Remarks delivered by John Burns at the National Press Club during the Middle East Institute’s 61st Annual Conference, October 29, 2007.
John Burns spoke about the situation in Iraq. His remarks were peppered with anecdotes from his childhood and his experiences as a correspondent. Mr. Burns stressed his belief that there is no simple solution to Iraq and we need to look to the future rather than blame past actions. He also addressed the responsibilities and limitations of journalists in Iraq.
John Burns expressed his belief that decision makers should stop arguing about how the war in Iraq began and instead focus on the current situation and look towards the future. Acknowledging it was difficult to address a room of Middle East experts, he asserted that anger and recrimination over Iraq policies were not unjustified and that this energy should be channeled into finding a solution to the soaring violence that plagues the country.
Mr. Burns spoke about what he considered to be some of the fundamental issues regarding Iraq: the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) prior to the invasion, the brutality of Saddam Hussein and abuse of human rights during his regime and whether the US should stay or leave Iraq.
On the topic of WMD, Burns pointed out that in the lead-up to the invasion, judging by the treatment of weapons inspectors and the behavior of Iraqi officials, most journalists reporting on the weapons inspections believed that Iraq was hiding something. He expressed concern that Americans looking at the violence suffered by Iraqi civilians and US troops since 2003 are forgetting the abominable conditions suffered by Iraqis during Saddam’s regime.
He added that journalists and policymakers who focused on human rights violations in Iraq prior to the invasion should have taken into account the context of Iraqi history and society. While he did not give an opinion about a US troop pullout from Iraq, he did say many Iraqi civilians consider the US military to be the bulwark between Iraq and complete chaos, despite the unpopularity of the US presence.
Mr. Burns expressed gratitude to the US military and to major news agencies for facilitating the work of journalists in Iraq at great expense, and at times personal risk. He concluded with an anecdote from his childhood in Great Britain, when he saw Americans for the first time and his father told him that Americans are the people who keep the peace in the world.
Burns commended America’s enormous vitality and expressed hope that it is a nation willing to acknowledge its mistakes and move forward to resolve them.
Responding to questions from the audience, Mr. Burns commented that despite the sectarian violence, the Iraqi people have a very strong national consciousness. He said different factions are fighting for control of a whole Iraq and its future.
About this Event
Remarks delivered at the National Press Club during the Middle East Institute’s 61st Annual Conference, October 29, 2007
This event summary was written by Alice Swanson, a recent graduate of Amherst College with a degree in Middle East History, and a current intern in the MEI Publications Department. The summary was edited by Lydia Rodriguez, a junior at Georgetown University working toward a bachelor’s of science in foreign service.
Disclaimer: Assertions and opinions in this Summary are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not reflect necessarily the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.