Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent has been there as a correspondent all over the place peering deep into the Inferno — Belfast, Kabul, Bahgdad… I first began reading him seriously during my second posting in Moscow in 1987 when PC was based there as the FT correspondent. (The other famous figure in the foreign press corps was Jonathan Steele of The Guardian.)
The tome Getting Russia Wrong: The End of Kremlinology sits in my library as a fair account of what led inexorably to Mikhail Gorbachev’s disastrous ending. But one of the few occasions a writer could make you cry will be when one reads PC’s heart-rending account of his son’s tragedy.
You never know what unspeakable sorrows are locked up in the private chambers of the minds of people you come across. But sorrows lead one to realize the worth of compassion. His dispatches from Baghdad as the tragedy unfolded in that ancient country were suffused with compassion for the suffering Iraqi people.
Muqtada Al-Sadr and the Battle for the Future of Iraq is his definitive account. I should say this much as preface to make the point that In war reporting (which demands a lot of capacity for human compassion, by the way), there is hardly anyone today to match Patrick Cockburn. Indeed, his latest report from Syria gives a valuable first-hand account of the ground situation prevailing in that country.
Cockburn gives a vastly different account of Syria than what have been told by the Russian special envoy Mikhail Bogdanov or the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Anders Fogh Rasmussen, both of whom visualize the inevitability of a rebel victory.
He assesses that the locus of the Syrian uprising has “slid towards sectarian islamic fundamentalism intent on waging holy war”; there is “deepening religious bigotry” on the part of the rebels; Washington’s policy is riddled with contradictions — ” Ideally, they [US and Britain] would like to remove the regime, getting rid of Bashar al-Assad and the present leadership, but not dissolving the government machinery or introducing revolutionary change as they did in Baghdad by transferring power from the Sunnis to the Shia and the Kurds.”
Contrary to western propaganda, Cockburn does not see a split in the Syrian elite. He also rubbishes the picture conjured up in the western media that the rebels are closing in on Damascus and that Assad’s days are numbered.
On the contrary, he reports that the government forces’ counteroffensive has thrown back the most recent rebel attacks. He is categorical that Damascus is not the besieged city that it has been projected to be. As for the future? Alas, he sees a brutal, seamless sectarian war ahead and the destruction of yet another cradle of Islamic civilization. Read his illuminating dispatch here.
Posted in Politics.
– December 16, 2012