Ever since little Harken Energy won an exclusive offshore oil-drilling contract in 1990 with the tiny Persian Gulf emirate of Bahrain, George W. Bush has been accused of having had something, somehow, to do with it.
He didn't. But suspicions linger, mostly by virtue of repetition.
Bush was on Harken's board of directors in the late 1980s when officials in Bahrain decided to look for more oil in their waters. To widespread surprise, Harken, which had never drilled a well offshore or overseas, wound up with the concession. The award, in January 1990, stirred talk in the oil industry that the Bahrainis might be trying to win an entree to the Bush White House.
There is, however, no evidence that Bush had any role in negotiating the deal and those familiar with it confirm that he actively opposed Harken's entering into it. In addition, the Bahraini official at the center of the negotiations, Yousuf Shirawi, already had a link to the administration, dating to the days when George Bush was vice president.
Asked how Harken was chosen, Shirawi, then Bahrain's minister of development and industry, said in an interview that seismic surveys were promising, but the "big boys" in the oil industry weren't interested. Shirawi said he decided to go shopping for a small American company and found Harken through a Houston oil consultant and longtime friend, Michael Ameen.
Shirawi said he was "not aware that George [W.] Bush was a member of the board" at the time the deal with Harken was made. He said he did learn this somewhat later, but whenever it was, he said: "I will swear one thing: that that information was of no significance. Because we wanted them to drill a hole."
When the multimillion-dollar project came up for discussion at Harken board meetings, Bush warned against it, saying it would cost more than Harken could afford to spend and emphasizing the fact that it had never drilled a single well overseas or in water.
"The guy who didn't want into Bahrain was George W. Bush," Ameen said. "He said, `I don't think we have the expertise, we've never been overseas, and we don't have the money.' "
In fact, the project proved a huge disappointment. Harken found no oil.