Last September, a man named Bruce Jackson hosted a party for his vineyard’s 2014 wines at his 18th-century Chateau Les Conseillans, which sits in the rolling hills of Bordeaux. The afternoon before the party, he took some guests, among them a documentary filmmaker and a former colleague of mine, for a tour of the estate ground, wearing a bland blue suit that matched his mild, drab persona. With his short, carefully combed gray hair, he resembles the conservative columnist George Will, or any number of the people floating around Washington DC’s interlocking social circles of foreign policy think-tankers, defense contractors, and lobbyists, which are in fact the exact circles he moves seamlessly in.
There was a smell in the air of grass, lilacs, and grapes from Jackson’s vineyard, which includes a Merlot plot dating back to 1953. Much of the chateau itself was erected in the 1700s, but it now boasts haute bourgeois furnishings with a 2,000-square-foot kitchen (with brand new steel sinks and Swedish faucets). The property includes a pine forest and an impeccable pool whose water appears a dark, warm blue.
For the guests that evening, there would be duck confit, crawfish canapés, and a three-piece jazz band.
“I like the quiet of the Bordeaux and the pace of the wine growing,” Jackson said when asked about his new hobby while strolling through the $4 million estate, which is surrounded by springs and woods that are on France’s list of ecologically protected sites (he purchased the land in 2011). “It’s a slower-paced environment, and you get actually more thinking done.”
My former colleague, hoping to prod Jackson on foreign policy, turned the conversation to Iraq, where that very day 17 people had been killed in bombings and shootings and a mass grave containing the bodies of 15 truck drivers had been discovered. That sort of bad day has been horrifically common since US troops deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003, with the Islamic State recently beheading American journalists, conducting mass executions of Iraqi soldiers, and attracting recruits from across the West with horrific propaganda videos.
Jackson has more history with Iraq than your average rich-guy dilettante grape grower. The year before the US invasion, Jackson—then a Lockheed Martin executive—founded, with encouragement from White House officials, a group called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which helped advocate for the war. He agreed to serve as the chairman of the board of the Committee, even though he later acknowledged, in a 2007 Playboy interview, that at the time he “knew nothing about Iraq.”
In the run-up to the Iraq War, top advocates forecast that the whole thing would be a “cakewalk” and swore up and down that they were motivated by a heartfelt desire to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein’s ouster would only be a first step in “the reconstruction of [Iraq’s] economy and the establishment of political pluralism, democratic institutions, and the rule of law,” Jackson pledged on the day the Committee was announced in late 2002.
When asked about the outcome of the American invasion on that afternoon, Jackson acknowledged that America’s fateful excursion there was “just a complete screw-up” and laid the blame on Bush administration officials. “The greatest mistake was letting [Donald] Rumsfeld run the damn thing,” he said. “He didn’t talk to anybody, didn’t talk to our allies.”
Unlike Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and other high-ranking officials who have been blamed for the disaster of the Iraq War, no one has ever protested against Jackson. There are few pictures of him online, and hardly anyone outside select corridors in DC seems to have paid him much mind. But the man has had a long, cushy career circulating in the halls of power—banging the drums of war, profiting from foreign adventures, and playing a key role in NGOs that have paid him and his loved ones generous salaries. He’s a sort of neocon Forest Gump who’s been hanging out in government circles for decades, assisting with the expansion of the ever-larger military industrial complex while amassing the kind of fortune that allows him to buy a vineyard in France and maintain an estate in DC.
He’s not uniquely rich or uniquely powerful or uniquely evil by the standards of the crowd he runs with, but it’s worth looking at the life and times of Bruce Jackson to see how one maintains power in DC, and what one does with that power.
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