Review: Dan Briody, The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group

I got this book (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2003) from a friend many years ago, but it sat on my shelf unread. Recently, I was thinking about this late friend and decided it was past time to crack The Iron Triangle.

I study governance for a living, and I like investigative journalism and efforts to expose corruption. Mr. Briody’s book shows how Washington, DC can be a very clubby place, with high ranking government officials, corporations (especially defense), and investment houses (like Carlyle).

This book, however, has a few revelations (I won’t spoil them) but it is lamentably thick with innuendo. Briody also operates from an ethical proposition that the author simply expects readers to accept: if someone works for government, it is unacceptable for him or her to then leave government and work in the private sector in a position relating to government. The “revolving door,” an epithet Briody uses for this phenomenon, has been part of governance since the Founding of this country. It flows from the fact that those who work in government acquire an unusual skill set, and from the reality that government and the private sector are deeply intermeshed and depend on each another. (A look at Herbert Hoover and the “associative state” would have been instructive.)

Hence, instead of a book that works from this proposition and explores the interplay between public and private interests, the reader mostly gets lots of overwrought suggestions THAT SOMETHING SORDID IS AFOOT. “What are these men up to?” he asks late in the book, apparently baffled that guys like the late George H. W. Bush might enjoy meeting with world leaders and striking deals to sitting at home and writing their memoirs and watching daytime television.

The book also contains some outright errors, such as the claim that George W. Bush built the Department of Homeland Security in the context of a discussion of Carlyle purportedly getting rich off 9-11. (“Cashing in on tragedy” as the book terms it.) In fact, Bush opposed the creation of DHS but once he saw Congress was going to do it he fell in line. And the book’s contention that the war in Afghanistan was “highly unlikely” to still be ongoing come 2004 made me laugh.

I was curious what Mr. Briody has been up to since he wrote this book long ago. He published a book on Halliburton, and since then has been an executive at a firm doing corporate communications (GE, Dell, etc.). Which was surprising, as these companies do a lot of business with government.

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