president and every move he makes reflects on that. The Carlyle Group has considerable business with this government, and both Bushes must be aware of that.

One of the underlying themes of the last election, rarely spoken but always present, was the need to restore dignity to the presidency. Now we discover that at the same time he was being held up as an example of how to be presidential, Bush senior was using his stature and entree everywhere to push the interests of himself and his cronies. Just how much Bush is making for his efforts is unclear. Anything is too much.

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Up

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