Will the Bush Library Reveal Any Secrets?

The new library could reveal gems about oil and the Iraq War

Last week the city's only daily newspaper published a package of three opinion pieces about the new George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas and the effect it will or will not have on the city's image. They all wound up saying it would put us on the map one way or another, but not one of them mentioned the Ray Hunt oil deal in Kurdistan.

But that's the whole map.

The Ray Hunt oil deal in Kurdistan is the piece on which the Bush library will rise or fall and take with it the reputation of Southern Methodist University and to some extent the city. Everything else is dross.

Daniel Fishel

The Hunt oil deal in Kurdistan was not itself the most important thing that happened during the entire Bush administration. But it's the key to the most important thing. The important thing is the Iraq War and why we did it.

We should assume scholars will come here from everywhere in the world including Iraq to work that one big puzzle: Were the weapons of mass destruction always a ruse for justifying the war? Did the Bush administration invade Iraq for oil? Was Ray Hunt's oil deal in Kurdistan the proof of it? Those questions belong to global history.

The part of it that may stick to us locally is how the Bush Presidential Center, SMU and the Hunt Oil people choose to deal with those questions. If their collective response is anything like the stubborn stonewalling that came from the Bush White House, then, yeah, that could have some effect on what Dallas looks like to the rest of the world.

A lot is known already. The deal was the subject of congressional hearings, and much has been written since. It's just that none of it adds up, and all of it sharpens the unanswered question: Was Iraq about oil?

On August 14, 2007, insurgents killed 796 people and wounded 1,500 more near Mosul in the Yazidi community bombings, the most brutal in the war to that date. On September 16, 2007, private American security guards clearing the way for a convoy of U.S. State Department vehicles killed 17 civilians and wounded 20 others, for which five guards were charged with manslaughter. Sandwiched between those two events, on Sept. 8, 2007, Ray Hunt of Dallas inked a deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government for drilling rights on a parcel roughly the size of the Dallas metro area. The Kurdish region of Iraq is roughly the size of the state of Maine, so even through the fog of war Mr. Hunt was able to draw a sharp X.

The fog that welled up immediately after he drew his X is still impenetrable a half decade later. In July 2008 a congressional oversight committee released emails and other correspondence showing that Hunt had kept the State Department well informed of his intentions to sign the deal in the days before the closing. Yet State Department officials told Congress they had opposed the deal, testifying, "We believe these contracts have needlessly elevated tensions between the K.R.G. [Kurdistan Regional Government] and the national government of Iraq."

On Sept. 20, 2007, President Bush told a news conference the deal was news to him, and he even thought it might be troubling: "I knew nothing about the [Hunt Oil Co.] deal. I need to know exactly how it happened. To the extent that it does undermine the ability for the government to come up with an oil revenue-sharing plan that unifies the country, obviously I'm — if it undermines that, I'm concerned."

The president's foreign policy advisory board knew about it. Hunt was a member. He wrote to the rest of the board on July 12, 2007, telling them: "We were approached a month ago by representatives of a private group in Kurdistan as to the possibility of our becoming interested in that region. We had one team of geoscientists travel to Kurdistan several weeks ago and we were encouraged by what we saw."

Hunt's operation was fairly out in the open, given the typically clandestine nature of the international oil business. The question is how and why his good friend in the Oval Office could claim to be shocked that there was oil dealing going on in Kurdistan.

Which brings us back again to Dallas and the Bush Center. Ray Hunt is arguably the most powerful person in Dallas. He is the single most important reason the Bush center is here. Jeanne Phillips, a Hunt executive who was called to testify in the Kurdistan controversy, helped put the Bush Presidential Center together. She, Hunt and Laura Bush are all SMU trustees.

We have lots more people right here in town with special knowledge of the Hunt oil deal in Kurdistan. Clay Sell, for example, was deputy U.S. Secretary of Energy at the time of the deal. He joined Hunt Oil five months after the deal was signed and is now here as president of Hunt Oil's alternative energy division. In fact the opening of the Bush Center here, a personal triumph for Ray Hunt, has the ironic effect of bringing the whole Kurdistan question home to roost in Dallas, his hometown.

I mentioned stonewalling earlier. From very early days, the Bush administration took an approach to presidential papers and archives far more restrictive than any previous White House. In 2001 he issued the semi-notorious Executive Order 13233, circumventing the Presidential Records Act of 1978, extending presidential privilege over papers and archives to his heirs in a uniquely dynastic act and basically declaring by decree his own right to keep his own records secret forever.

Order 13233 was later taken down a peg or two by Congress. President Obama, in one of his first acts, countermanded it entirely.

The archives themselves are not legally under George Bush's control. Last week Bush signed control of them over to the National Archives as part of a "joint use agreement" with the private policy institute at the Bush Center, which has been described as an "action-oriented think tank." The problem there is that the Bush administration does not have entirely clean hands where the joint use, care and preservation of important records may be concerned.

Still missing and unaccounted for, for example, are entire weeks of important White House emails from the all-important period when the American invasion of Iraq was just beginning, enough to make Rose Mary Wood's 18-and-a-half-minute tape-recording gap during the Nixon Watergate scandal look like a drop in the bucket. Those are issues that aren't going away, either, any more than Ray Hunt's oil deal in Kurdistan. The worse a thing looked back when it happened, the more attractive it is now to scholars and journalists. That's sort of the way of the world, isn't it?

But Hunt's oil deal in Kurdistan has a special status that puts it at the head of the line. Hunt himself seems to have been pretty open about what he was doing. At least he took pains not to surprise people who had been good to him. The question is Bush. Why did he back away?

There are lots of non-nefarious possibilities. Maybe nobody told him. Or it could have been an entirely political and almost spur-of-the-moment thing, a feeling that this was not the conversation the president wanted to have with things over there so hot.

At the other end of the spectrum, the possibilities are entirely nefarious. Maybe the Hunt oil deal in Kurdistan was only one example of a general land-rush going on behind the scenes. Maybe lots of American and British oil companies were greedy to take back the colonial booty they thought Saddam Hussein had snatched away from them. And of course if that was going on at any significant scale, it couldn't help casting an even worse light on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. All of a sudden the WMD matter would look less like a terrible mistake and more like a terrible lie.

That's what people will come here to find out. It's why they will knock on the door. If those doors are thrown open, if everybody gets credentials and the files are easy to read, that's one thing. But if the shadow of EO 13233 falls across the land, then it's going to be another thing entirely.

I would think some people might come here hoping for that very outcome. George Bush has been off riding his mountain bike, selling trees and keeping his lips zipped: What better way to pull him back into the ring and bloody him up than a fight over presidential records? What better place to start than Hunt's oil deal in Kurdistan?

So even if that happens, what does that have to do with Dallas? Hey, we weren't the president. We're not Ray Hunt. We don't have an oil deal in Kurdistan.

Mmm. I don't know. If this thing goes south, I don't believe we can weasel out of it quite that easily. The city's only daily newspaper has already been awash to the gunwales with talk about how the shiny new presidential center will put this burg on the map.

Listen, I could defend us, I think, by pointing out that the city's only daily newspaper always says stuff is going to put us on the map. They say everything is going to put us on the map. The last thing was a bridge. Considering all the stuff they said was going to put us on the map, we should be the whole map by now.

My fear is that they might finally be right. The Bush Center might really put us on the map in some indelible way. Cross our fingers. Hope they've got a good story right away about the Ray Hunt oil deal in Kurdistan. Plan B, change our names and move to Ohio at midnight. Always my plan anyway.

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Sotiredofitall topcommenter

You miss an important point - vast majority just don't care.  Bush was an empty suit while in office and most don't care.  We found out the Iraq war was a lie accomplishing nothing and most don't care.  Economy goes into free fall with the folks causing the problem benefiting and most don't care.

Who cares if a few people consider this a black eye for Dallas 

Al Carpio
Al Carpio

Here they go again. *palm slap* Sometimes I wish the Quick would have succeeded.

RoBerts ErIc
RoBerts ErIc

the secrets are known just not by the mainstream media lol


Just out of curiousity, why do we pretend that presidents haven't traditionally been aligned with business?  I mean George Washington was a surveyor that owned land west of the Appalachians.  The Proclamation of 1763 closed expansion thereby hurting his financial interests.  Do we boycott because GW directly profited from starting a war?  How about all the "Patriots" and "Revolutionaries" that owed debts to the British?  The Adams brothers that didn't want to pay taxes on their smuggled goods?

Perhaps we should go protest James K Polk and his Manifest Destiny or do we give him more respect because he was upfront about wanting to take all the land from sea to shining sea. 


50 Reasons We Despised George W. Bush's Presidency: A Reminder on the Day of His Presidential Library Dedication

1. Bush stole the presidency in 2000. People may forget that Republicans in Florida purged more than 50,000 African-American voters before Election Day, and then went to the Supreme Court where the GOP-appointed majority stopped a recount that would have awarded the presidency to Vice-President Al Gore if all votes were counted. National news organizations verified that outcome long after Bush had been sworn in.

2. Bush’s lies started in that race. Bush ran for office claiming he was a “uniter, not a divider.” Even though he received fewer popular votes than Gore, he quickly claimed he had the mandate from the American public to push his right-wing agenda.  

3. Bush covered up his past. He was a party boy, the scion of a powerful political family who got away with being a deserter during the Vietnam War. He was reportedly AWOL for over a year from his assigned unit, the Texas Air National Guard, which other military outfits called the "Champagne Division.”

4. Bush loved the death penalty. As Texas governor from 1995-2000, he signed the most execution orders of any governor in U.S. history—152 people, including the mentally ill and women who were domestic abuse victims. He spared one man’s life, a serial killer.

5. Bush was a corporate shill from Day 1. Bush locked up the GOP nomination by raising more campaign money from corporate boardrooms than anyone at that time. He lunched with CEOs who would jet into Austin to "educate" him about their political wish lists.

6. Bush gutted global political progress. He pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol which set requirements for 38 nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, saying that abiding by the agreement would “harm our economy and hurt our workers.”

7. Bush embraced global isolationism. He withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, over Russia’s protest, taking the U.S. in a direction not seen since World War I. 

8. Bush ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden. He ignored the Aug. 6, 2001 White House intelligence briefing titled, “Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.” Meanwhile, his chief anti-terrorism advisor, Richard Clarke, and first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, testified in Congress that he was intent on invading Iraq within days of becoming president.

9. Bush ramped up war on drugs, not terrorists. The Bush administration had twice as many FBI agents assigned to the war on drugs than fighting terrorism before 9/11, and kept thousands in that role after the terror attacks. 


I was particularly impressed with the "American exceptionalism" on display during Dick Cheney's famously secret meeting with oil and energy executives in the early days of the Bush junta.  Regardless of the plain and unadulterated fact that it is we who are the bosses and that Dick was the employee at the time, "American exceptionalism" apparently met that, yes, some people get exceptional treatment by those in power while the rest of us are left absolutely in the dark.  At this point, cue the footage: At my remark, Cheney glowers. 

Flash forward 12 years, and today we're slowly learning that, yes, the Iraq war was about oil, but not about oil in the way we might think.  Recently, documents came to light that indicate that the upshot of the war was to shut down Iraqi oil production, mission accomplished, mainly to drive-up the price of oil around the world, something that definitely would benefit the cronies in the private meeting with Cheney. 

At the heart of the hoopla over Kurdistan is that, like every other nation, Iraq wanted to be able to organize and keep the retail sale of oil resources a national matter, but Hunt went to the Kurds, an ethnic group that continually has problems with Iraqi national leadership, basically thumbing its nose at the Iraqi government in the process. 

Of course the oil companies don't care about following the rules, and in fact are in the forefront of the movement to "get government off our backs", i.e. "we wanna keep the fuzz outta this stuff".  Cheney's secret meeting with prominent oil executives may very well have set the parameters of an opportunistic and essentially imperialistic war for the sake of making money.  There's a word for this: When "market forces" and the agents of "market forces" force the polity into submission, it's called "inverted totalitarianism", the new boss being essentially the same as the old boss except that the new boss is intent on extracting money from taxpayers whether he needs to lie about it or not. 

That's why the government and multinationals are aghast at Wikileaks: Their private face is much more ominous than it's public face.  Kinda like that natural gas television commercial where everything, including the freeway, is sparkling white. 


I believe W didn't know. Cheney wws the real insider oilman. And look at all the no bid contracts thaat went to his cronies.

Lookk there Jim.


Me blame Obama?...the Messiah? The cure all? The smartest president?.....never!


So what if it was about oil?  Try living one day without it.  


Will they find evidence of eating a 14 year old girl?  That's what I want to know.  Also, given that the brave Jamestown settlers turned out to be ill prepared Donner Party Diners, perhaps we need to all just go back to England and let the Native Americans have their land back.


A President that does not know everything his staff does. OH MY. Written like someone that has never spent a day of their life in politics, but most certainly someone who has never done a oil deal when you are trying to figure out what part of the story the other person is telling you is not lies..........FYI.....This stuff still happens. Today.

JimSX topcommenter


You think most of the people in the Arab Middle East don't care? Really?


So Obama was behind all the nefarious things W did ?  What a revelation !  You're dumber than a rock.  


So Obama was behind all the nefarious things W did ?  What a revelation !  You're dumber than a rock. 



That's reality.  Their only natural resource is oil.  Someone was going to develop it.  It might as well be us.


@kduble @Americano  

Of course we do.  We also find more oil every year through exploration.  We need to pursue all avenues, and that means oil, solar, water, wind and whatever else is on the scientific burner.  When oil was first discovered it was a nuisance, we have no idea what the next "oil" will be. I'm sick of liberals blaming Bush when Obama is doing exactly the same thing.


@Americano @kduble I understand the commercial opportunity. But it's lame to talk about living without oil. Our discussion needs to be about continuing to reduce dependency. This is both an economic and an environmental imperative.