Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coffee with Robert Fisk

I had the opportunity today, along with my colleague at the Register Steve Greenhut, to share a few cups of coffee with Robert Fisk, the celebrated British foreign correspondent who lives in Beirut and has covered 11 wars and numerous minor conflicts, mostly in the Middle East, now working for the London Independent. He was here for a speech last night at Chapman University, which, alas, I did not attend. Some would call Fisk a bit of an Arabist (he speaks fluent Arabic), as he is apt to be more critical than most journalists of Israel, and most people peg him as somewhat left of center. In the two conversations I've had with him, however (he came for an editorial board in 2002, just before the invasion of Iraq), he hasn't said much that gives off an ideological tinge, but rather has spoken from a deep knowledge of recent Middle Eastern history about the likely consequences of various actions. He has been right more than he has been wrong.

Fisk bemoaned the condition of American journalism, particularly in coverage of the Middle East ("If Tom Friedman is your cutting edge you're in deep trouble"). I can't help but agree. Our paper included, coverage of foreign affairs is generally abysmal. Only a few papers even maintain many foreign correspondents any more. In some ways, that reflects what readers seem to want. Although most Americans can be stirred up reliably to hate the latest foreign dictator our leaders want to demonize this year, few have any real interest in foreign affairs, an interesting situation for a country that has military installations in more than 160 countries. But that's one of the reasons I think the U.S. is ill-suited to be an imperial power, Ah, well.

I took pretty good notes, which I'll use as the basis for this week's column. A fgew highlights: He thinks the U.S. should disengage militarily from the entire Middle East and South Asia, arguing that our military presence only creates more enemies and people who hate us. He's fascinated that anybody at all was satisfied with the "They hate us for our freedoms" explanation for 9/11. And despite some apparent rumors on the Internet, he's not close to thinking about retirement.

Oh, he has a new book out, "The Age of the Warrior." I have a copy now and will report when I read it.

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