Robert Fisk in Ottawa

Veteran journalist sees no peace in the Middle East
American policy will not change with new president

‘His great passion is to report the news as he sees it to a world that often is reticent to hear the truth.’

By The Reverend Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Op-Ed Contributor

“I see no peace in the Middle East in my life time, nor will you, nor will your children.” This was the bleak outlook given by Robert Fisk in his address to the Middle East Discussion Group in Ottawa (March 29, 08). Were it not for his dynamic style of speaking, his intimate and fascinating grasp of the events he witnessed plus his sense of humour, it would have been a dour hour indeed. 

Robert Fisk is a journalist for the British The Independent and has been a resident of Beirut for the past 32 years. From his balcony he was able to observe the fireworks of the Israeli bombardments in the summer of 2006. 

Fisk has been cited seven times as the leading British Middle East correspondent. During his watch he has had occasion to meet Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. He covered the horrendous eight-year war between Iran and Iraq (1980 - 88) as well as the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Earlier he also reported on the strife in the Balkans.

Fisk slammed the role of his own country and the United States and cast great doubt on the part being played by Canada in Afghanistan. “The Taliban’s aim is to free their country from foreign intervention.” He predicted that inevitably that country will be divided. 

Reportage from the Middle East is badly flawed, he said. The New York Times operates in a heavily guarded fortress in Baghdad, its journalists are unable to have first hand views of what is happening. “Look at the sources cited by dispatches, the line: “official sources say....” is repeated over and over again.” Fisk read a number of such reports to the 30 luncheon guests at the Sheraton Hotel in Ottawa.

“What the insurgents are fighting for is freedom from us,” France and Britain have dominated the Middle East since the end of the Great War and Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president at the Versailles Peace  and Conference helped in the carving up of the Middle East into  zones of influence. 

Fisk accused the Americans of having no long range plans when they attacked Iraq, unlike Winston Churchill who had careful and realistic plans for post war Germany and implemented them immediately. Both Blair and Bush refused to look for reasons for the terrorism of 9/11 or the London tube bombing relying on simplistic explanations, such as they hate our freedom. 

The U.S. seems to have a “visceral need” to demonstrate its military prowess. Fisk described watching long columns of all sorts of military equipment bristling with guns like porcupine quills taking more than three quarters of an hour to pass him by in Iraq.  He also derided those officials and military personnel who wait until out of office and minus uniform to speak their mind. 

Responding to the inevitable question of the Palestine/Israel situation Fisk was equally gloomy. “The only hope is the institution of the UN Resolution #242, which would divide the country and assure the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.”  He held out little hope for that to happen, indeed, he said “#242 is finished.” Nevertheless he believes that there are many Israelis who are holding different views than their government and that of the United States and their compatriots in that country.

Is oil at the root of the Middle East conundrum? He answered that were Iraq known for its production of vegetables rather than oil there would be no conflict. Iraq undoubtedly sits on a greater oil reserve than does Saudi Arabia.  Only when the U.S. finds other sources to assuage its energy needs will the heat come off the Middle East.

Asked whether he felt that a regime change in the United States this fall, a Barack Obama replacing Bush, would bring a measure of peace, he was also negative. He foresees little change in American foreign policy whoever occupies the White House.  Their world view is too deeply entrenched for that to happen any time soon.

His great passion is to report the news as he sees it to a world that often is reticent to hear the truth. I desperately hoped that he would be wrong or even “less right” in many of his opinions but having been an avid reader of his columns in The Independent plus having battled my way through some 1300 pages of The Great War For Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East I must concede to his outlook. A sequel to the above mentioned book will come out within this year.