Enron: The Forgotten Reason Bush Took Us to War

Tompaine.com has an article up by Russ Baker titled Why George Went to War. The question comes as a result of glimpses behind the scenes during the run-up to war in early 2002 offered by the Downing Street documents.

Baker describes how a combination of events and atmospherics came together to enable President Bush to enact a plan to go to war in Iraq that he had been talking about since at least 1999. This plan would have been nearly impossible to pursue had it not been for two factors – a public still fearful and a bit blood thirsty in the wake of the 2001 attacks, and a completely cowed news corps who accepted without question or reservation every single lie the president told.

So we understand a bit of why President Bush wanted to go to war with Saddam, but another question remains: “Why then?” Why did the invasion have to happen so soon? There was no intrinsic, compelling reason to rush into war with Saddam Hussein in 2002. He hadn’t made any overtly threatening moves in a decade or more.

So why did Bush rush the process? Why was it so important to get the public prepared for war in the fall of 2002?

One answer, of course, is politics. You may recall that that the top story of first eight months of 2002 was one that made the Bush team nervous. Corporate corruption, especially the Enron scandal, had the full attention of the media and the public.

In January 2002, Ken Lay resigned as CEO of Enron. Two days later, Enron Vice President John C. Baxter committed suicide. The White House was sued because it refused to give over documents that almost certainly showed that Ken Lay had dictated the Administration’s energy policy. In June, Arthur Andersen, one of the nation’s oldest accounting firms, was found guilty on charges it helped Enron executives cook the books. In July, nine of the biggest banks were implicated in the scandal, including Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase.

Polls showed that the public was outraged over Enron’s excesses, and Enron had close ties to the Republican Party, all the way up to the President himself. If this story stayed on the front burner, the Republicans might fail to take back the Senate and might even lose control of the House in the November congressionals.

Bush and his political adviser Karl Rove knew had to change the subject. And nothing changes the subject like announcing the imminent and unprovoked invasion of another country.

In September 2002, the White House started marketing the war. By election day, the topic of war had divided the country, enflaming and radicalizing both the Left and the Right. The Right won hands down, of course – taking back the Senate and holding the House.

The invasion appeared to be an across-the-board winning move for President Bush. But he had to go into Iraq in early 2003 to reap the benefits. The Bush team assumed the war would be a cakewalk, so that most of the soldiers would be home by Christmas 2003 – or at least before the November 2004 presidential elections. If so, Bush would be a hero.

But in the unlikely event that the war would continue through presidential campaign, Bush could turn it into a political benefit. He would be a “war time president.” Statistics show that war time presidents are rarely defeated at the polls.

After dividing the country, President Bush took us to war. Who knew that wouldn’t work out so well?

The events of 2002 were brought back to me in stunning detail when I saw the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, at the Fairfax Theatre in Hollywood. It is a gripping, masterful retelling of the rise and fall of Enron, directed by Alex Gibney, based on the book, The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind.

In his review, Roger Ebert said,”This is not a political documentary. It is a crime story. No matter what your politics, ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’ will make you mad. It tells the story of how Enron rose to become the seventh largest corporation in America with what was essentially a Ponzi scheme, and in its last days looted the retirement funds of its employees to buy a little more time.”

There are many shots from 2002 of Ken Lay making sincere, declarative statements about his innocence that we know now to be lies. You can compare and contrast his style to that of his friend, George W. Bush. But now we know, in 2002, there was a whole lot of lying going on.


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