[R-G] Naomi's Iraq shock
ve2ndw at rac.ca
Sun Oct 31 05:44:48 MST 2004
Q & A with journalist Naomi Klein
Daily Texan (Austin) Opinion 10/29/2004
Naomi Klein, author and syndicated columnist for The Nation and The
Guardian in London, took time between deadlines last Sunday morning to
speak with the Texan about her upcoming lecture in Austin. She will be on
campus Oct. 31 at 2 p.m. in the LBJ auditorium speaking mostly about an
issue highlighted in her most recent report in the September issue of
Harper's, the economic "shock therapy" being applied to Iraq.
Like most of her recent work, her focus throughout the interview affixed
on the situation in Iraq, citing some of her travels to fledgling
democracies in the south as guides to understanding the democracy being
born in Iraq....
Q: Your latest piece reported on the $195 million Iraq doled out on Oct.
21, reparations from Saddam Hussein's 1991 invasion of Kuwait still being
paid off. Where does a story like that even begin, and how do you get the
Well, I think for most journalism, one story leads into another, and in
this case, I'll just go back three chains. I wrote a major piece for the
September issue of Harper's based on a trip I made to Iraq to research the
economic front of the war. There aren't that many people who are writing
about the economic front of the war - you hear about the corruption
stories with Halliburton and things like that, but in terms of how Iraq is
being restructured, it's something that's really hard to focus on when
there's still a war going on, but it's happening anyway.
So I wrote that story, and because of that story, shortly after it was
published, I got a phone call from someone who wanted to give me some
confidential papers about a deal that had been proposed. The papers were
the deal: 75 pages of documents marked privileged and confidential from a
consortium of companies including the Carlyle Group and the Albright Group
that were submitted to the government of Kuwait.
One of the things that was most interesting about those papers was that
James Baker is part of the Carlyle Group, and James Baker is President
Bush's envoy on Iraq's debt, and this proposal was to help Kuwait make
sure it was paid its debt from Iraq. So you have a direct conflict of
interest, where you have a government employee, James Baker, whose job it
is to convince the world to forgive Iraq's debt in the interest of Iraq
and in the interest of U.S. taxpayers, who are paying for much of Iraq's
reconstruction. And then you have James Baker the private businessman, who
is part of a consortium that's offering its services to one of the
governments that is a major debt holder.
So it was an astonishing conflict of interest story, but as I was
researching it, I learned a lot about Iraq's debts that I didn't know and
that wasn't being reported. One of the areas I learned a lot about was the
fact that Iraq was still paying reparations to Kuwait even as it was under
foreign occupation and even after Saddam had been overthrown.
I was totally shocked because it hadn't been covered, that American
companies were getting - not only were [Iraqis] paying these huge sums
out, but they weren't going to needy Kuwaitis who had lost loved ones or
limbs in the war. When we hear about war reparations, you usually think
that it's compensation for injury and for human loss and suffering, but it
turned out that the whole reparations process was very controversial,
although not covered at all. It's covered more in the Arab press than it
is in the North American press, so I just started searching on it, and
it's kind of a chain of events that leads to a story like that.
Q: Where do you find the best news information out of Iraq?
First of all, like any story you have, you need to go through a really
rigorous process of fact-checking. All of the information in that article
[on reparations] I confirmed directly with the sources involved. All of
the statistics come from the United Nations compensation commission -
they're hard to figure out and nobody had really gone through their
website because it's really not user-friendly at all, everything's in
these huge PDF files, so you can't search on something. You have to open
up each PDF and you have to print it out and you have to read it, and I
had a research assistant help me with that.
For young journalists today, the Internet is both a wonderful tool and
it's also a curse, because I think information comes more easily to young
people today than it ever has before. It's so instantaneous: You type
something into Google and you get what you get. You get information that
for me, when I started out in journalism - and I'm not that old, I'm 34 -
I had to go to a library and I had to go through a really tedious process
of index cards and microfiche just to find a newspaper article that you
can now find so easily through a database search.
You're able to do investigative research with a great deal of ease, but I
think that that ease is also a bit of a trick, because if you don't find
it easily, the assumption is that it's not there. People do their Google
search and if they don't turn anything up, they assume there's nothing
there, and there still is some fairly tedious research to do.
Honestly, when information is really explosive, people make some effort to
hide it. Even if they are part of public institutions and they have to put
it online, it won't be easily searchable, or else it will still simply be
secret and you still need the cloak and dagger manilla envelope, which
happens very rarely.
In terms of finding the information, as a consumer of news, I think there
still is a great deal of fact-checking that needs to happen. I do my news
rounds on the Internet: I read the Guardian in addition to reading the New
York Times and more mainstream newspapers. I watch Democracy Now! online
every day, and I find their headlines particularly useful on Iraq because
they have their own process of having a very wide range of sources and
then they boil it down - their sources are not just American, they also
read the Arab press, which makes a big difference.
Q: You've been at the front of the debate on globalization: do you see
Iraq as the place where this debate is heading?
I think the economic project, which is called globalization - but it
really isn't globalization, it's fundamentalist, free-market policies that
are being imposed globally which are being called globalization (it's not
the globalness that's the problem, it's the policies that are the
problem). [These policies] are being universally imposed, and most of the
research that I had been doing before the war was focused on how they were
being imposed by institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the
World Trade Organization.
The truth is that these institutions have never been able to impose these
policies alone in poor countries - the policies I'm referring to are
attacks on trade unions, mass privatizations of the state, massive layoffs
in the state sector, massive cuts to the social safety net - these radical
transformations, which are sometimes called "shock therapy"; the ground is
always prepared for these policies with some form of massive upheaval.
I was actually in Argentina when the war in Iraq started making a
documentary, and it was a really good place to watch the war from, if
you'll pardon the phrase, but I think we all watched the war.
I watched the war from Patagonia in Argentina because I was making this
documentary, and that's where I was the day the invasion began. I was in a
city called Neuqun, which is a very oil rich part of Argentina, and it's
also a part of Argentina with a really powerful revolutionary history.
Everybody who I talked to there when the war started said, "They did this
to us, this happened to us too." And what they were referring to was not
what the IMF had done to them in the 90's, but the military coup in the
70's, when you had a Kissenger-supported coup d'etat come to power and
disappear 30,000 people whose crime was being leftist union organizers.
They were in power until 1983 and terrorized the population, and so that
when democracy finally came to Argentina, people were so insular and so
afraid to even engage politically - they stayed in their houses and were
extremely individualistic - then they were able to continue the project
without violence, or without that overt violence, but it was started with
violence, and the IMF just kind of finished the job once the population
was primed for that.
What is so dramatic and important to understand about what has happened in
Iraq is the ambition and the speed with which it was carried out. In
Argentina, it took three decades to do what they did in six months in
Iraq. The violence was far more dramatic - they called it "shock and awe"
- and the speed with which they imposed the economic reform, which is also
what I'm going to be talking about when I'm in Austin, was immediate. It
was the first thing Paul Bremer did when he came to power.
It's the same project, but with more firepower, with greater speed - the
whole thing is in fast-forward, the whole thing is on steroids.
There's a way in which I think it's really important to look at it because
it's so shameless, it's so unmasked. There's a way that truly
understanding what's happening in Iraq helps us to understand what's
happening in the world, and even the entire project we see in a much less
violent form in North America. We see it in a devastating form in most
southern parts of the world, but yet drawn out over decades.
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