This is a transcript of an interview I did with journalist, Robert Fisk, in 2010.
The audio can be heard at:
Thanks to Robert Fisk; and Dede Miller for this transcription.
CS: Robert Fisk, welcome to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox. My first question is, what is the likelihood or what do you think is the likelihood that the US or Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities soon?
RF: My crystal ball was broken quite a long while ago. It’s a fact that quite soon after Obama became President he sent some pretty important Generals to Tel Aviv. That’s where the Israeli Ministry of Defense is; it’s not in Jerusalem. To tell them don’t attack Iran; you’re on your own if you want to do it. But of course they won’t be on their own. If the Israelis’ attack Iran the Iranians have said very specifically and militarily it makes complete sense from their point of view, that they would attack US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the Gulf. And the reality is the Americans are still fighting in Iraq. I mean they have 50,000 non-combat troops who have already been in combat 5 times. They can’t take on a third war. They can hardly handle two. So it’s not in America’s interest to have a war with Iran but it may be in Israel’s interest and they would bring Americans in again and so on.
The real issue is, do we really, really think they will develop a nuclear missile or nuclear arms and if they do, does it matter? I mean, you know, if you live in the Middle East, as I do, it’s quite clear if you have a nuclear weapon you’re not going to get invaded. We’re not going to bomb North Korea for example or Pakistan who’s got a bomb. So its quite logical for any Muslim power for example, if you want to prevent invasion or domination or attack by the west is to get hold of a nuclear bomb. Just one.
And anyway, its not crackpots like Ahmadenijad “the President of Iran” who control nuclear weapons. It is much more serious people. And the idea that Iran is going to use them to destroy Israel and the whole of Palestine and then get destroyed them selves is pretty ridiculous. But you know that danger is out there.
One of the things we do have to remember—It shouldn’t be exaggerated—but it shouldn’t be forgotten, is that we do have the most right wing Israeli government in power at the moment. And people like Lieberman the foreign minister; I put them in the same crackpot box as Ahmadinejad and Gahdaffi.
So these are not, just as we have some odd characters in Tehran we have some very odd characters in Jerusalem. Can we rely on them for what we like to call common sense a very western expression? I don’t know. Of course not only will Israel bring in the Americans if attacked by Iran I would find it very odd if Hezbollah, forget Hamas and their tin pot rockets, if Hezbollah did not respond as well as Lebanon. Then of course you are going to have a war involving the Shiites and Americans. I mean in Iraq it’s the Sunni’s; in Afghanistan it’s the Sunni’s. Now you’re going to bring in the Shiite’s as well.
But you know, all along one of the problems here is kind of a, I mean I come backwards and forwards to America all the time. Sometimes fourteen times a year. And somewhere over the Atlantic I fly through this sort of a screen and when I land in Washington or San Francisco or wherever the Middle East is not the place I live in anymore. It is sort of a fantasy world here that people don’t talk about or have much knowledge of. The people who live there know of the history of course, we don’t. So, decisions taken in Washington about Iran and decisions taken in Iran about Washington are often weirdly out of sync.
The Iranian actually understand us much better than we understand them. But that won’t stop an attack on Iran. I rather think there would not be. But then again I have twice been wrong about the fourteen wars I have covered in the Middle East. But the other twelve times I have got it right. So I don’t think there will be at the moment. That’s my feeling but as I said my crystal ball is in little glass pieces all over the floor.
CS: Robert, do you think there is more of likelihood for a war between Israel and Hezbollah in the near future?
RF: I had the dubious pleasure of being present in the last Hezbollah Israeli war in 2006. It ended of course with George Bush claiming the Israelis had won which is another fantasy.
The Israelis know they didn’t win, they were humiliated, their armor was blown to pieces, their soldiers were shot down. They couldn’t defend their own cities. The Hezbollah claimed it was a divine victory.
While I was on the road to Southern Lebanon it didn’t feel much like a divine victory or any other kind to me. But clearly the Israelis lost. I am not sure the Hezbollah won but the Israelis lost.
When I talk to Hezbollah now, and I talk to Hezbollah fighters in the South, not just leadership people put in front of TV cameras they clearly are looking forward to a second round to convince the world that they really did win last time. When I was in Israel a few weeks ago I went to the (INAUDIBLE) Conference which is where all the Israeli political right meet to make speeches.
I flew into Israel to the conference to report on it and met a lot of people who pop up on my TV screen in Beirut raging about Lebanon. I came away with the distinct impression, especially after listening to the Deputy Chief of Staff for the IDF, the Israeli Army, talking about Lebanon, of which she seemed to have very little political grasp. I came away with the distinct impression that the Israelis want to repair that shattered image from 2006 and have another go at Hezbollah. One of the things we always have to remember in these Israeli/Arab wars is that the Israeli Army has actually performed lamentably for decades now. They haven’t won a war in 37 years. 1973 was the last real victory the Israelis won.
The invasion of Lebanon in 1978 petered out in a long bloody occupation. 82’ was a disastrous massacre. The 1993 bombardment was hopeless. 1996 ended in the Qana Massacre. 2006 ended in another massacre. But I think the Israelis want another go and I think Hezbollah wants another go at it. I fear of course as you do that two things will take place. The civilian’s casualties will be grossly disproportionate. Vast areas of Lebanon will be destroyed infrastructure-wise and of course will be rebuilt afterwards. And the State Department, and I absolutely promise you this, the State Department will call on both sides to exercise restraint and both sides will know that they are lying. And the Israelis will tell America to get off side until they end up in another massacre or tragedy and then they will be pleading for a UN ceasefire and then the old UN donkey will clip clop in over the corpses and rubble and we will have another ceasefire until the next war and that’s how it goes on. If that seems cynical it’s because I live there.
CS: Well, since you do live in the area, what do you think the implications are for the massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates from the United States?
RF: Well its laughable, we all know who live in the region the Saudis can’t use this equipment. I mean 60 billion Dollars. Funny, I slipped it into my file. I don’t use Google or the Internet. I have real paper and books. I slipped it into my arms file and out popped another clipping from 12 years ago saying America was going to sell 60 billion dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.
I go to Saudi Arabia. You can see this stuff lying with sheets over it so sand doesn’t get in the works. By and large the Saudis can’t use it as equipment. It has to be used by the Americans or other Air Forces brought in to practice on it. But it’s a prestige thing and part of the relationship of the Saudis to the Americans, you protect us and we’ll buy your weapons, we’ll keep you solvent. Look, quite apart from the oil and that’s how the system works. It’s terribly corrupt, it helps nobody, it does not help the Saudi population. It certainly doesn’t help the Iranians who they think they are defending themselves against, or we have to persuade them they are. It helps the American arms manufacturers; it helps the economy of the weapons manufacturers. Not much else here. But that’s the way the system works. You know, it is one of the awful clichés one of the famous clichés. The famous Eisenhower quote about the Military Industrial Complex is correct and remains correct. Although like Chomsky’s Manufacturers Consent they become so true no one remembers them anymore.
CS: What do you think will be the outcome of the peace talks between the US, Israel and Palestine?
RF: First of all, we were told these latest meetings of Clinton, Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu and, heaven spare us, Blair as well, are the last chance for peace etc, if it was so important why wasn’t it held two months ago or five months ago? Why now?
Why, well because of the mid term elections. This is yet another ploy and as usual the Arabs and Israelis are trotted out to play their roll in the theatre, then they will be put to one side and there will be another war and we will say how did it happen and so forth. No long term plan.
Those days are gone. If you go to the West Bank as I say, I was in the West Bank, Israel and Gaza last week, it’s perfectly obvious that there is no chance for a Palestinian State. There will be a one State solution and the State I think will be called Israel.
And those Palestinian, which remain in the borders of that state which will stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, they will either disappear and leave to Syria or Europe, or San Francisco or Washington.; Or they will stay and be gassed out or guest workers for the Israelis.
You see the key is what is known as area C. Under the Oslo agreement Area C comprises about 62% of the West Bank a “putative Palestinian State.” In this area Israel has full occupational control. Other areas there’s shared responsibilities. And in one or two particular cities like Ramallah the Palestinians in theory, unless the Israelis stage a raid, are in control.
But area C now is effectively annexed off to Israel. When I went there, for example, quite apart from the fact that Jewish Colonies, which they are, forget the word settlements continue to expand, thicken in size. I was actually traveling with Amir Hass, who of course is the very admirable and fine Israeli journalist from Haaretz.
All of the villages we went to the Palestinian Muktas met us and served us tea and then they produced this huge file of documents from the Israeli occupational authority in Hebrew. Signed, although the signatures were illegible, saying that this man cannot build another story on his house or else his house will be destroyed. This man cannot build another story. So the families can’t expand, they can’t get married, they of course can go to Jordan, Lebanon, somewhere else. One of the weirdest laws is that the Palestinians in these villages near the sea, 62% cannot dig more than 3 inches into the ground. This is an obvious problem because then they cannot operate sewage or water but they cannot put up electricity poles because you can’t put a pole 3 inches into the ground, it will fall over. So what they’ve done, they’ve got these huge concrete blocks and laid them on the earth and stuck the electricity poles into the concrete block. Now how long do you keep hanging on in the face of what is clearly not only harassment but also is oppression?
When you talk to the Israelis they say “yes, yes, they can not go more than 3 inches in case they put a bomb in the ground.” So clearly area C, 62% of the West Bank, cannot be inside a Palestinian State. This means that as opposed to what we believe which is that Mahmoud Abbas is generously being allowed to negotiate for 22% of mandate Palestine, the original Palestine when the Brits were there, he is actually negotiated for 10.8 to 10.9 percent of Mandate Palestine. And that is a mistake. It is not viable. It is not workable, its not secure, it can’t work.
So I think, you know, the problem is that public opinion, partly because of us journalists and endless waffling of this peace process, it never was a peace process to begin with; they still believe there is hope. That there is light at the end of the tunnel, usual clichés, its gone, Palestine is gone and there isn’t going to be, I don’t believe there will be a Palestinian State.
I think there will one state and it will be called Israel and the project will have been completed. Now whether in the long term you can hold on to them.
I meet Jewish Americans, particularly in California and different parts of America who all but say, they say quite frankly, you know this Middle Eastern thing is a project, Zionist, Israeli, call it what you want, it may or may not work. For them security is here. I think if I was a Jewish American I would stay in America, and I only say that because many Jewish Americans tell me that is their choice too. But the idea that Israel is going to, even if it does effectively take all Arab land, which militarily it has already anyway, the idea that it is going to survive indefinitely we don’t know.
Everything at the end of the day depends on the relationship with the United States and as long as America gives it unconditional, uncritical support to Israel, right or wrong, there will be no peace. And that of course is a danger not just to the Israelis but to the Arabs as well.
There are many Israelis of course who believe this constant colonial expansion is going to destroy their home. I think they are right in saying that, but they are not necessarily a majority. One of the problems you have as a journalist who goes in and out of Israel, I mean I go to Israel from Lebanon via Jordan or Cypress, is that when I arrive you go to Tel Aviv which is a very European City, lovely restaurants, good music, I go to the art gallery, I mean I appreciate lots of the things about Israeli culture and society. And of course I go and seek out all those lefties and liberal Israelis who say the kind of things I want to be said about Israel. But when I get on the bus up to Jerusalem I don’t hear the same voices. There are settlers; there are Israelis who are actually not particularly educated. They may be immigrants from Russia; they haven’t learned Hebrew very well. Their views of Arabs are pretty much what you hear form Hamas about the Israelis.
So it comes down to the old question countless books are written about, what is this country Israel? Who lives in it? Who are these people? And Israelis ask these questions all the time in their newspapers. They are preoccupied by it and rightly so actually. But when you have a country and this crazy political system, I mean, poor old Israelis to have disproportional representation constantly producing these crazed minority governments. This country, with all these nuclear weapons. It’s a pretty sorry situation. I don’t know, I get up every morning in my apartment in Beirut and I hear the palm trees swaying and the Mediterranean sloshing until the cars come and start hooting. I wait and wonder where is the explosion today I ask myself.
The most dangerous thing are our masters, our leaders, the Obamas, the Bushs, the Blairs, the Camerons. They’re still promoting this total fantasy that there can still be peace in the Middle East. And there isn’t going to be. If we continue on this path there will continue to be war. As we have seen since WWII in the Middle East the wars have gotten steadily bigger, wider, worse entangling more and more countries. Now involving directly of course since 9/11 the United States since before 9/11. The days where we can go on colonial adventures and sit happily at home are gone. But we don’t realize that.
CS: You’ve called Ahmadinejad of Iran a “crack pot,” what do you think about Hamas?
RF: I have a very cynical view of Hamas they are very cynical organization and very arrogant.
You see, first of all, let’s run the narrative of history through from the beginning.
In 2006 the Palestinians were urged to have a democratic election. George Bush said “wonderful to have a democracy.” So the Palestinian went to vote, pesky Palestinians voted for the wrong people, they voted for Hamas. They didn’t vote for Hamas because they wanted an Islamic Republic, they voted for Hamas because they were sick and tired of the corruption of Mahmoud Abbas and Arafat and the whole Palestinian old fogies from Fatah.
It was brought home to me once, I was in Jerusalem and I got a call from Fatah “one of our officials’ home has been shelled by an Israeli tank,” I rushed down from my home in Jerusalem. There was the home, there was the hole, there was the Israeli tank. But what struck me when I went into the house amid the rubble was all the gold plated taps in the bathroom. There was the story. You don’t vote for people like that, you vote for people who are clean.
Anyway then, 2007 Hamas takes over very bloodily in the Gaza Strip. And they then will not conform to the Oslo agreement. Their argument of course, which was quite logical, was that the Israelis would not conform. Renegotiating Oslo and all these other places for a long time. But of course Hamas are not going to start out by acknowledging everything that Arafat did and then becoming the PLO or the Palestinian authority. But they’ve got very big heads.
You know it is a very corrupt organization, Hamas. They think they are the Hezbollah of the south. They’re not, they are nothing like Hezbollah. I remember one day there was this very big funeral in Gaza and all the Palestinians were shooting in the air. I remember watching this with a Hezbollah fighter in Lebanon and I said, “Hussein, what do you think of this?” “Well, we sympathize with them because they are martyrs, but why do they waste all of this ammunition?” It was a very interesting example of when you have a professional guerilla army as opposed to this ragtag bunch in Gaza.
Then you see you will remember certain other things, why are they really firing all these stupid tin pot missiles in to Israel to provoke an assault? Okay, you can provoke an assault if you can then fight the Israelis, but they couldn’t fight the Israelis. You know they killed at least 35 alleged Palestinian collaborators but only killed 13 Israelis of whom two were Arab Israelis, by the way. And then they lost 1,300 of there own people, most of them civilians. That is not a great victory. I mean, Hezbollah were very, very cynical and rightly so about Hamas performance. They were arrogant. They thought they could beat the Israelis and they ran away. The Israelis did not find their soldier so he was hid very well.
But Hamas, I’ve been down these tunnels by the way, one of them has got a railway line. The tunnels that go to Egypt. And Egypt, of course, is playing the colonial role of doing what the masters want as well by sealing off Gaza.
But these tunnels, Hamas takes a cut on the profits of at least five million a year. Some people put that at quadruple at 500 million a year and they need that money. The word I hear in Gaza, everybody profits. The Egyptians profit, they are backhanders to the Israelis to make sure they don’t actually bomb all the tunnels cause you’ve got to keep some of them open. So the tunnel system is a massive financial scam and Hamas holds the tap on it.
The reason I think Hamas turns back food when it does come in from Israel is because it is losing its scams on the tunnels. They’re losing taxation you see. So it’s okay, you can bring a few weapons through, you can bring donkeys and paint them like tigers at the zoo. Whatever you want to do. But at the end of the day Hamas is a totally compromised corrupt organization. It’s not the massive terrorist organization that Israel makes it out to be.
I mean Israel; I was in Gaza when Arafat was still pouncing around Beirut pretending to be the center of Arab Nationalism. And I was actually present when the Israeli Gaza commander, because they had a military base in Gaza, a big one, was negotiating with Hamas in a mosque in which I was present, and encouraging Hamas to build more mosques in Gaza as a counter balance to the horrible super terrorist, Arafat, who was up in Beirut. Then of course as we know the super terrorist turned out to be a super statesman and went to the White House on the night Hamas mosques were filled with super terrorists who had been talking to the Israelis.
In 1992-93 Israel expelled hundreds of Palestinians into Lebanon and they were stuck on the border. The Lebanese would not let them in.
There’s a very funny incident there, I used to go and down and talk some every few weeks, see how they were doing, they were cold, living in tents. One day I went there and I mentioned to them that I was going to Israel the next day via Cypress on this occasion. One of them got up; a big bearded man and rushed to a tent. When he came back he said “ Mr. Robert would you like Mr. Perez’ telephone number?” So I said yes, and took it down and it was his home telephone number. So here you go here are the elite of Israeli political society obviously talking to these Hamas men who were being abused on Israeli radio as the worst kind of terrorists in the history of the world. Of course one of the things you must realize is that all these people talk to each other. Hamas talks to the Israelis, the Israelis talk to Hamas. The Israelis talk to the Syrian Secret Service directly, not just through Turkey or wherever. But of course the newspaper version is that little Israel is fighting this vast sea of terrorism. It’s not like that. But this is a good story. It’s easy. It’s not controversial and journalists, they can get away with it so they did.
CS: You’ve lived the Middle East for at least 30 years. What keeps you going in that part of the world?
RF: I supposed observing the folly of mankind is not an easy thing to shake off. It’s not like an addiction but one does,
I can turn on Al Jazeera or even occasionally the BBC and hear the latest statements from Bush or Obama or Blair, they are so outrageous it is almost like a comedy theatre to listen to. A smile does cross my face. But if you really want to know why I really do it. I was 29 when I went to the Middle East. I am 64 now and I am still doing the same job, living in the same house, almost the same salary. I suppose the answer is really like reading a great historical novel. You know, you are reading War and Peace, Battle of Borodino, what would happen to Pierre? You’re reading late in bed and it is almost midnight, and I’ll just finish this chapter. Then you find yourself reading the next chapter. Then you say you will just finish the next chapter. Before you know you look up and see the sun coming through the curtains. It’s dawn and you’ve read all through the night. Cause you want to see what happens next you see. I think that is why I still work as a journalist in the Middle East. I want to know what happens next. It won’t be nice but I just desperate to see what happens in this path of human folly.
CS: We’re making a documentary about Venezuela and the demonization of Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution. You’ve seen the demonization of Arab countries and Arab leaders and it correlates to what’s happening in Venezuela. What do you think the US should be doing in the Middle East?
RF: Look; one of the themes of modern Middle Eastern History is that if you want to be a surviving dictator you’ve got to inaudible Mubarak, King Hussein, Little King Abdullah, inaudible came out to the King of Morocco. The President of Algeria, Gadhafi, now.
If you invade the right countries like Iran 1980 we will support a dictator. We don’t call him a dictator we call him a pro-western strongman on the AP wire. If you invade the wrong country like Kuwait then we will biff them. When King Idriss was overthrown by Gadhafi, the British foreign office wholeheartedly supported this fine young army Colonel called Moammar Gadhafi. We loved him.
The he got involved in the IRA, then he was involved in the bombing of Berlin night clubs so we biffed him too and had to bomb him. Then he said he was giving up nuclear weapons even though the average Libyan doesn’t seem to know how to repair a lavatory in a Tripoli Hotel, and we love him again, just because he is as much a crackpot as Ahmadinejad and Lieberman of Israel and all the rest.
So we switch on the bestiality system when these people go into bay. And usually when they go into bay, Nasser for instance at the time of nationalization of the Suez, Saddam in Kuwait and so on, is when they’ve donned the clothes of nationalism, have said that they now speak for the Arab people or all the Venezuelan people in the case of Chavez. Then that gets very dangerous because we are the people in the west decide who runs these countries and how they behave.
Egypt is a good example because it has always been obedient. Sadat crossed the canal but he actually did it rather well and after he wanted peace so that was okay with Israel.
But the demonization is easy to switch on and off and usually you use WWII. Saddam became the Hitler of the Tigress and we even called Nasser the Mussolini of the Nile in 1956 during the Suez war. I know the same comments have been made of Chavez as well.
And always when semi-dictators or slightly odd people, and Chavez is a bit odd, we have to admit this, decide that they will do what the people want rather than what the west wants then we will surround them and threaten them and that builds up their stature more and that projects them on to a world stage that makes them friends with Amadinejad and Gadhafi and a host of the worlds crackpot summit forum: Which alas, sometimes I have to cover as a journalist.
But I mean, there is no doubt that American Foreign policy is straightforward. You have your set of dictators and if they step out of line you bat them over the head and hope that they don’t and if they don’t you depose them and they’ll end up hanged like Saddam. But I think that basically what American policy is if you strip it down and look at it from the other point of view. But again, you see we are not talking about the most important issue, which is oil and control of oil. Control of oil doesn’t mean owning it or even owning the rights to explore reserves. It means insuring for the foreseeable future, i.e. eternity that the flow of oil continues at current or future necessary rates. And that of course is what Iraq was about. People can say it was about democracy, weapons of mass destruction and getting rid of Saddam. At the end of the day no matter how awful Saddam was, if the main national export of Iraq was asparagus or potatoes the 82nd Airborne would not have gone to Baghdad and that is a fact.
CS: What about Afghanistan? Why is the US and NATO in Afghanistan?
RF: Because major super powers want to be destroyed in Afghanistan. They always go there and they always get destroyed. The British did it in 1842; they did it again in 1878. We almost did it in 1919. The Russians did it in 1979, got thrown out in 88’ and then we come up in 2001.
Poor old Afghans I keep saying, poor old Afghans. Why are we in Afghanistan? It is preposterous human folly. Well, you know you can look and say gas pipelines from the former Soviet Muslim Republics to Pakistan, etc. I think there is a bit more to this; you see it’s not just about some post 9/11 anger over Al Qaeda.
It was a very odd way in which Taliban had to be destroyed because they wouldn’t give us Bin Laden. Although for a period they may have avoided destruction and we would have turned our backs on Burkas and women’s rights and gender equality and all these other projects, which we have. And indeed we know at one point the Taliban had been courted in Houston of all places because we wanted them to be involved in this wonderful gas project that would bring so much happiness and prosperity to Afghanistan.
I think, in the end you went there because you are an Empire and we were an Empire and the Lion still has a few whiskers. The same applies very much in Iraq. As well as the oil and fantasy in Israel, Empires have to project power. If they are bitten by a mosquito they must kill the mosquito and smash their fist so hard there are no more mosquitoes afterwards.
The projection of power is the lifeblood of Empires. The Romans did it. The Romans did it more wisely because they regarded everyone outside of their barriers as Barbarians, which is what we do, Taliban, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda. But once they grabbed the country they made all the people citizens of Rome.
I once tried to explain to a CIA officer in Kufa in Iraq that is the Americans had come to Iraq and offered all the Iraqis US passports there’d been no insurgency. The Iraqi’s would not have flooded into JFK. They would have said the Americans really do love us. That would be the end. But of course that would not have a policy that commended itself of the Bush administration or indeed to Mr. Blair. Because we don’t love them, we don’t even care about them. The Romans at least went through the motions.
I’m not recommending crucifixion here but you know Empires work this way. I remember once, this is going to Iraq; South of Baghdad I was investigating the murders of some Red Cross drivers. I was talking to an Iraqi family who I think saw the murder on the horrible, throat-cutting Highway 8. The ground had started to tremble but not the road. It was one of these big Brigade turn overs, largest since WWII. Up the road came this unstoppable, never ending, hour after hour convoy of M1-N1 Abrams Tanks, Bradley fighting armored vehicles, truck after truck, all with soldiers with their rifles pointed out like porcupine quills, shades over their eyes and all these Apache Helicopters over top.
I remember I sat on the side of the road with this poor Iraqi family that is just dumbstruck over this, and thinking, “if I had been a reported two thousand years ago I’d have been a little more to the west in Lebanon and it would have been the tramp of Roman legions I would have heard coming past me endlessly on the road.”
We can go to Baghdad. We will go to Baghdad, and we will send our Armies through the lands of Sumeria where civilization began you see. Empires are real. They breathe. They are very dangerous things just like governments. I think that in a way Afghanistan beckons in this poisonous way to Empires to go and show that they breathe you see.
We have surges now. Surges just mean reinforcements cause we are losing but we build it up into this massive Tsunami like unstoppable force. Like spikes and valleys where it comes down and goes up again, we mean increases in violence and their not going down. That’s the whole problem. But there you go; I think it’s about oil in Iraq. I think it’s about Empire in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who knows in Iran and Venezuela?
I don’t know how you switch it off. Historically there have been foreign invaders or economic collapse. I did Roman history and classics for my first degree, along with Linguistics. I still read about the fall of the Roman Empire. Not the movie or Hollywood version. It is true that the Goths, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths did a lot of invading of Roman territory but it was the Roman economy that brought it down. It collapsed in basically valueless products. And you know the postal system didn’t work so well and the bread didn’t arrive from Lebanon. So that’s also worth bearing in mind.
It was after all the final death of the British Empire was basically the end of the second World War when Britain went bankrupt and the Americans said, “okay it’s the end of lend lease we want our money please.” The idea that Empires collapse because of bearded men that get into the country on Visas issued by the CIA, or because soldiers get beat in Afghanistan, which like Vietnam does have a very critical point. At the moment the situation is that America and Britain are not losing sufficient numbers to have the serious effect it might otherwise have in the country. I mean it’s nothing like Vietnam casualties. I’m very struck by when I am in America for example that I see in the paper everyday, you know the New York Times, Chronicle, the LA Times, the little list of dead, Spc. So and So, age 24-26, and its almost like people killed in a storm or the flash flood last night. It is like it is a natural disaster now cause it’s not big enough to make an impact.
CS: Tell my listeners the story you told me earlier about Chavez and the leader of Hezbollah, Nasrallah.
RF: What was particularly funny at the time, when the Israeli bombardment of Southern Lebanon ended with the actual flooding the country of cluster bombs we went into the villages, some of which were refuse, heaps of rubble and they stank as the bodies of villagers were still under the rubble. But where the Mukta village leaders had survived, Fisk would always rush up and say, “so what do you think about all this?” And they would always proclaim their everlasting love of Hezbollah. And I’d say, do you like Nasrallah the leader of Hezbollah? They would always say, “we like two people, Nasrallah and Chavez.” I was actually with a Washington Post reporter who would double up with laughter each time. They all said this, they hadn’t been prompted, they actually believed this. I said, “why” to one of them, I can’t remember the name of the place, Rehan? Rihanna? I said to this guy, “why do you like Chavez? “He said, ”because he is really like Nasrallah, he really makes Bush angry.”
CS: While we were in Venezuela we interviewed one of the Deputy Foreign Ministers, Temir Porres, and I asked him if he thought the US Empire would collapse probably sooner than later? His answer was, “I hope so!” What are your thoughts on that?
RF: One of the things we don’t think about, America could if it wanted to be a great source of strength and goodness in the Middle East if it would get rid of it’s obsessions about Democracy, about Israel and actually treat everyone with the same fairness. Including Israel.
You’ve got to remember at the end of the first World War, which was partly fought to destroy the Ottoman Empire, you still had a vast stretch of land from the Mesopotamian Persian border, Iraq and Iran, all the way to the Atlantic, and many US service officers in the State Department who were counsels to the dying Ottoman Empire, places like Beirut, Tripoli, Constantinople, were all petitioning the State Department as were the American NGO’s, (there were missionaries there), to have one modern Arab Nation that would be a Democracy, be like the Democracies of Europe. Which the west would put all it’s treasure and financial and medical help. Not it’s military, but all its economic power to bring in to be one Arab Nation united as a Democracy.
Wilson died; isolationism had set in on Congress and the House. And of course the British and the French had already chopped up the Middle East for themselves under the Sykes-Pekoe agreement and produced this wondrous success story it is today. There was a moment when, and amazingly Arabs far apart from the Israelis still had this buried hope in America. That’s why Obama got away with his initial months of saying, we’re reaching out to Muslim world. Some of them actually believed it. All over again. After all the evidence they believed it.
I went to see Obama in Cairo when he spoke and it’s funny. When you see these guys as opposed to just seeing them on a flat screen you pay more attention to their words and there were lots of tripwires in his speech. The “relocation “of the Palestinians in ‘48 like they got up in the morning and said, “let’s go to Lebanon.” Its heart was in the right place and of course the Arab elites wanted this to work. It was very interesting. When he spoke at Cairo University I got into. The Egyptians present were all members of the pro-regime, pro-American upper middle class elite of society. There was nobody there who was going to be shouting Islamic statements to Obama.
And of course it wasn’t going to happen.