SADDAM AND JOE….Question: to what extent should you accept or discard a report based on the ideology of its author? Without knowing who wrote the following, what do you think of this dispatch from Baghdad?
At other times, President Saddam sounded like his hero, Joseph Stalin. “They have come to destroy our country and we must stand and destroy them and defend our people and our country … Cut their throats … They are coming to take our land. But when they try to enter our cities, they try to avoid a battle with our forces and to stay outside the range of our weapons.”
Was this, one wondered, modelled on the Great Patriotic War, the defence of Mother Russia under Uncle Joe?
….it’s also possible to imagine just how long President Saddam and his army and Baath party militias can endure, a sobering thought for those of us sitting in the Iraqi capital and only too well aware that the Stalingrad symbolism might turn out to be real. Saddam’s tactics are clearly those of Stalin.
Is this (a) an interesting commentary on Saddam’s likely tactics? Or (b) ridiculous shilling on Saddam’s behalf?
Well, I came across this on OxBlog, where David Adesnik says this:
But wait, you say, isn’t that a pretty accurate comparison? Sure it is…unless it is meant as praise for Saddam.
But wait, you say, how could a comparison with Stalin ever be considered praise? Don’t worry, it can. After all, Stalin did hold out against the Wehrmacht for more than two years at a time when military experts predicted the fall of Moscow within six weeks.
Yep, it’s Robert Fisk. But frankly, if I hadn’t known that before I read it I would have chosen (a), feeling that this was an intriguing look into how Saddam himself views this war. And now, even though I do know it’s Fisk, I’d still choose (a).
Just because Fisk is anti-war and anti-American doesn’t mean his reports can’t have some interesting insights, and I think this one does. He may be wrong, but we do ourselves no favors when we casually dismiss things simply because we don’t like the ideology of the messenger. The Battle of Baghdad won’t last two years, but it may yet turn out to be a pretty serious fight.
UPDATE: Let me be more clear about this. I’ve read a number of Fisk’s pieces, and I don’t like his strident anti-Americanism any better than any other American would. But the fact remains that he has been reporting from the Arab world for a long time, has a lot of contacts that American reporters don’t, and is obviously extremely knowledgable about his beat. Of course you need to take his biases into account ? he is writing commentary, after all ? but even with a skeptical reading it’s possible to extract a lot of interesting information from his reports that’s not available to (or not wanted by) the mainstream American media. The fact that he doesn’t like the war and sympathizes with the Arab cause doesn’t necessarily make his facts wrong or his opinions automatically stupid.