Once oil passed $140 a barrel, even the most rabidly right-wing media hosts had to prove their populist cred by devoting a portion of every show to bashing Big Oil. Some have gone so far as to invite me on for a friendly chat about an insidious new phenomenon: "disaster capitalism." It usually goes well–until it doesn’t.
For instance, "independent conservative" radio host Jerry Doyle and I were having a perfectly amiable conversation about sleazy insurance companies and inept politicians when this happened: "I think I have a quick way to bring the prices down," Doyle announced. "We’ve invested $650 billion to liberate a nation of 25 million people. Shouldn’t we just demand that they give us oil? There should be tankers after tankers backed up like a traffic jam getting into the Lincoln Tunnel, the Stinkin’ Lincoln, at rush hour with thank-you notes from the Iraqi government…. Why don’t we just take the oil? We’ve invested it liberating a country. I can have the problem solved of gas prices coming down in ten days, not ten years."
There were a couple of problems with Doyle’s plan, of course. The first was that he was describing the biggest stickup in world history. The second, that he was too late: "We" are already heisting Iraq’s oil, or at least are on the cusp of doing so.
It’s been ten months since the publication of my book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, in which I argue that today’s preferred method of reshaping the world in the interest of multinational corporations is to systematically exploit the state of fear and disorientation that accompanies moments of great shock and crisis. With the globe being rocked by multiple shocks, this seems like a good time to see how and where the strategy is being applied.
And the disaster capitalists have been busy–from private firefighters already on the scene in Northern California’s wildfires, to land grabs in cyclone-hit Burma, to the housing bill making its way through Congress. The bill contains little in the way of affordable housing, shifts the burden of mortgage default to taxpayers and makes sure that the banks that made bad loans get some payouts. No wonder it is known in the hallways of Congress as "The Credit Suisse Plan," after one of the banks that generously proposed it.
Iraq Disaster: We Broke It, We (Just) Bought It
But these cases of disaster capitalism are amateurish compared with what is unfolding at Iraq’s oil ministry. It started with no-bid service contracts announced for ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total (they have yet to be signed but are still on course). Paying multinationals for their technical expertise is not unusual. What is odd is that such contracts almost invariably go to oil service companies–not to the oil majors, whose work is exploring, producing and owning carbon wealth. As London-based oil expert Greg Muttitt points out, the contracts make sense only in the context of reports that the oil majors have insisted on the right of first refusal on subsequent contracts handed out to manage and produce Iraq’s oil fields. In other words, other companies will be free to bid on those future contracts, but these companies will win.