The intrepid war reporter Robert Fisk of The Independent in London brings passion and wit to his work and an unsually lively and ironic historical memory. On his wall at home in Beirut, where I caught him in conversation today, are the words of the British Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maud taking Baghdad during World War I: “To the people of Baghdad: we come here not as conquerors but as liberators, to free you from generations of tyranny…” The Brits took thousands of casualties and severe reverses on the way into Baghdad in 1917. The resistance thereafter was fierce. And here we are again, the fiery Fisk commented this afternoon.
I’ve come to count on Robert Fisk as a relentlessly observant up-close witness to the cruelty and folly of empire, old-style and new. I’ve heard Fisk say of himself that his life’s work as a correspondent has been covering warfare over the borders that his father’s generation laid out in the years between 1918 and 1920 as they remade the maps of Northern Ireland, the Balkans and the Middle East. Chris Hedges of the New York Times may be Fisk’s counterpart in American journalism–for all his dreadful and deeply considered experience. But Hedges has been on the sidelines in the Iraq War. Fisk has been in the thick of it in Baghdad.
Like many thousands of Internet surfers, I got hooked anew on Fisk’s robustly individual, candid, cautionary voice a year or more ago, during that strange oblivious vacuum of American commentary and debate as the Bush band beat the war drums. Especially since the devastation of the UN headquarters in Baghdad last week, as more and more of Fisk’s warnings (like this, almost two years ago) come true in horrific news, and as the Hutton Inquiry in London revisits the selling of the war in England, I wanted to hear the Fisk take. I wanted his scorecard on the BBC vs. Tony Blair. Fisk insisted on talking about “the real tragedy” unfolding in Iraq: 150,000 American troops in “the biggest rats’ nest in the Middle East, … being attacked daily–one, two, three a day–by people they claim they were coming to liberate. It is a disaster, and it’s going to get worse.” A British soldier had been killed in Iraq a couple of hours before we spoke. “It is going to get more spectacular,” Fisk said, “in the most awful and dreadful sense of the word.”
Robert Fisk’s brave eye is on the misery day-to-day but also, as he told me, on “the malign influence of history, and whether we can escape it.” Listen in.