Naomi Klein On Plans to Privatize Iraqi Industry

Published: Tue 15 Jul 2003 09:50 AM
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U.S. Plan to Privatize Iraqi Industry May Signal New 'Bomb Before You Buy' Doctrine
Interview with Naomi Klein, author and columnist, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio:
The military occupation of Iraq has not gone according the plan made in Washington long before the war was launched against Saddam Hussein's government. Since President Bush declared major hostilities over in Iraq on May 1, more than 30 U.S. and British troops have been killed in an intensifying series of guerrilla attacks. With an average 13 engagements each day between U.S. soldiers and armed Iraqis hostile to the occupation, American military leaders are still reluctant to characterize the resistance as an organized effort. Instead, Pentagon and Bush administration officials maintain that groups attacking U.S. forces are remnants of Saddam's Baathist party or terrorists sympathetic to al Qaeda.
Fueling hostility toward the U.S. in Iraq are the increasing number of civilians being shot by jittery and exhausted American soldiers; the delay in establishing an Iraqi transition government; and the spotty restoration of electrical and water services. Recent statements made by L. Paul Bremer III, President Bush's administrator in Iraq -- that the U.S. will work to privatize Baghdad's state-owned industries -- has further antagonized many Iraqis.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with author and columnist Naomi Klein, who discusses her view that the Bush administration's economic plan for Iraq is but one element of a broader strategy to expand the power and wealth of U.S. based multinational corporations across the globe.
Naomi Klein: I think what’s clear is that by the time Iraqis have some semblance of a democratic process -- and who knows when that’s going to be, maybe it will be a year from now, maybe it will be two years from now -- whenever it is, it’s clear that all of the key economic decisions that are going to affect the ability of that new government to act in meaningful ways -- those decisions will all have already been made and contracts will be locked in, multi, multi-year contracts. So this is essentially, this is about democracy, I mean, Bush has said that the war wasn't really about weapons of mass destruction, it was actually about freedom and democracy. Well, this whole issue of privatization taking place before there is a democracy is an incredibly flagrant assault on the basic principles of self-determination. I think we have to be really careful when we say, "Oh, the reconstruction has been a crisis or it's been a disaster." Well, it's been a disaster for the Iraqi people but it hasn't been a disaster for Bechtel. In fact, what's happened is they've bombed the country into a blank slate where they are rebuilding it in the image that is exactly prescribed by the so-called Washington consensus and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, where all of the state industries, including oil, are going to be privatized.
At the same time, Paul Bremer, before he even had the lights back on in Baghdad declared that Iraq was "open for business," which meant that all of the foreign exports were pouring across the border. Iraqi companies that had been suffering under 13 years of sanctions and months of lootings and then blackouts because of a lack of electricity were told "welcome to the free market," now you can compete with these multinationals and of course, they're all closing down.
That's what I mean by a process that, say in the Soviet Union or Argentina took five years,. is happening in Iraq in two months. I think it's important I guess to look at such a naked exercise of so-called free market economics to see that they were never supposed to compete in the first place. I mean, the idea that they could have competed under these conditions is absolutely absurd and I think that it really does put the lie to the idea that there is a free market on the global scale.
Between The Lines: You have followed quite closely -- and in your most recent book -- wrote dispatches about the various forms that the movement that opposes corporate-led globalization has taken around the world. What can you tell us about the intersection between those groups opposing corporate-led globalization and the recent quite astonishing peace movement that took root on almost every continent of the world?
Naomi Klein: Well, I think there are lots of connections. I think that they aren't the same movement, but they're inseparable in so many ways. For instance, the coordinated peace demonstrations on Feb. 15 could never have happened without the networks that were created by the globalization movements, from the World Social Forums to Indy Media, which was really the voice of those demonstrations and allowed people to feel that they were part of something truly global, I think, in a really unique and unprecedented way.
But, I think the question of how do we deepen those connections through this period of ongoing wars and also occupation … and that's why I think it really is important to focus on what is actually happening with this so-called reconstruction or privatization disguised as reconstruction in Iraq. Because I think that Iraq is not a distraction or a sideline from the debate about the global economy and how it's progressing. I think it's the cutting edge of that debate in the sense that there is a global economic crisis, there is a recession and there is a growing skepticism and rejection of many of the policies that we've been talking about. In Latin America, for instance, there is huge opposition to the idea of a free trade agreement of the Americas but there has also been a steady stream of opposition to new privatizations. And what this means is that there's growing desperation from the companies that need growth to survive, which is every company, which is how capitalism works. Because of that we are seeing this phenomenon that I call, "bomb before you buy," which is a flip way of describing what happened in Iraq, but I think that we are frankly and sadly going to see more of it. So, I can't in my mind separate the debate about globalization or free trade from an analysis of war, because to me what we're actually seeing are wars being waged to pave the way for precisely the policies that we in the globalization movement have been opposing steadily for the past five years.
Between The Lines: Do you see the anti-globalization organizations and the peace groups focusing their attention now on the post-war situation in Iraq, the privatizations and the threat, as you say, that this could be the template -- the model for future engagements by the United States and their corporate sponsors?
Naomi Klein: I think it is starting to happen. But frankly if we're to be honest, I think we have to admit that we on the left are destabilized. I personally think more than anything else this is the Bush strategy, which is to behave so quixotically, so unpredictably -- basically to act like a crazy person (laughs) -- that basically all of your potential opposition is in a permanent state of destabilization, trying to figure out what the next move is going to be.
It's been really difficult to think strategically over the past year and a half. But I think that there's certainly consensus that we need to, that we need to somehow find our bearings and to understand that the fact that we're confused is not a coincidence, that it's a strategy.
Naomi Klein is author of "Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate" published by Flamingo. Her previous bestselling book, "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" is published by Picador. Visit her website at
Related links on our website at
- "Downsizing In Disguise," by Naomi Klein, The Nation, June 23, 2003
- "Iraq: Arabs Challenge U.S. Plan to Open Nation to Multinationals," by Emad Mekay, Interpress service, June 23, 2003
-"U.S. May Tap Oil for Iraqi Loan," The Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2003
-"Poll: U.S. Losing Control in Iraq,"July 10, 2003
-"Another Scandalous No-Bid Contract Makes Us Look Like Fools,", May 26, 2003
-"Pentagon Hands Major Iraq Deal to Scandal-Ridden WorldCom," The Star Online, May 22, 2003
-"War Profiteering," by The Nation editors, April 24, 2003
- "Allegations of War Profiteering Leveled Against Halliburton and Other Companies With Close Ties to White House," Charlie Cray, corporate reform campaigner at Citizen Works, Week Ending 5/23/03
Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending July 18, 2003.

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