Naomi Klein outlines ‘The Shock Doctrine’ with MSNBC’s Olbermann

Muslim Matters

Naomi Klein outlines ‘The Shock Doctrine’ with MSNBC’s Olbermann

Courtesy Nick Langewis and Mike Aivaz

December 1–Naomi Klein, discussing her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, outlines how crises, real or perceived, have been used by governments, especially the United States under George W. Bush, to strongarm a disoriented citizenry into accepting changes to its rights, and its government, that it wouldn’t otherwise accept.

People “don’t actually want to hand their democracies over to multinational corporations,” says Klein. “So, you need some kind of a shock. And that shock could be a war. It could be an economic meltdown. It could be a terrorist attack, but something that creates a period of confusion, of dislocation, of regression.”

“And then,” continues Klein, “politicians come forward, playing a father figure.”

Klein cites, among historical reference points, the shock from the September 11 attacks, the vehicle with which Iraq was invaded, the PATRIOT Act was passed and the military was largely privatized by firms such as Blackwater and Halliburton.

The Iraq invasion is the next example, framed as a failed corporate selloff following the aptly named “Shock and Awe” campaign, with which former Bush administration official Richard Armitage sought to make the Iraqi people “easily martialed.”

“There is a word for what happens when you invade a country, especially on a false pretense, and then you grab its assets,” says Klein. “It’s called looting, right? And it’s illegal. And Iraqis responded as if their country was being looted. Not as if it was being restructured, or developed, or reconstructed, or any of the cleansed words that were used to describe it.”

“It was a corporate takeover with guns,” responds Olbermann.

“Yes, armed robbery, yes.”

As if performing an autopsy, says Klein, we are starting to piece together the ways in which we have been exploited by the shock of 9/11. Next in line for the United States, she and Olbermann predict, is the economic crisis. Says Klein, the best way to be prepared for the next crisis, and avoid a repeated manipulation of public consciousness, is to have ideas at hand when the crisis hits.

Video of Naomi Klein’s entire appearance, including transcript, is available below. It was aired on MSNBC’s COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann on November 29, 2007.


OLBERMANN: The U.S. and Iraq this week announced a broad framework for long-term relations between the two nations. The Associated Press reporting this involves a sustained U.S. presence in Iraq and preferential treatment to American investments. You know, a treaty. Only don‘t call it that and nobody in the Senate gets the chance to not ratify it, or to ask why would Iraq give up a prize like that preference to American investments in return for a military presence the U.S. supposedly needs for its own security anyway?

In our third story tonight, a new book says the answer may lay in Chile. In the early ‘60s the economist Milton Friedman pushed an extreme version of the free market, minuscule taxes, wide scale privatization of everything from utilities to schools, and virtually no government involvement in the private sector on everything from tariffs to regulation.

The hitch? Democracies did not want to trust their fate to the free market. Enter Friedman’s friend, Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet, who imposed much of Friedman’s agenda anyway, introducing school vouchers, privatizing Social Security. Chile’s economy then crashed. Some of Friedman’s disciples kept faith that tyranny, war or natural disaster would give them opportunities to try the shock therapy of remaking entire economies overnight in Friedman’s image.

Those deciples included Donald Rumsfeld, who saw a chance for Friedman’s shock therapy in Iraq, as did Vice President Cheney and coalition administrator Paul Bremer, who cut Iraq’s corporate taxes to 15 percent and planned to sell off Iraq’s biggest businesses, almost all of them owned by the country itself, to foreign investors. As in Chile, Iraq’s people opposed these plans, so Bremer delayed elections, installed the provisional government instead, when it looked like the popular candidates would block the Iraqi sell-off.

Little reported at the time, violence surged well after the U.S. took control, just as word spread of Bremer’s plans, and fears rose of downsizing, devastated Iraqi business, fearing the competition of rich unfettered foreigners. One GOP lobbyist said, “one well-stocked 7/11 could knock out 30 Iraqi stores. A Wal-Mart could take over the country.” Kidnappers targeting foreign businessmen demanded that foreign businesses leave.

And Iraq is not alone. After the Pacific tsunami, author Naomi Klein found pristine beaches turned over to the big resorts, while the people were too shocked to stop it. In Mississippi, most federal Katrina recovery funds have helped big business and the affluent after the Republican governor got the Bush administration to waive a Congressional requirement that half help the poor, who wound up getting only 10 percent of the funds.

We turn now to Naomi Klein, best selling author of No Logo, whose book new book is called The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Thanks for coming in tonight.


OLBERMANN: Explain this basic premise if you can.

KLEIN: The basic premise is that these are very unpopular policies, that people tend to protect their labor protections, their social programs. They don’t actually want to hand their democracies over to multinational corporations. So, you need some kind of a shock. And that shock could be a war. It could be an economic meltdown. It could be a terrorist attack, but something that creates a period of confusion, of dislocation, of regression.

And then politicians come forward, playing a father figure. If this remind you of anything? Let me know.


KLEIN: And use that period of dislocation to push through policies in a state of emergency that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. In this country, obviously, the shock of September 11th was used to privatize the U.S. military, to privatize the government, to create this hollow infrastructure of a government that is the Bush specialty.

OLBERMANN: In Iraq, the mess that we saw there, was that the result of no planning, or was it the desired result of a bad plan?

KLEIN: Well, Iraq is the classic example of the shock doctrine. You had a military strategy that was called Shock and Awe. It was a military strategy designed to maximize disorientation. The theory was—This is a quote from Richard Armitage, the former deputy undersecretary of state, who said that the theory was that Iraqis would be so shocked, they would be easily martialed from point A to point B.

In that moment when they were supposed to be easy to control, easy to martial, you had Paul Bremer waltz in his Brooks Brothers suits and Army boots, the uniform of the disaster capitalists, and say Iraq is open for business, and create this sort of—an attempt to create a corporate Utopia for American multinationals.

It didn’t work out. Then you saw the emergence of a third shock, not an economic shock, but shocks to body, the shock of torture, as they attempted to control this rebellious country. There’s three kinds of shocks in The Shock Doctrine the shock of the crisis, then an economic shock therapy program, and then, if people don’t behave, a third shock, which is the shock of torture.

OLBERMANN: Did the Iraqis speak up about this attempt to privatize their country when Bremer started this?

KLEIN: They absolutely spoke up about it. I was in Iraq in that first year reporting for Harper’s Magazine. I met a worker at a vegetable oil company, one of the largest state-owned factories. He said that they were so opposed to privatizing that company that there were two choices. They would either burn it to the ground or they would blow themselves up inside it. That was the level of determination against these policies.

What Iraqis saw was that, you know, this was a continuation of the war. That’s the way it was perceived. There is a word for what happens when you invade a country, especially on a false pretense, and then you grab its assets. It’s called looting, right? And it’s illegal. And Iraqis responded as if their country was being looted. Not as if it was being restructured or developed or reconstructed or any of the cleansed words that were used to describe it.

OLBERMANN: It was a corporate takeover with guns.

KLEIN: Yes, armed robbery, yes.

OLBERMANN: And if it’s a corporate takeover with guns, your argument is that awareness of the pattern, seeing where it’s played out around the world and what this country has had to do with it, that‘s the key to stopping it?

KLEIN: Exactly. Think about September 11th, that state of disorientation. Now we look back on it, and we realize how much we lost in that moment. We’re only piecing—we’re only piecing it together in this forensic accounting, which happens through scandal. There’s a Blackwater scandal. Then we find out how much this one company has expanded its reach. Or the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks and we find out, OK, there’s private companies doing prison interrogation.

It’s all retroactive. It’s all back accounting. If we understand how our states of shock are exploited, if we can recognize the signs, then the next time there is a crisis—and it can be an economic crisis. And it’s really relevant. One of the things I do in the book is I show this 35-year history. In much of that history, it was economic crises that played that role. It’s just as anti-Democratic.

But when the next shock hits, we can prepare. I have a quote in the book, as you know, from Milton Friedman, who says that only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. He says when the crisis hits, the change depends on the ideas that are lying around. So it’s not just about recognizing the pattern, it’s also about having your ideas lying around when the next shock hits.

OLBERMANN: We’ll see, if we do slide into recession, maybe that’s the one that they’re looking for next. Naomi Klein, the book is “Shock Doctrine.” Congratulations on it and great thanks for coming in.

KLEIN: Thank you.



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