Friday, September 14, 2007


Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change.
- Milton Friedmann

There is an argument put forward by the so-called liberal left that, while the execution of the Iraq invasion has been incompetent and has resulted in catastrophe, the principle of invading a country to liberate it from totalitarianism is still just. This is more or less the point of view of the Democratic Party in the US, and those sections of the left who formerly supported the US government's policy.

The invasion of Iraq has not been mismanaged. Its purpose was, as Naomi Klein describes in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, to create a tabula rasa from which the relics of state control could be erased and which could be transformed to become entirely at the whim of the free market. This is what the US government meant when it talked of freedom and democracy : these concepts were subverted long ago by the followers of Milton Friedmann's unfettered capitalism, so that they no longer relate to human liberty, but only to market fundaments.

Taken in this light, the invasion of Iraq has been hugely successful. Even the unforeseen insurgency which caused many foreign contractors to flee the country has been turned into a massive business opportunity. And the invasion can be seen as the blueprint for late capitalism, for it follows Friedmann's logic that a flourishing free market must be prefaced by a catastrophe or disaster. This was what Friedmann himself described as "economic shock treatment."

Naomi Klein's book and Alfonso CuarĂ³n's companion film reveal the violence - the necessary violence - that drives today's capitalism. Here, from the Guardian's serialisation this week, is some essential reading and viewing :

part 1

The news racing around the shelter that day was that the Republican Congressman Richard Baker had told a group of lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans' wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: "I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities."

part 2

The uncontested heroes of September 11 were the blue-collar first responders - the New York firefighters, police and rescue workers, 403 of whom lost their lives as they tried to evacuate the towers and aid the victims. But far from shaking their determination to weaken the public sphere, the security failures of 9/11 reaffirmed in Bush and his inner circle their deepest ideological (and self-interested) beliefs - that only private firms possessed the intelligence and innovation to meet the new security challenge.

part 3

In hostile interrogations, the first stage of breaking down prisoners is stripping them of their own clothes and any items that have the power to evoke their sense of self - so-called comfort items. Often objects that are of particular value to a prisoner, such as the Qur'an or a cherished photograph, are treated with open disrespect. The message is "You are no one, you are who we want you to be," the essence of dehumanisation. Iraqis went through this unmaking process collectively, as they watched their most important institutions desecrated, their history loaded on to trucks and disappeared.

Thanks mostly to the efforts of clerics who organised salvage missions in the midst of the looting, a portion of the artefacts has been recovered. But many Iraqis were, and still are, convinced that the memory lobotomy was intentional - part of Washington's plans to excise the strong, rooted nation that was and replace it with their own model. "Baghdad is the mother of Arab culture," 70-year-old Ahmed Abdullah told the Washington Post, "and they want to wipe out our culture."

part 4

While the reconstruction of Iraq was certainly a failure for Iraqis and for US taxpayers, it has been anything but for the disaster capitalism complex. Made possible by the September 11 attacks, the war in Iraq represented nothing less than the violent birth of a new economy. This was the genius of Rumsfeld's "transformation" plan: since every possible aspect of both destruction and reconstruction has been outsourced and privatised, there is an economic boom when the bombs start falling, when they stop and when they start up again - a closed profit-loop of destruction and reconstruction, of tearing down and building up. For companies that are clever and far-sighted, such as Halliburton and the Carlyle Group, the destroyers and rebuilders are different divisions of the same corporations.


Blogger darling vicarage said...

Thanks for this - I've been waiting for this book for months.

10:16 AM  

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