Tuesday, April 7, 2009


The Age of the Warrior, by Robert Fisk

Reviewed by Frank McLynn

Robert Fisk is probably the most celebrated foreign correspondent in Britain, and rightly so. This selection of his journalism finds him at full throttle as he inveighs against a host of familiar, but wholly deserving targets: Bush, Blair, the Iraq war, the insane Western policy towards the Middle East. His loathing of Blair, "this vain, deceitful man, this proven liar... who has the blood of thousands of Arab men, women and children on his hands", will strike a chord with millions. Fisk has an equal detestation of "Dubya" Bush, but by now there is nothing more to be said about a man whom history will surely judge as the worst US president ever.

Fisk, who knows the Middle East backwards and is an Arabist, can find almost no consolation when he surveys the area: 150,000 people died in a civil war in Lebanon in 1975-90, caused by the West's meddling, but, since they were not Brits or Americans, no one cares. Another 200,000 died in Algeria when "our sonofabitch" government decided to ignore the results of an election, but there is no pro-democratic regime change there engineered by Washington. Turkey denies that its genocide of the Armenians in 1915 took place, yet its aspirations to join the EU are still taken seriously, again because of US pressure.

As Fisk scathingly remarks, Bush ("the David Irving of the White House") can warn us that Iran is a possible cause of a Third World War yet cannot tell the truth about Turkey in the First. Some of his choicest invective is reserved for Israel: "When Israelis are involved, our moral compass, our ability to report the truth dries up." It has got to the point of doublethink that Webster's Dictionary actually defines "antisemitism" as "opposition to the state of Israel".

Fisk is brilliant at dissecting the clichés, bromides, stock phrases and euphemisms the Western media use when cosying up to Israel. My favourite is the nonsense whereby, whenever an Israeli soldier shoots someone dead, the victim is always described as caught in "crossfire". Fisk has been accused of exaggeration, but the Israel Defence Force recently sought to justify the killing of the British film-maker James Miller by an Israeli soldier, saying he should have realised the dangers of "crossfire".

Fisk's pessimism is not even tempered when he regards his own colleagues. He has some good stories about the cliché-ridden "training" of journalists in the 1960s, where drunken, cynical old hacks would preach the virtues of "hard news" to callow trainees. Fisk makes the valuable point that the ideology of the concrete so beloved by this school of journalists always has the net effect of giving the status quo and its supporters an easy ride. So far from achieving "balance", the "just the facts" approach actually buttresses existing elites.

Fisk is accused of going over the top in his savage indignation, but my main complaint is that he is not savage enough. He rightly sees the humbug and hypocrisy of the Clintons, but does not really go for the jugular. A strong case can be made that Bill's sexual shenanigans cost the Democrats the 2000 presidential election and lumbered us with "Dubya". Yet in general, 500 pages of his truthful scorn left me wanting more. O brave old world, that has such journos in it.

Frank McLynn's latest book is 'Heroes and Villains' (BBC Books)

[reposted from The Independent (London)]