iOS app Android app More

John Cusack

John Cusack

Posted: October 1, 2007 03:08 AM

Calling Things What They Are: More From My Conversation with Naomi Klein


I hope you've checked out the video of my conversation with Naomi Klein. If you haven't, click here.

But after the camera crew stopped rolling, Naomi and I kept talking. Here's a transcript of part of that conversation...

Cusack: One of my favorite quotes is from Arthur Miller, who said: "An era can be considered over when its basic illusions have been exhausted." And with The Shock Doctrine, you are basically trying to shatter and obliterate the illusion of the neo-liberal or neo-con fundamentalist free market -- this official narrative wherein we not only are supposed to worship free markets that really aren't free, we must actually kill to feed them.

What the book rightly asks is what many have felt for a very long time: shouldn't we make a moral choice that you either make defense policy or you profit from it? I think that kind of transparency would be very important to have in the public sphere. Those people who go on CNN and are treated as impartial statesmen when, in reality, the book -- which is triple footnoted and sourced -- suggests otherwise. They did hold their former jobs...I guess by defintion they are statesmen....but if we are compelled to be honest we know they are other things as well... I'm speaking of people like George Shultz or Richard Perle.

Klein: Right. If we look at who the real intellectual engines of this war are, we'd see a web of people who are not simply the statesmen they appear to me but card-carrying members of the disaster capitalism complex -- shareholders, board-members and directors of companies that profit directly and enormously from war and other disasters --

Cusack: Who would these people be..?

Klein: Well, for instance, the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq was a propaganda arm of the Bush administration, publicly making the case for the invasion of Iraq. And it was founded by Bruce Jackson, a vice president of Lockheed Martin who had been out of his job for just three months. Jackson stacked the committee with old colleagues from Lockheed -- Charles Kupperman, Lockheed Martin's vice president for space and strategic missiles was on it, and so was Douglas Graham, Lockheed's director of defense systems. And even though the committee was formed at the explicit request of the White House to make the case for war in the public mind, no one had to step down from Lockheed or sell his shares. Which was certainly good for committee members, since Lockheed's share price jumped 145 percent thanks to the war they helped engineer -- from $41 in March 2003 to $102 in February 2007. The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq was chaired by George Shultz, who wrote op-eds and went on TV beating the drums, and was presented just as this respected statesman. But Shultz hasn't been in office for decades. And in the meantime, he'd been working for Bechtel -- at the time he was calling for the invasion, he was still on its board, and since Bechtel is a privately held company, we don't know anything about his holdings. We do know that Bechtel was one of the biggest winners of the reconstruction game in Iraq, landing $2.3-billion in contracts.

Cusack: How about James Baker and the $1 billion kickback that the Carlyle Group used him to try to get from the government of Kuwait, which you wrote about in The Nation?

Klein: Right. I talk about the incredible power of the "formers." One of the distinguishing features of the Bush administration has been its reliance on outside advisers and freelance envoys to perform key functions: James Baker, Paul Bremer, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Richard Perle, Bruce Jackson, and so on. So you have Congress playing a rubber-stamp role during the pivotal decision-making years, and Supreme Court rulings treated as little more than gentle suggestions, while these mostly volunteer advisers have wielded enormous influence, especially when it comes to Iraq. Their power stems from the fact that they used to perform key roles in government -- they are former secretaries of state, former ambassadors and former undersecretaries of defense. All have been out of government for years and, in the meantime, have set up lucrative careers in the disaster capitalism complex. And because they are freelance government contractors, they aren't subject to the same conflict-of-interest rules as elected or appointed politicians. The effect has been to eliminate the so-called revolving door between government and industry and allow the disaster industries to simply set up shop inside the government, using the reputations of these supposedly illustrious ex-politicians as cover.

As you say, in the press, they maintain their credibility as statesmen -- their current, far more relevant work in the corporate world is almost never mentioned. You brought up Baker. He was Bush's debt envoy to Iraq while he was still a partner in the Carlyle Group, which is a major arms trader whose fortunes have exploded since the war. He was also still a partner at Baker Botts, which represents some of the largest oil companies in the world, as well as Halliburton. Kissinger is another classic example of the power of the formers because he's primarily been a businessman, not a statesman, now for some 25 years. He met with Bush and Cheney regularly making Iraq policy -- according to Bob Woodward, more than any other advisor. But who was he representing in those meetings? Kissinger has repeatedly put his business interests ahead of the public interest, most dramatically when he resigned as chair of the 9/11 Commission rather than disclose his list of corporate clients at Kissinger Associates.

Another example is Richard Perle. Richard Perle headed the Defense Policy Board. Just two months after 9/11 he launched a venture capital firm called Trireme Partners that exists to invest in the homeland security and defense sectors. One of his first investors was Boeing -- it sunk $20 million in Trireme. Meanwhile, Perle is using the Defense Policy Board to make the case for war. And of course Boeing was another one of the huge winners from the invasion of Iraq.

So I asked the question, "Why is it that we refer to Richard Perle merely as an ideologue -- rather than, say, as an arms dealer with an impressive vocabulary?"

Cusack: The question becomes one of intellectual honesty and basic morality. I wanted to talk about the players or the heirs of the Friedman legacy who are in the public sector today... The Grover Norquists and Bill Kristols of the world come to mind ...You also talk about the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute as pursuing the goal of the elimination of the public sphere and the total liberation of corporations.

Klein: I refer to the people in those think tanks as "the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks" because a huge amount of the funding for these think tanks is coming directly from the weapons and homeland security industry. They are funded by some of the wealthiest families and the wealthiest corporations in this country so the question of intellectual honesty really has to come up. They exist in a strange intellectual gray zone where they get money in order to think. And besides, I'm not sure thinking really belongs in tanks.

Cusack: So you're saying that the Shultzes and the Perles and the Kissingers and the Jim Bakers of the world are embedded in the homeland security/privatized war economy?

Klein: More than embedded. I mean, they are it.

Cusack: I was trying to --

[laughter ]

Klein: Why are you trying to be polite?

Cusack: I don't know. I don't know. That's part of the problem, too: being polite with this immorality and not having the courage to call something what it is...The refusal of the Congress to challenge Bush in a meaningful way is proof of the Democratic complicity in the new economy. To name only right wing people is to ignore the central thesis of intellectual honesty as the first step in a long corrective march... So we'll have to talk about what Democrats are in on this game and name them, too...we'll have to get into that later.