Hard News by Russell Brown


Yr Enemies R Stupid

Down in the comments for this justifiably angry response from Time magazine's Joe Klein to copping the "self-hating Jew" treatment from some Israeli-aligned neocons, a reader posts a link to Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century, the year 2000 report from The Project for a New American Century.

The report can no longer be obtained from its authors -- that would be a little embarrassing -- but it was cached and captured at the time by the Internet Archive. And it's fascinating.

This is the document that that infamously salivated over the prospect of "a new Pearl Harbour" to alert the US to its destiny; it provided the intellectual justification for the Iraq project. But you'd be mistaken if you thought it dwelt on the threat of twenty-first century terrorism. Terrorists and terrorism are mentioned three times in passing in nearly 80 pages.

The obsessive focus of the authors -- and they're all in there: Wolfowitz, Cambone, Libby, Fred Kagan, William Kristol -- is the projection of influence through military force, essentially to the exclusion of all else. The word "economy" also appears but three times, and as a given element of American global greatness. The only deficit countenanced is the "defense deficit" -- the "tens of billions of dollars" that aren't being spent on big iron since the thawing of the Cold War.

This knuckleheaded approach is all the more remarkable when you consider that the authors are at least as paranoid about China as they are about any Arab state. They even recommend the redeployment of US Navy resources from the Mediterranean and the Gulf to the Pacific, and the establishment of "forward operating bases" around China, holding out the hope that "in time, American and allied power in the region may provide a spur to the process of democratization inside China itself."

The idea that the US federal government might instead drunkenly spend and borrow its way into the control of China's financiers, or that America might lose productive capacity and economic control to its putative enemy; or that commerce and internal pressures might actually drive democratic progress in China more than a kind of fantasy military encirclement? Not there. It goes without saying that these guys didn't see the Euro coming.

This is an unbelievably stupid document. No one ought be surprised that Paul Wolfowitz didn't fare well at the World Bank several years later.

This all rather lends weight to Jonathan Chait's critical new review of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism for The New Republic. Klein holds that the serial fuckups that flowed from The Project for the New American Century were not fuckups at all: disaster was the plan all along.

Chait writes that after the terrorist attacks of 2001, Klein, the author of No Logo, "went through the transition from intellectual guru of the movement against Starbucks to intellectual guru of the movement against the Pentagon, and came away as influential as ever."

The Shock Doctrine, he says, "has a single, uncomplicated explanation for everything that ails us. It identifies the fundamental driving force of the last three decades to be the worldwide spread of free-market absolutism as it was formulated by Milton Friedman and the department of economics at the University of Chicago. The free marketers, Klein argues, understand full well that the public does not support their policies, which she summarizes as 'the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending.' And so they have decided that the free-market program can be implemented only when the public has been disoriented by wars, coups, natural disasters, and the like. The 'shock doctrine' is the conservative plan to implement pro-corporate policies through the imposition and exploitation of mass trauma."

And yet, as he notes, the idea "that crises create fertile terrain for political change, far from being a ghoulish doctrine unique to free-market radicals, is a banal and ideologically universal fact. (Indeed, it began its dubious modern career in the orbit of Marxism, where it was known as 'sharpening the contradictions.') Entrenched interests and public opinion tend to run against sweeping reform, good or bad, during times of peace and prosperity. Liberals could not have enacted the New Deal without the Great Depression. Communist revolutions have generally come about in the wake of wars."

The apparently breathtaking incompetence displayed in nearly every chapter of the Iraq adventure is, Klein holds, part of the disaster capitalism plan: excepting the project's failure to achieve sweeping privatisation and "an Arabic Singapore". (Which has to count as a major failure given that what has happened in Iraq is a monumental series of boondoggles at the expense of American taxpayers. It ought to be the stuff of any genuine neo-liberal economist's nightmares.)

But Chait does overlook the fact that there were indeed people who saw Iraq as the new flat-tax private paradise. And it's not terribly convincing when he gets Dick Cheney down off the hook on the basis that any appreciation in his Halliburton stock is passed on to charity. Cheney, after all, may have had interests beyond the mere matter of his shareholdings.

Nonetheless, it does seem that Klein is a fenced in by ideology as the neocons: although she's hardly that kind of monster -- as Chait notes, she actually goes to the places she conjures, determines real problems and sees them for herself. But she may have committed the fatal mistake of believing her enemies are far cleverer than they really are.

PS: This week's Media7, featuring NBR's Nevil Gibson, Bridget Saunders and Laila Harre discussing the merit and meaning of the annual NBR Rich List is online now. You can view it via TVNZ ondemand, as Windows Media clips, on the podcast, and on our YouTube channel.

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