March 20, 2003

John Burns Regular readers might

John Burns

Regular readers might wonder, if you disparage the NYT so much, why do you continue reading it? One reason is John Burns, who in my opinion, is the greatest correspondent the NYT has. Who can forget his tremendously heartfelt yet sober, elegant yet blunt, panoramic yet highly specific reportage during the height of the Sarajevo seige? Via Andrew Sullivan, here's what Burns had to say on PBS last night:

"Iraqis have suffered beyond, I think, the common understanding of the United States from the repression of the past 30 years here. And many, many Iraqis are telling us now, not always in the whispers he have heard in the past but now in quite candid conversations, that they are waiting for America to come and bring them liberty. It's very hard though for anybody to understand this. It can only be understood in terms of the depth of the repression here. It has to be said that this not universal of course... All I can tell you is that as every reporter who has come over here will attest to this, there is the most extraordinary experience of the last few days has been a sudden breaking of the ice here, with people in every corner of life coming forward to tell us that they understand what America is about in this. They are very, very fearful of course of the bombing, of damage to Iraq's infrastructure. They are very concerned about the kind of governance, the American military governance, that they will come under afterward. Can I just say that there is also no doubt - no doubt - that there are many, many Iraqis who see what is about to happen here as the moment of liberation."

We must hope this war proceeds with minimum civilian casualties and expeditiously. We must hope for, as rapidly as it is safe to do so, allowing Iraqis to gain control of their polity so that a swaggering MacArthur like figure doesn't become a lighting rod for anti-American sentiment through the region. But these hugely important variables aside, read intently what Burns is stating: Saddamism (a brutish, tribal form of neo-Stalinism) is beginning to crumble under the pressure Dubya has placed on the Baathist regime even before the war has begun in earnest. And, most Iraqis would view Saddam's displacement as a liberation. Of course no one wants to be liberated under a hail of bombs--yet still Iraqis are "waiting for America to come and bring them liberty" knowing, tragically, that massive bombing campaigns are imminent.

Burns isn't some impressionable young hack, some Pyle-like figure out of a Graham Greene novel--full of Yankee idealism and thirsting to bring democracy to the natives. This is a great war correspondent who has been around the block for decades telling us something very important--that most Iraqis view the potential fruits of this war as their liberation. What could be more important?

Posted by Gregory at March 20, 2003 11:34 AM
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