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An interview with Robert Fisk

An in-depth interview on the history and contemporary situation in the Middle East.

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Robert Fisk (born 1946) is a household name among foreign correspondents. We harbored some faint hope that this occasion might arise. And it did. Meeting Robert is like being transferred back in time to a novel from the Cold War days. Aside from our initial projections, Robert is quite down-to- earth. We met him at a seaside café in Beirut on a sunny day where he shared his experience with us. At once close to and remote from the current drama in the neighborhood of Lebanon.

KULTURVERK: Amidst all the carnage and conflict you have experienced, what truly inspires you to go on? What is the guiding light in your life?

Robert Fisk: Well, I suppose at the end of the day, I realize that I am watching History. Which is quite a privilege. A cursed privilege in this part of the world, but it is still a privilege. I think it has a lot to do with my father who was a soldier in World War One. And in the seventeen months after this war, the victors, who were primarily the British and the French created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and the Middle East.

And I spent my entire professional career in Belfast, in Yugoslavia, ex-Yugoslavia, and in the Middle East watching the people in those borders burn. I think that this is a great tragedy of history, and a tragedy of great history. And the knowledge and understanding of that must lie at the centre of any reporting and analysis you write about this region. Because the people here know the history very well. We do not know it that well.

Photo: KULTURVERK

The narrative was that the Irish were constantly resisting the pleasures and democracy of British rule. Not unlike the Iraqis. And that, you know, every time we invaded they ungenerously greeted us by trying to kill us. That they were a treacherous people etc., which was pretty much what Churchill said in World War Two. That lasted about a month. After which I saw British soldiers beating up Catholic civilians and smashing windows.

I hate seeing these leaders coming and give press conferences in Beirut or anywhere else. And they start telling people about the history of the Middle East. I once remember Clinton turned up in Islamabad in Pakistan and told the audience on the state television: “Your history is as old as the Indus river” or something like that. Jesus Christ, they know this already.

We are very good at telling their history. Our colonial objective. Colonial not in the sense of colony, but in a sense of ruling that has always been to emphasize the divisions in society. A few years ago, New York Times Magazine had a front cover about Iraq: “How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ?”. That was the headline. I said why not just drop it by parachute over Baghdad. Maybe it would help them.

You know I stay up late at night reading books, turning the pages. One more chapter, one more page and suddenly you see dawn coming through the curtains because you have been reading all night. What happens next? And that I think this is what keeps me going. But I also think there are so much lies, wickedness and hypocrisy that it needs journalism to expose it constantly so that people know “the truth”. I hate to use that in quotation marks, but you know there is no objective truth. It is not on a supermarket shelf. But at least we have an idea that it is not what they are being told by their bloody governments and their bloody armies.

Northern Ireland

I don’t think America cares about people in the Middle East.The Saudis are bombing civilians in Yemen. Erdogan is locking up tens of thousands of people in Turkey. President Sisi in Egypt is locking up thousands without trial. But we don’t fire cruise missiles at them. So what is the point at firing curise missiles at Syria?

They know they are being lied to. So, in a sense I always feel I am writing to friends, who are the readers. Some of them may hate you, but they read you. An Israeli officer once said to a colleague of mine: “We do not like Robert Fisk, but we read him”. And I said: “That is enough. You do not have to like me, just read me.” And I think this keeps me going. Fortunately, I work for a news organization that allows me to tell exactly what I see, in my own words, and does not touch it. And if you do not get that you should not be in a war zone and you should not be a reporter. That is the answer to your question.

KV: How influential was your coverage of Northern Ireland on your current reporting?

RF: Oh, very much so. I went to Northern Ireland when I was 23 or 24 years old, and I did not know much about Irish history then. Though I knew a bit, since I had been to Ireland before. At that the war had already started. British soldiers had been killed. And I think like most of my colleagues I regarded the Irish, then, as being an intemperate people who had a pub on every corner. That bit was true, there was a pub on every corner in Belfast.

The narrative was that the Irish were constantly resisting the pleasures and democracy of British rule. Not unlike the Iraqis. And that, you know, every time we invaded they ungenerously greeted us by trying to kill us. That they were a treacherous people etc., which was pretty much what Churchill said in World War Two. That lasted about a month. After which I saw British soldiers beating up Catholic civilians and smashing windows.

And I started to report about the lies of the British Army. For instance, I found out that they were sending Special Forces across the border to the Republic. We put this story on the front page and I was accused of being an IRA agent by the British Army, who ordered me to withdraw. My editor stood by me. Eventually the special branch came to my house in Northern Ireland demanding that I go to the police station for interrogation. I told I would follow in the car. I got in the car and drove as fast I could to the Irish Republic and stopped in Dublin.

Photo: KULTURVERK

I said from the start there will not be another civil war in Lebanon. There will be bombs, explosions and assassinations. But there will not be another war.

Within two or three hours I was being identified as being “a terrorist agent, a liar, a person who should be arrested, who illegally had documents in possession that was the property of Her Majesty’s government.” This is the literal quote. At one point the number two at the British Embassy in Dublin came to my hotel and said he wanted documents from me. I refused and he left immediately when I going to call the Irish police.

But that is how bad it got. And it taught me something. At the time, it was not so much fun as it is in recalling it now, because basically I won the war. But I did not know I was going to then. And it taught me that my own government, and my own army, lie and commit abuses and crimes. And if you write about it they will be more frighten of you than vice versa.

After that, I went for a year in the aftermath of the Portuguese revolution, which did not have much effect. But when I came to the Middle East and I was dealing with the Egyptians, the civil war here in Lebanon and the Syrians, I knew how to fight. And you must fight a political battle if you are a journalist in a war zone.

KV: This was a formative period for you?

RF: I do not think it was a formative period like it shaped me. It taught me that you must stand up to power all the time. And you must always question them.

KV: Will the recent illegal US attack on a Syrian airbase change anything?

RF: As usual the US press, who correctly identified their President as mad, both before and after the election, are now reverting to the old understanding that America must have good reasons to do what is does.

Trump doesn’t read. He watches CNN at night. He saw the pictures of dying children. And he got upset. And suddenly let fly the missiles. I think Putin realizes what kind of man Trump is.

Lebanon is like a magnificent Rolls-Royce with leather seats, flat screen TV, cocktail in the back seat, and square wheels. It is not going to move. Which may save it.

I don’t think America cares about people in the Middle East.The Saudis are bombing civilians in Yemen. Erdogan is locking up tens of thousands of people in Turkey. President Sisi in Egypt is locking up thousands without trial. But we don’t fire cruise missiles at them. So what is the point at firing curise missiles at Syria? The Americans kill a few people, they bash up an airbase (which is back in use within 24 hours). Do they think that this is going to stop the Syrian war?

KV: You live in Beirut where tensions still are high and memories of war are plenty. Do you see any imminent threat of the raging war in Syria spreading to Lebanon?

RF: Absolutely not. At the very beginning of the Syrian war I was being invited to Lebanese television. In English, French and Arabic. And I always refused in Arabic because it was such a sensitive topic I was bound to make a mistake. I said from the start there will not be another civil war in Lebanon. There will be bombs, explosions and assassinations. But there will not be another war, for two reasons.

First of all, Lebanon has been through a civil war. It has been inoculated.  And people in Lebanon have a folk memory, unless they are too young to remember it. The war was a great tragedy for everybody here. And Lebanese did not win. The Israelis did not win, either. Nor did the Syrians. But the Lebanese definitely did not win.

The second reason was that during the civil war many of the parents who had money – not necessarily the wealthy elite – sent their children abroad to be educated in the US, Geneva, London or Paris. And when they came back after the war they could not understand the sectarian society. They were not necessarily against this, but they thought it was silly and infantile. They now longer had time for it. They did not want to discuss it. And they certainly were not going to obey it.

At the same time, there was a maturing of political leadership. Not the sort of Falangist or the old people, but the younger generation of leaders. Hassan Nasrallah, for example. Thank God, he is an intellectual and intelligent man. Michel Aoun, the President of Lebanon, is not. He is a crackpot. You have a younger generation that will not tolerate war by sectarianism. Of course, if they are invaded by Israel they will fight back. Because that makes sense.

Photo: KULTURVERK

Today we have largely lost our faiths. Whether that is because of the Congress of Vienna or World War One, I do not know. Our gods (or idols) in the West tend to be Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross or entities like the Protocols of Geneva, Norwegian aid etc.

There might be some ISIS at the border, but there will not be another civil war in Lebanon. Now people invite me back on television to remind them that I did say that. They do remember that I got it right, when all the local commentators and the think tanks and the Institute of Preposterous Affairs in Washington were talking about a spill over. And I objected. Not only because I have been here a long time and I thought that I was right. Not because I was big arrogant Westerner, but I was the only Westerner saying that at the time. It did not make a lot of new headlines at the time, of course. It is not a big story, is it?

KV: But is not the understanding between the Shia community/Hezbollah and the Christians a kind of “safety valve”?

RF: Yes, I mean Hezbollah is still sort of supporting Aoun for the Presidency. But they do not like him. All he wants is power and Hezbollah knows that. Nasrallah knows that too, though he sounds presidential in his speeches. It is as if Nasrallah thinks he is the president. I think what lies behind all this is something that most people do not appreciate.

The Parliament is generally shaped to reflect the power, in numerical terms, of the various communities. But in fact, it does not really represent the Shiites. Now if they did have more seats in parliament, then you would have everyone saying “they’re going to create an Islamic Republic”. Instead they tolerate that Hezbollah remains armed.

Try to explain this to an audience in Washington. The Americans say that “the Lebanese Army is the army of the sovereign state of Lebanon, they must disarm the Hezbollah which is a terrorist organization”. The Shiites, who compose a large part of the army, have their uncles, cousins and brothers in Hezbollah. What are these people supposed to do? Go into the homes and shoot their families? This is how the civil war began, when the Lebanese Army split apart in 1975, when you had the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese Arab Army.

The army is not going to overthrow Bashar. Who is going to take his place? Have you noticed any great towering eloquent figures of Syria? Well there might be somebody living in great five-star hotels in Istanbul, but they are not in Damascus.

The problem in Lebanon is that once you create a sectarian society you cannot disentangle it. It is like getting cancer: it is very difficult to get it out of the system. And even down to the checkpoints: you abandon a checkpoint; some other militia will take it over. Sectarianism is the identity of Lebanon. If you deconfessionalize Lebanon it will seize to exist. The identity disappears.

And you have this beautiful country with its wonderful food, Roman ruins in Baalbek, crusader castles and snow-capped mountains. Not to mention the immensely talented people, in the most literal sense of the word. They are very well educated. Lebanon is like a magnificent Rolls-Royce with leather seats, flat screen TV, cocktail in the back seat, and square wheels. It is not going to move. Which may save it.

KV: What is the main difference between the West and the Middle East?

RF: In the Middle East, most of the people are Muslims. And they have, or believe they have, kept their faith. They believe the idea of Islam dominates their family, their prayers, their thoughts, the way they die, the way they live, in way that Christianity used to, maybe 200 years ago, in our Western societies. Today we have largely lost our faiths. Whether that is because of the [post-Napoleonic] Congress of Vienna or World War One, I do not know.

Our gods (or idols) in the West tend to be Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross or entities like the Protocols of Geneva, Norwegian aid etc. And the big problem I suspect here is that the question for Arab Muslims, not all Muslims (for instance the Malaysians), is this: How come the people who kept their faith have come to be dominated economically, militarily, socially and culturally by a people who have largely lost their faith? That lies at the heart of al-Nusra, ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood and all Islamist-type insurrections against “the Other” (e.g. the West).

Photo: KULTURVERK

The only working institution in the Syrian state is the Syrian Army. Whether you like it or not. They are fighting for their country. When an army likes fighting it will win. Whether you like it or not. If soldiers come back to fight when they still are wounded, they will win.

KV: Before Christmas, Aleppo was burning in the media as bombs fell and carnage ensued. What do you believe will be the outcome of the war in Syria, and why?

RF: I think the Syrian Army will come to effectively control all of Syria under Russian protection. Bashar is not going to be thrown out, unless he gets shot. He will remain the president at large. But the Syrian Arab Army will have to rebuild Syria. They have lost 65.000 soldiers at minimum. Dead. I am not talking about the wounded. For them, that is a sacrifice which must be repaid. And the only repayment is going to be “you are in charge of Syria”. And I can spot some people there who might be capable of doing that.

It is not going to be this sort of simplistic Western idea of a coup d’état. That is not going to happen. Because Baathism as an idea remains alive in Syria, even if it does not in Iraq. And given the fact that the basis of Syrian society, I am talking about government, is supposed to be secularism you cannot abandon the Baath party. The army is not going to overthrow Bashar. Who is going to take his place? Have you noticed any great towering eloquent figures of Syria? Well there might be somebody living in great five-star hotels in Istanbul, but they are not in Damascus.

But at the moment, the war will carry on because both sides think they are going to win. And all sides are pouring weapons and money into the creation of further power elements who are destroying the country.

KV: Are there really any good solutions ahead for Syria?

RF: There are no solutions anywhere. There are only resolutions in the Middle East.

The idea that the Iranians are sitting there and calibrating their missiles is ridiculous. They do not need to. You know, one of the problems here is [that many believes that] they need the Russians to fire the guns. They do not. Arabs have been firing weapons for longer than any else in the world in the last fifty years.

KV: What do you believe is a realistic end to the Syrian war? And what do you think would be an ideal solution?

RF: Reconstruction. Getting all those refugees to go back. The problem of the refugees is that, for example in the Beqaa Valley, they are illiterate. How can you rebuild a country if you cannot read? How can you know how many metres long the wall of this new building is supposed to be if you do not understand what a meter is? You cannot read mathematics and you cannot even read Arabic. So, you have a returning population of refugees to Syria who want to go back. They do not want to live in Lesbos or Lebanon or Jordan or Turkey.

And the only working institution in the Syrian state is the Syrian Army. Whether you like it or not. They are fighting for their country. When an army likes fighting it will win. Whether you like it or not. If soldiers come back to fight when they still are wounded, they will win. And I have seen them and talked to them, and they let me talk to soldiers on my own.

They used to take me on their retreats. Can you believe it? My wife and I were with them as they pulled out of towns under fire because they wanted to show us the reality of what was happening. And I wrote about it, that they were retreating. That is why they need Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Russian fire power from the air.

KV: Iran has played an important part in the Syrian war together with Hezbollah.  Do you see a positive role for Iran in the region?

RF: Hezbollah fights to win, like the Syrian army. Hezbollah is much better equipped than the Syrians, by the way. Better weapons, better boots, better sniper rifles. Regarding Iran: I think they are probably going to be the most powerful country in the region. I am keeping Israel out of this as a special case, for all kinds of reasons. It is a sort of extension of the West in many ways.

Iranian forces

There has been an evolution in the years that I have been here. The population has become more educated. And it is also a population that has learned through hard, tragic experience: that they are on their own and that they must have their own ideas. No point in relying on America, France, Britain or Iran. That is why the Lebanese survive. They only believe in Lebanon.

And you have got this Iranian nuclear deal. The deal has been cemented. It is on record. The problem is that it has been destroyed by various elements within the US institutions who want to undermine the end of sanctions by threatening banks to the degree that they cannot support the investments that Iran needs.

This naturally supports those who are convinced that America form the start is in bad faith. And that means that they will grow and gain political prestige and power inside Iran. That those who want to have a new relationship with the West are crushed. Thus, the American-Iranian-Shia relationship crumbles. Because the greatest supporters of those who do not want that relationship, inside Iran, are within the American institutions, and particularly in Israel and with Israeli friends within the American institutions. Whether you call that the Israeli lobby or the Jewish lobby, does not matter.

KV: Is Shia Islam winning politically?

RF: I think the answer to your questions is yes.

KV: Does Iran have any influence in Yemen?

RF: I do not believe that the Iranian support for the Houthis is anything like some people claim it to be. There is no evidence at all that the Iranians have given weapons to the Houthis. They may have done. But we have no evidence. Not of a single Kalashnikov with any physical proof that they come from Iran. In a sense, you (Magne and Stein) are already following the Washington narrative.

If you go back in Yemeni history, it was never an Iranian story until six years ago. It was a Yemeni story. It was a civil war story. The Iranian element of the story only came in about four or five years ago. And it was particularly emphasized when the Saudis began bombing the Houthis, because obviously, you were “bombing the Iranians”.

Houthi fighters in Yemen

[Putin] sees militant Islam as being anti-civilization.  It goes back to Byzantium. I think Putin is fascinated by Istanbul, Constantinople. Because it is where the great battle took place.

The idea that the Iranians are sitting there and calibrating their missiles is ridiculous. They do not need to. You know, one of the problems here is [that many believes that] they need the Russians to fire the guns. They do not. Arabs have been firing weapons for longer than any else in the world in the last fifty years.

I heard an interesting story the other day. Actually, I heard it from a friend of mine that came from Yemen, who had met in prison a Yemeni Shiite who had been invited to Teheran via Damascus to learn how to permeate the Houthis with Iran’s influence. And he made his way to Teheran.  Eventually he was taken to a training camp, in which he was taught how to distribute money to contractors to rebuild streets and houses. He was not taught how to drive a T-54 tank, was he? He was not taught how to refine the magnetic aiming mechanism of a missile. He was taught how to rebuild with Iranian money and don’t spend and told “don’t spend too much and scatter the money”.

But if you are a Wahhabi – which is Qatar and Saudi-Arabia only – then your vision is very clear-cut. Shiism is their apostate enemy. And it does not matter how many times you reopen the embassy in Teheran, for an example. Shiism is the enemy that they will try to destroy in any form. And when you get desperate, when you think the Americans are leaving you (which I think they are), when you see that your murderous friends are not winning in Syria or in Iraq, you panic. You start lashing out.

The Saudi power resides in a thousand princes or two thousand, depending on your point of view. These people do not have a sophisticated view of the world. They joy the world. They go on holiday to Cannes, they go to nightclubs in London or a Playboy club, whatever. But their view is quite clear-cut when they get home.

I have a good friend that is a Saudi journalist. When he came to Egypt with his family, his wife was sitting at the table.  When I went to his home in Riyadh, his wife was kept in the background. I never saw her. He is a nice guy. So is his family, by the way. I am not bringing him into the story. But I am just saying that you have this: once a Saudi is at home he is not the guy you meet in Washington.

The President of Ukraine ran away. He is somewhere in Russia. We do not even see him. He left Kiev, but Assad did not leave Damascus. He fought on. And the Russians admire the Syrian Army for fighting.

KV: Should we regard the wars in Syria and Yemen as separate and isolated events or as parts of a larger grid?

RF: There is nothing separate in the Middle East. It is all connected. It is all part of the Arab awakening. It is all part of the evolution of Arab society where people have begun to realize that they should own their own land. Whether it be the house, the street, their country, the Ummah. You name it. I mean, you can apply this to ISIS, you can apply it to middle class liberals (there are not many left of the latter in Egypt).

There has been an evolution in the years that I have been here. The population has become more educated. And it is also a population that has learned through hard, tragic experience: that they are on their own and that they must have their own ideas. No point in relying on America, France, Britain or Iran. That is why the Lebanese survive. They only believe in Lebanon.

KV: What about the Kurds?

RF: The Kurds are born to be betrayed.  They were betrayed by Kissinger and the Algiers agreement between Iraq and Iran. The Kurds are very brave, but they constantly make the mistake of trusting other people. Whether it be the British, the Iraqis, the Turks or the Americans.

And do you think they will get their freedom in the YPG area? No, again. And the Turks are very happy with that. And this is why I don’t think Turkey is really against the Assad regime. And again, in the future after you and I are in [our graves] or wherever we go to, the Kurds will still be betrayed.

KV: Exactly. To what extent is the Russian engagement in Syria a pre-emptive war?

RF: It is! 100%. Look, I go to Russia every two or three years. If you go to the Kremlin you can get quite high up. Almost as if you are on the Kremlin walls. And if you look to the south, there is Grozny. And Middle East is not in the ‘Middle East’. It is south. And immediately after Grozny you see the minarets of Damascus. It is the same war.

Putin at Mount Athos

Who cares about the Palestinians now? That is the real question. Because all this regional nuclear heat has obscured the Palestinian question, where the Israelis continue to build colonies on land which does not belong to them. Which is not their property.

Putin again and again has expressed his absolute hatred, vitriol hatred, for Islamism. That it is sectarian and visceral. Forget about the school killings and so on. He sees militant Islam as being anti-civilization.  It goes back to Byzantium. I think Putin is fascinated by Istanbul, Constantinople. Because it is where the great battle took place.

KV: Is it a continuation of Byzantium?

RF: In a sort of way, yes.

KV: It is a pre-emptive war before it spreads to the Caucasus.

RF: The President of Ukraine ran away. He is somewhere in Russia. We do not even see him. He left Kiev, but Assad did not leave Damascus. He fought on. And the Russians admire the Syrian Army for fighting.  The Economist had a very arrogant piece about Syria last autumn. According to them, the Syrian Army is not capable of fighting a real war. What have they been doing? Losing five or six thousand dead, right? And [in] a recent film at the Khmeymim Russian air base Syrian soldiers, according to the Economist, could hardly keep step and march in line.

I think the Russians have an admiration for the Syrians because they do not give in. Not because they are brutal, which of course they are. Or savage in their attacks, which of course they are, as are the attacks on them. But [the Russians admire them] because they see the Syrian Army as being a wall against the dangerous perversion of religion, which ISIS represents.

KV: But simultaneously, Putin also admires Muslims living in Russia.

RF: Of course, yes! Why not? Do you think the President of Chechnya is not his friend? He brought all these clerics to Grozny to condemn the Wahhabis.  And effectively, to disenfranchise Saudi-Arabia and the Islamic State.

Stay away from Syria. Western military forces have no moral justification to be in the Middle East. This is not our land. These are not our people. This is not our property. We should leave. By all means, send your doctors, aid workers, architects, people who know how to build bridges. Though these people are pretty good at building bridges.

KV: But Putin’s aversion for Wahhabism is sort of matched by an admiration for the Shiites. Like the Iranian Shiites.

RF: I think that his relationship with Iran has always been fairly straight forward. The Russians are not giving them aggressive weapons. They are not giving them missiles to bombard Tel Aviv. The Russians do not want Iran to be a nuclear power. And though, here again you see, we are locked into the Iranian “nuclear power danger”.

What about Pakistan? It has got nuclear weapons! It is a fragmented state and it is bananas! It is full of islamists. But we do not care about Pakistan. They are the “moderate” neighbors to the East or the West, or whatever we dream up they are. You see, I do not find anything strange about the Russian-Iranian relationship. It is very straightforward, it is very pragmatic and both sides fully understand each other. Much better than the Iranians and the Americans do.

Putin’s concern, first of all, is the guarantee of Russian security. And secondly, a guarantee of his role in history as a guarantor of Russian security. [Some say] he is getting very weary and tired at night. Do not be fooled, he will be able to go through four more years. And I think, you know, his pragmatism is so much at odds with America’s moralism. Remember the Crimean War? The British were on the Turkish Muslim side, and so were the French.

KV: What is your take on Israel’s current role, clandestine or otherwise in the Syrian war?

RF: They are supporting al-Nusra and take care of their wounded members. They are not doing that to wounded Syrian soldiers. No doubt they want them for intelligence operations and spies inside Nusra. This really came to the fore when an Israeli ambulance was stopped by an Israeli Druze who dragged out the Nusra fighter and lynched him. Murdered him. It did not get a lot of publicity in the Israeli press. But it was true, and it happened.

There are no relations to reality, to history, to culture, to understanding. All these universities. What are they for? To produce this infantile creep who comes along and tells the press what the story is? And they all repeat it.

The Israelis do not bomb ISIS, they do not bomb Nusra. They bomb the Syrian Army and they bomb Hezbollah.  That is all you need to know. Later on, they can deal with Damascus, of course. I do not think people care about Israel’s policy any more than they think they care about what America’s policy is. Those days are over.

I remember after the 2011 revolutions, I met an Egyptian army intelligence officer who was with the anti-Mubarak people. I met him in Alexandria and said: “I gathered the American sixth fleet is heading to the Mediterranean”. He said: “What do I care. They can go to Iceland if they want”. Ten years ago, he would have asked: “WHAT?! Are they going to bomb, are they going to attack? Are they backing Israel? Is there a war coming?”

KV: But who cares about Israel now?

RF: Who cares about the Palestinians now? That is the real question. Because all this regional nuclear heat has obscured the Palestinian question, where the Israelis continue to build colonies on land which does not belong to them. Which is not their property. For Jews and Jews only. Against all international law. And they keep getting away with it. And that will come back to be another future tragedy, and another future cause of war.

KV: At last we want to ask you about Norway.

RF: I feared you might.

KV: In June 2016, the Norwegian parliament approved the deployment of Norwegian special forces to Jordan to train Syrian rebels. We do not know who they are. They were authorized to enter Syrian territory if necessary, in violation of international law. The rebels who are receiving training are not exactly the kind of people who would get a visa to Norway, or guys you would invite in for a cup of tea. How do you perceive Norway’s role here?

RF: Madness! Stay away from Syria. Western military forces have no moral justification to be in the Middle East. This is not our land. These are not our people. This is not our property. We should leave. By all means, send your doctors, aid workers, architects, people who know how to build bridges. Though these people are pretty good at building bridges. But, by all means, send your doctors and your medical scientific assistance. If they ask for it. And that is an act of complete moral kindness, generosity and goodness.

But what do we do? We keep promising them democracy, and we arrive with our M1A1 Abrams tanks, and our Bradley fighting armored vehicles, and our Apaches. What is this nonsense? Just like the crusaders always arrived with their horses and their swords. You know, Napoleon arrived in Cairo saying he was going to free the Egyptians who were being hanged when they expressed their minds before the Pashas.

I often say when I am lecturing in America: From sea to shining sea you have the finest universities, best funded in the world. The US have departments of Islamic Affairs, Hebrew Affairs. They have departments of Middle East history, Islamic history, you name it. And you listen to the State Department spokesman and it is like listening to an infantile creature. A child talking. There are no relations to reality, to history, to culture, to understanding. All these universities. What are they for? To produce this infantile creep who comes along and tells the press what the story is? And they all repeat it.

Submitted by Magne Stolpnessæter at www.kulturverk.com

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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