Dartmouth: Montgomery Fellow John Burns

– I’m Daryl Press, I’m Associate Professor of government at Dartmouth College Today I’ll be interviewing John Fisher Burns Mr. Burns is a guest of the Montgomery endowment here at Dartmouth where he is an in residence fellow The Montgomery endowment brings distinguished visitors to campus to teach courses, to meet with students and to interact with the greater Dartmouth community Today I’ll be interviewing Mr. Burns about his many years of experience with the New York Times, particularly about his experiences in the Middle East and his current assignment as the New York Times bureau chief in London – I wonder if we can start by talking about the situation in Iraq I think the American public has a sense that things are going much better today than they were going 18 months ago But could you describe in a bit more detail how things have improved and what conditions are today in Iraq compared to how they were– – Well, I have to say first of all that a lot of the change occurred after I left I spent the current year in a new job as bureau chief in London but my wife has remained in Baghdad and of course I have a obsession interest in what’s occurring there and what I hear is extraordinary And I think, curious this, understated by the military command that has pulled this off I think that there was a deep sense, I won’t call it a trauma but certain sense of chagrin in the Pentagon and amongst senior generals who had been involved in the enterprise in Iraq over the illusionism that prevailed from 2003 through 2005, 6 General Petraeus was one of those generals who was engaged in one way or another in that illusionism He would call it optimism but it certainly proved to be misplaced after February 2006 with the attack on Samara when it looked like the whole country was descending into civil war So, one of the lessons learned has been that they will never again get into a position of overstating what they’ve accomplished They’re gonna understate it and I think that General Petraeus, General Odierno and others who have been engaged in the surge have, at least from what I’m hearing, especially from my wife and you can imagine I hear a great deal about it from her, is understated Perhaps the most graphic way I can illustrate this is I had a text message recently from Dexter Filkins who is a colleague of mine at the New York Times, who’s just written a book called The Forever War, which I think is undoubtedly one of the better, if not the best Iraq War books Dexter may very well in time come to been seen as the David Halberstam of this war He sent me a text message on his mobile phone in the last month saying “I’m sitting here in Adhamiyah,” “Adhamiyah ground zero of the insurgency Neighborhood of the east side of the Tigris river in Baghdad, Sunni, hard-line Sunni, home of the Ba’ath party in Iraq, it’s where it was founded The place where Saddam Hussein made his last stand on April the 9th, 2003 as US troops were capturing the city He stood on top of a Volkswagan Passat in front of the Abu Hanifa mosque and waving a kalashnikov and said “I will be with you forever.” Just before he went underground, almost literally underground Dexter said “I’m sitting here at a coffee bar, coffee shop “in front of the Abu Hanifa mosque.” He said “I’m surrounded by a crowd of people, Sunnis, “who are coming up and shaking my hand “You American? Let me buy you a beer.” And he said “It’s unimaginable.” One year before I got that text message we had, regrettably, a senior member of our staff, Iraqi staff in Baghdad was assassinated on his way to work and was buried before dusk in the cemetary behind the Abu Hanifa mosque I had hired this guy, I was very fond of him He was 23 years old I wanted to be at his burial Iraqi security said “There’s no way “No way we’re gonna take you.” It was only two miles from our bureau, “No way we’re gonna take you there “We’ll have another burial before dusk if we do.” That’s how dangerous Adhamiyah was Now it’s become a place where Dexter Filkins in the New York Times can walk around without a flak jacket, where US troops don’t wear helmets It’s not quite like that everywhere, there is still violence, there’s still serious violence but the overall levels of violence are down by 70% across the country, by 80% in Baghdad US casualties, as you know, are now, have been since July higher in Afghanistan than in Iraq And who could have imagined any of this a year ago? – Why do you suppose the US military commanders are cautious about reporting progress and are perhaps understating the progress they’ve made – Well, you know now from the

American military process called lessons learned, it’s a very impressive process, I think many institutions could benefit by adopting this system Something goes wrong, a Humvee is hit by a roadside bomb, an IED Within 24 hours any lessons to be learned from that have moved all the way from, shall we say, Tikrit, Iraq, to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the lessons learned center is, back down all the way to the platoon level It’s an excellent system It’s a system that the military take very seriously and one of the lessons learned in Iraq was, as I say, don’t overstate what you’ve accomplished Understate it And one reason for understating it, as of course, as General Petraeus has said repeatedly that these gains are fragile and reversible They are It’s beginning to look, there are some early signs that they may be less fragile and less reversible than pessimists might think The New York Times ran a story the other day on our front page about Iraqis pulling down blast walls To anybody who lived as long as I did in Baghdad, that’s absolutely indicative The city became progressively locked in by concrete The New York Times, for example, we built a compound for ourselves Which in military terms could be called a FOB, a forward operating base We had no choice, if we were gonna survive and be able to operate we had to put up 18 20 foot high concrete blast walls Machine guns, razor wire, elaborate checkpoints 500 yards out And this was replicated all over town The blast walls are beginning to come down in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods People want to move freely, they want free access to their markets, to their schools, to their clinics In a sense they’re voting by doing that They are saying “We think that this will last.” It’s a difficult thing to put up blast walls and expensive You don’t pull ’em down unless you have some confidence that you’re not gonna have to put them up again I think there’s an exhaustion with the war The levels of killing became so outrageous We were regularly seeing 3,000 dead a month in Baghdad It was not uncommon to wake up and hear that 50, 80 bodies had been found with bullets in the back of their heads on wasteland in this part of town or that part of town The situation looked completely out of control I did not cover the war in the Lebanon, the civil war which lasted 15 years, in some sense has never really ended but during the real fighting phase of that, I asked when I did go to Lebanon afterwards “What brought this war to an end?” The most common answer was exhaustion People just tire However strongly they may feel about their party in the war, however threatened they may feel by the opposing parties, eventually people get exhausted and I think we might hope that the same has happened in Iraq – I wanted to ask your more about this compound You described this compound in the talk you gave yesterday, it sounded like a forbidding place Are New York Times journalists and other journalists still living in places like this hold off in the population? – Yes, yes they are – From your sense, when a journalist today goes out in Iraq to follow up on a story or to follow a lead, is it still a situation where they go and meet for 15 minutes and hurry back to the compound? – No, apparently that has very much improved There was a time when if anybody went into a particularly difficult area, I was the bureau chief and the general rule we had was you don’t stay more than 15 minutes It was difficult to make these judgments By their instinct journalists, and thank God it’s not otherwise, they want to get to the story, they want to talk to people But I took it as my charge, my responsibility to get the journalists to Baghdad and get them home safely And we’ve so far, touching wood, we’ve succeeded in that, although we have lost members of our Iraqi staff who are considerably more exposed than we are because they live out there They don’t live in the compound, they move back and forth and that’s the most dangerous part of their day; to be known to be working for the Americans can be a death certificate So yes, we do live in a heavily guarded compound and it’s cost the New York Times a great deal of money, it’s by far the most expensive by a factor of who knows, five or ten times than any bureau we’ve ever had anywhere But it has allowed us, there are two ways of viewing that One are detractors say “Well you’ve walled yourself off from the realities.”

Not true What we’ve done is we made it possible to continue to operate with some margin of safety And we’re out of that compound everyday In the worst times it was only in armored cars with a chase car, with armed guards in it Journalists do not carry weapons The bravest of our correspondents who didn’t much like going out in armored cars and thought that it attracted attention would venture into dangerous areas in soft cars I didn’t, have to say, much like that but we would send out scout cars, that’s to say that people who would go and look and see you know, how bad the situation was But the net of it is that to those who say “You were walled in, you were hemmed in, “you were occluded “You couldn’t tell us the reality.” I say, and I’m speaking primarily for the New York Times because I know it best but I could say the same of the BBC, of the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times, those media organizations which took this war seriously and were prepared to commit considerable resources to it have told the story that readers and viewers and listeners needed to know There’s been nothing important about this war that an American voter, for example, needed to know to be able to cast his ballot from the midterms in 2006, that you won’t have found in the New York Times That at least is my profession, I think it is actually the truth – At least from my perspective it’s certainly understandable why it is that Western journalists who were covering the war at such risk were living in one of these fortified compounds in Baghdad As an American voter, on the other hand, I wonder today if there aren’t such compounds in Mosul and Fallujah and Nasiriyah and Basra, how much can journalists who are risking their lives, who are taking considerable risks and making great sacrifices, still how much today could they know and be reporting about the real political situation that’s driving things in Iraq today? The militia politics, the alliance politics, the trends and the tides in the Sunni awakening, if people are operating from a single compound in Baghdad and foraying out on day trips? – Well, first of all, it’s more than day trips Generally speaking what we’ve done is to moving outside Baghdad since about the fall of 2004, when the two uprisings by Muqtada al-Sadr meant that the United States was a fighting a two-front war against the Sunnis and the Shia We’ve tended, when we’ve moved out beyond Baghdad, not exclusively but mainly to go on embeds with the military, who have become more flexible about disembedding, that’s to say, you want to go to Mosul, you go to Mosul as long as you have a genuine reason for going to Mosul in a Black Hawk helicopter or a C-130 and don’t just use the military as a taxi service And you write about what the military’s up to, you can disembed and then go out into the city Now we also have Iraqi staff in all these cities and they’re pretty good, they’re the canaries in the mine The mobile telephone service works very well in Iraq Do we fully understand the complexities? No, we don’t But then I worked in China for seven or eights years on two assignments and then the Soviet Union and other difficult places and we are always occluded from realities that we would like to know I think the ambition is not to tell the whole truth, the ambition is to tell as much of the truth (coughs) as is accessible and is essential So do we know, for example, one great hole in our coverage has always been the insurgency You can’t really cover the insurgency in Iraq Why? Because you end up quickly dead Even if you could get to the Sunni Saddamite insurgency the relationship between those folks and Al-Queda was murky, there was some kind of symbiosis and there was the risk that you would end up in the hands of the bad guys Very difficult, I don’t think anybody ever really crossed that barrier There were some journalists that sometimes who claimed to have spent some time with the insurgency, but it wasn’t clear and most of the stories I read were that the people they were with were real hardcore insurgents or simply who presented themselves as being, they never gave their names, they usually appeared in masks Yeah, so it’s difficult to access it but my sense of this is this: That in any profession, yours, lawyer, doctor, fireman, police officer, whatever, part of your success, a large part of your success

is navigating the obstacles that present themselves to you You have to be imaginative, you have to find workarounds That’s we did The obstacles in Iraq were rather higher than they had been in my experience most other places, including most other places at war, and we had to be inventive in finding our way around them And I think, frankly, that we did pretty well As the bureau chief, I was not the most adventurous person, I didn’t have to be but we had some mainly very young, very smart people, some of whom have already gone on to other assignments elsewhere in the world, who were extraordinarily adventurous, brave and did get the story So it makes me very uncomfortable when I hear people saying “Well, the American press really never really “cracked the case in Iraq.” Those criticisms very often come from people, I’m not saying you but from people who have never had to deal with these kinds of things where, you know, the cost of getting it wrong in a case like this, for long periods in Iraq was to lose your head, literally lose your head So I think some of our critics have got that upside down – As bureau chief, did you worry that the very nature of the way that you guys were living, which is your living conditions reflected the fact that there were thousands of people out there, principally on one side who wanted you dead, who were actively trying to kill you, who had, in fact, killed colleagues of yours and people working for the Times Did you worry as bureau chief about the difficulties of maintaining objectivity in the context of a war where your very surroundings demonstrated to you on a daily basis how endangered you were and how much one side wanted to kill you? – It’s true The criticism of me by some of my colleagues, many of my colleagues, American colleagues in Baghdad when we decided as they said to go hard, that is to say, to start building a compound, which was that it looks, your compound looks indistinguishable from an American FOB, forward operating base I made that decision after the attacks on the United Nations compound in Baghdad in August of 2003 followed quite quickly by the attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross, I went to both places and walked in the rubble As I thought at the time in a sort of testimonial to the friends of mine who had died in both places, but came back thinking there’s a message written 10 feet high in this rubble and that is that if they will go for United Nations diplomats, who for years have fed two thirds of the people of Iraq and run their hospitals for them and provided them with their medical supplies and then the International Committee of the Red Cross, they’ll certainly come for us, and we were quite close to these two compounds, that we are gonna have to protect ourselves But at the time the criticism made of me was that you are making yourselves indistinguishable from the occupying force and that will cause the bad guys, as they were commonly called, the bad guys to come for journalists as well And I said the bad guys do not need provocation to do that, they’re going for Westerners Nothing that we’re gonna do is gonna change that and I think that the way that they behaved when they did get journalists showed that that was true So yes, we understood that there was a problem, that there was a natural identification, if you will, not just culturally but psychologically with the forces under whose protection we ultimately lived Which is to say the forces of General Sanchez, General Kasey and General Petraeus And I think people need to give us some credit that most of us have been steeped for years in a culture of non-partisanship This doesn’t mean neutrality, I’m absolutely convinced that neutrality is a poison in our business, that’s to say nobody, I don’t believe I’m paid to be neutral I’m paid to be fair And being fair sometimes come to lead you to some pretty stark conclusions and choices between people People who cut people’s heads off I think deserve to be identified for what they are I can’t be neutral about that And a lot of things the insurgents did in Iraq, as you well know, placing bombs at schools and weddings and in the forecourts of mosques and driving 900 people off a bridge during pilgrimage into the Tigris river who drowned This kind of thing, you know, they were unacceptable by any standard, not just an American standard but by any civilizational standard So yes, there was this problem of identification but I think that we were aware of it and on the whole that we handled it well It would’ve been better if we had been able to access the insurgents and to listen to what they had to say, as it happened we were left mostly with what they had to say on the internet, and they’ve used the internet very effectively So it wasn’t as if we didn’t have any voices, we had voices, we just didn’t have faces, we didn’t have names, we didn’t have personalities

– I’d like to switch gears and talk a little bit about Afghanistan How would you describe conditions in Afghanistan today and how– – Well, very, very worrying, I must say I left Afghanistan to go to Baghdad in the fall of 2002 and didn’t get back until the fall of 2008, I’ve just returned I left Kandahar and Kabul on Sunday One of my last interviews before I left, at a press conference actually in Kabul in 2002, I noted this from my notebooks that I picked up when I went to Kabul was with Douglas Feith who was the Secretary of Defense for Policy, I believe, at the time And I’d ask him at a news conference at the American embassy, I’m talking about September, October, 2002, “How many troops do you believe “the United States will need to pacify Afghanistan?” He said “Maximum of 5,000.” Well, seven years have gone by, General McKiernan now commands a force of 33,000 American troops rising by next spring probably to 40,000 He’s saying he needs more, he wants three more combat brigades The overall NATO force is about 65,000 at present and it’s commonly agreed by all the NATO commanders and certainly by the entire chain of command, American chain of command from General KcKiernan to General Petraeus who takes over CENTCOM at the end of October to General Craddock, the NATO commander to Secretary of Defense Gates that the NATO forces are inadequate to deal with the rising Taliban threat The problem is where are the troops coming from? Europeans aren’t gonna provide them The United States can’t provide them until there’s a build down in Iraq That’s not likely to happen even at the most optimistic scenario until the new president is in office, if it’s Senator Obama, he’s said 90 days then 16 month build down So it may be another year before you can begin to recycle troops out of Iraq to Afghanistan In the meantime, the war there is deteriorating from a NATO and American point of view everyday Violence is up by 30%, Taliban own the night, the Taliban own the countryside or much of it south of the Hindu Kush They and their al-Qaeda allies are importing evermore the lessons learned from Iraq It’s more and more of an asymmetric war, that is to say, the use of roadside bombs and assassinations and in the southwest where the heart of the insurgency is right now, you have Taliban massing in hundreds storming provincial capitals So the situation begins to take on ominous overturns of what happened to the Soviets in the 1980s There are differences, of course, this is a multi-national force operating under a United Nations security council resolution and behaving by any standard in a way that’s a lot more benign than the Soviet troops did But it’s still legitimate, I think, at this point to look at the history of Afghanistan and remind ourselves that no foreign invader in Afghanistan in centuries has managed to emerge in anything other than defeat and a rabble the way that the Soviets did Is this gonna happen to us? We’ll see, there are things that are gonna change The war strategy will change, General Petraeus I know has some ideas about that He says that some of the, not all by any means, but some of the lessons learned in Iraq may be applicable to Afghanistan Some others aren’t It’s gonna be a very long haul and the bottom line here is you know, there doesn’t appear to be a withdrawal option Let’s not forget that in the case of Iraq the United States was in effect locked into a discussion, a bitter political discussion from 2003, 4 on about whether we should be there or not That has, of course, the intensity of that discussion diminished with the success of the surge, it’s still there In Afghanistan, there’s been very little of that discussion Why? Because that’s where 9/11 came from in the first place My sense of it is that Americans have a feeling that they simply cannot, Americans in general, we cannot afford to lose in Afghanistan if it means that the country reverts to extreme radical Islamic fundamentalists in the Taliban who gave sanctuary to and encouraged al-Qaeda and what happened in 9/11 If you can’t withdraw you’ve gotta win The question is how do you win and how long? The Pentagon is talking now about a war strategy, a new war strategy for 5 to 10 years Well, if it’s a 10 year strategy and we’ve been there 7 years already that’s 17 years So talking to kids on this campus, young people and I say to them, you know, “It’s possible that we may still be engaged “in Afhganistan when you are middle aged “When you have children of your own.”

And that’s a pretty grim prospect from every point of view – Given the ungoverned, maybe ungovernable areas in the FATA region of Pakistan right across the border, even if the United States can create stability, somehow manage stability in Afghanistan and turn the country around so that regional provinces are being well managed and security Does that really accomplish much from a strategic sense if the main achievement at the expense of British lives and American lives and other coalition lives, if the major achievement is to ensure the Taliban and al-Qaeda can no longer plan from Afghanistan and now they must do it from the FATA region of Pakistan – That’s a really serious, a really serious issue Let me just put it this way, I think the realization of the New York Times is that Pakistan and Afghanistan are going to be arguably our principle concern in foreign coverage now for the years ahead And that Pakistan may be an even greater concern and may spend more time marched across the front page of the New York Times than anywhere else So, you know, the obvious parameters here; they have nuclear weapons It’s a country of 165 million people, it’s a failing if not already failed state It’s bankrupt It’s run now, whatever we may think of General Musharraf, it’s run now by an extremely dubious conglomeration of people who failed, egregiously, when they ran the so-called, I say so-called democratic governments of the late 1980s through the 1990s Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, now the President, you only have to go back and look at the record of these people in the 90s to know that they’re a extremely weak read on which to premise a new policy Corrupt, venal, incompetent and you know, this is supposed to be better than Musharraf That’s an extremely difficult nut to crack Zardari is saying that as a victim of terrorism himself, he is resolved to do something about the North-West Territories but the fact is that all governments of Pakistan have had to make their compromises with Islamic fundamentalists because of the bitter, bitter rivalries between the principle parties, democratic, so-called democratic parties, there’s always this option, this tendency, this inclination to do deals with the Islamic fundamentalists who rule in the North-West Frontier Province and in the FATA, as you call it, Federally Administrated Tribal Areas I honestly, I don’t know how this is gonna be solved We cannot occupy a country of 165 million people We don’t really have reliable allies to help us sort this problem out When we pour money into these countries, as we’ve done in Pakistan over the past since 1991, especially, something in the order of 10 billion dollars in aid Where does it go? It tends to end up in Swiss bank accounts It’s a pretty unpromising prospect altogether – I want to change tacks again and this time or for now just talk to you about the field of journalism, the practice of journalism You’ve been covering international politics and conflicts for a couple decades now How has the job changed? – Well, I think if you talked to the Ernest Hemmingways of the Spanish Civil War, they would be deeply envious of us for a number of reasons One of which is technological The mobile phone, satellite phone, the computer have made it possible for us to range the world, to report our stories and write and deliver them, same for the broadcast people, without any impediment It’s a huge change and when I started out as a foreign correspondent in the early 1970s in China I had to file my stories from a cable office in cable-ese, I think most people of the new generation journalism don’t even know what that is It was a special kind of code language to save money Stories sometimes wouldn’t land on the desk at newspaper items then working for several days I actually made one trip in Africa where I spent a whole month in a central African republic and came back and discovered nothing I had written had ever landed Well now, instead of spending whole days and sometimes a week trying to deliver your story, you write it, you hit then send key and the story’s on the desk in New York and it’s a huge technological change Are we any better? Probably not

Maybe the technological has softened us up somewhat I think the generation of foreign correspondents running from, what was his name, William Henry Russell who went to the war in Crimea in the 1860s, who is sometimes regarded as one the pioneer foreign correspondent through to the Spanish Civil War, these were pretty tough guys And one thing I’m sure of is that they didn’t sit around in the bars of Paris in 1936 saying “Gee whiz, if we go there, have we got war insurance? “Are we gonna be covered? “And how dangerous is it?” Now, I’m regarded in some quarters in our business as a dinosaur because my view is if you’re a foreign correspondent, which is a very richly rewarded job and I don’t mean so much financially, you don’t get rich in our business, but you have an incredibly rewarding life You’ve got, as the say, a grandstand seat, a front row seat to some of the events that move history Who would not want to do that? My view of it is that if you are a foreign correspondent, much better a foreign correspondent for the New York Times you’ve got to be prepared to to repay the rewards of being a foreign correspondent by doing some tough things and going to some tough places That’s somewhat changed now There are people who opt not to do those things, if you have young children that’s understandable And because it was the case at the New York Times, that a lot of mid-career people did not want to come to Baghdad we The Chinese have a saying, out of all things good, something bad, out of all things bad, something good Well, this was very clearly the case for us in covering these wars We recruited much younger people, very often people that had no experience working abroad and not even very much experience in the business at all And we found some exceptionally talented people Prime case is Ed Wong, a young Chinese-American, University of Virginia, University of Berkeley, came to us off our business desk, where he has I recall it only been a year or around 18 months Ed Wong, within, I mean these youngsters, and I speak as somebody of 64, they learn incredibly fast Ed Wong is a top foreign correspondent, he’s now in China So, you know, I think probably we’re a more educated generation than the ones that preceded us We have all of this technology and we have resources I don’t know what the New York Times foreign budget was in 1936 but in my time, as a foreign correspondent at the New York Times now 35 years or so, the resources dedicated to covering the world are extraordinary Nothing irritates me quite so much in my new domain as the London bureau chief at the New York Times as a Brit, born and educated, then to hear people who should know better, and I’m talking about very often educated middle class, or as they would say upper middle class Brits, saying that America doesn’t know anything about the world and they’ll tell you they’ve been to the United States, very often to Florida or to California and they’ve read a paper, it’s usually USA Today or something like this, and by the way it’s not even true of USA Today, “There’s nothing in there except baseball and Hollywood “and there’s nothing about the world.” It infuriates me because and we’re not alone in this at the New York Times but to speak of the New York Times, no newspaper in the world, I mean no newspaper in the world dedicates more money, deploys more talent into the world to inform people about what’s going on And fortunately this lesson is now getting well beyond the borders of the United States as a result of the internet The New York Times is a great paradox because we’re going through a time of great financial turmoil This year for the first time we had to reduce our editorial staff at New York by about 10% First such reduction in the history of the paper, certainly in my time at the paper It’s a tremendously stressful situation, our stock is trading at a fraction of what it was two, three years ago, common story in newspapers But what gives me heart is that there are 8 to 10 times as many people reading the New York Times as there were 10 years ago Why? Because we have this enormous audience on the internet and the excellence of the product, as I see it, of which I contribute a tiny, tiny fraction, is there for all to see I think that we will survive this troubled time on the basis of our excellence and I think that those millions of people who are reading us around the world, and I’m now discovering everywhere I go, Afghanistan, everybody, the young generation particularly in Afghanistan, they’ve all got mobile phones and they’ve all got access to the internet,

one way or another It’s an astonishing and maybe absolutely definitive change, maybe absolutely definitive given that it’s the most powerful educational tool in the history of man since the invention of the book So I think that we will survive and we may even go on to some sort of ascended upland, I hope so, And it’s a great satisfaction, I have to say, as a reporter to have this vast audience But there’s no longer any hiding place, it used to be that I could go to, even as recently as the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, my name, my full name is John Fisher Burns I was known to the Taliban by my middle name, where they work on the analogy of their own names and somebody’s whose name is Dost Muhammad Wazir calls himself Mr. Muhammad so I became known as Mr. Fisher My actual name is Burns and the Taliban abraded me when I went into the foreign ministry and they said “There’s this very bad man here, “he’s Mr Fisher.” No, Mr. Burns, they called me Mr. Fisher “Mr. Burns is writing very bad things about us “and we can’t tolerate this, who is he?” And I said “Yeah, he’s a big problem for me too “He’s a big problem for me too.” Well, now in the age of the internet we can’t, I couldn’t get away with that because of the foreign ministry of Hamid Karzai’s Afghanistan, they’ve already read the New York Times on the internet in the morning and they’ve seen that my full name is there So, I think it’s a lot easier the job we do than we did 30, 40 years ago And perhaps also it matters more – Could I change directions one more time? As you said a few moments ago you’re now the New York Times bureau chief in London, what’s it like for somebody who grew up in the UK who spent decades away to now be back both living there and also trying to take a step back and learn new things about the country and report with fresh eyes? – Well, I’d have to say there’s an open verdict on that It was very much part of my thinking when I left Baghdad with great regret was that what an opportunity to return to the country where I grew up and was educated after 40 years abroad and learn about Britain they way I’d learned about Russia, China, India, Africa at the expense of the New York Times The first problem has been transiting from war to peace Turns out, paradoxical as it might seem, that war is a lot easier to cover than peace War basically writes itself The drama of war carries you onto page one, so you have to be a lot more inventive when you’re covering a country at peace And when you’re away as long as I was, not just the seven years since September the 11th but I’d been on the dusty horizons of the earth for most of the past 35 or 40 years, it’s a big transition On the other hand, it is a great opportunity to learn about my own country and I have to cope with something that was quite unexpected The England that I knew, I was born in 1944, I went to a boarding school in 1953 It turns out that the England that I knew was an idol I had gone away to the dusty corners of the earth believing that we were the most civilized country on earth, that we were, for example, the most courteous people And it’s been a little bit disappointing to me to come back and discover that that’s no longer true I think you could make an argument now, I would, that the most courteous people on earth are the people of the United States So it turns out that I had an idol of my own country, which of course of the 1940s and 50s which couldn’t possibly be sustained in a country which has changed so radically since then Now after, you know, nine months or so I’ve begun to see beyond that and to realize that there are some very wonderful things about Britain and I’ll cite two, which I’m sure are very familiar to most Americans The BBC, state funded broadcasting corporation which is a voice of truth to the world, sets the standard in broadcasting, an unmatched standard At checkpoints across Afghanistan for 30 years we came to know there were two things, military checkpoints, you’re crossing front lines, two things that you could shout that would get you through quicker than anything else One of them was BBC “Ah, BBC, please go through.” And the other one, go figure as they say is Manchester United “Oh, Manchester United, please go through.” I’ve never been able to figure out, they think that I’m a right-winger for the Manchester United football team, I don’t know but magical words – [Daryl] A scout – A scout, maybe Yes, maybe a scout So, the BBC and the National Health Service I actually sit here, as I’m gonna speak whilst I’m here

at the medical center about being a cancer survivor It sounds a little maudlin, sentimental to say it but the fact is that I am still above ground and not below ground because of the excellence of American medicine, cancer medicine Now, thankfully some years back and I came out of the NHS system in England into the excellence of American medicine and American doctors did what the British doctors said they couldn’t do, which was to fix my problem So I know about the benefits of high-cost, high-technology American medicine I also know about the 40 million Americans who have no medical insurance My former editor at the New York Times, Joe Lelyveld, who was very considerate to me when I was at Sloan Kettering in New York for a year I said to him I feel very vexed about this, you know, I see patients in Sloan Kettering who are being progressively bankrupted by their cost of their medical care On the other hand, I came to America from no hope to hope And Joe, who’s a pretty smart guy, he said “I certainly don’t see what your problem is.” He said “As far as I can see,” he said, “just keep telling yourself “that America has, “Britain has the kind of medical care you don’t “want for your country and America has the “kind of medical care you’d want for your family.” So I don’t mean by saying that the National Health Service is the jewel in the crown, just to draw negative comparisons with American medicine, but universal free medical care, free at the point of delivery, of course it’s not free, you pay for it in the taxes, is a wonderful thing So I’m coming to redevelop a sense of affinity for my own country which was a little shaken when I got back and discovered how much hooliganism there is and how much binge drinking there is and the behavior of crowds at football games and so on, all of which was a bit of a shock to me And I’m coming to enjoy myself – One final question What would you say to young people who are thinking about a career in journalism? Is this something that you think is still a wonderful and promising career or do you have reservations– – I do and I met last night here at Dartmouth with some very bright young people and I asked is there anybody here, there were about 15 of them, involved in actually, war and peace studies, international relations, your students many of them, I’m sure I was a little disappointed when I asked was there anybody here interested in journalism when none of them were They’re interested in pursuing careers in government, in state department and intelligence, et cetera Now, I think if I’d asked that question 10 years ago a lot of hands would’ve gone up What’s changed? I think we just have to be realistic and say that ours is an embattled profession And it’s harder, much hard for young people to say “I want to go into journalism “I want to be a foreign correspondent “with the New York Times,” when there are serious question as to whether the great institutions of journalism in this country can survive I think we will but if I was plotting a career I’d certainly be inhibited by that I think there was a huge kind of There was a tremendous rush into our profession that was speeded by Watergate I think what Woodward and Bernstein did in Watergate drew into our profession a more educated, more ambitious group of people than we had seen before who had options to become lawyers, doctors, engineers, whatever I think that’s receded and I think there’s also a sense that ours is not a particularly well rewarded profession financially So all of this has caused a narrowing down, it may be temporary My own son is going into our business and I’ve said to him, you know, you’re choosing over, he’s a photographer, you’re choosing a very, very hard road and you may go hungry sometimes But you will be richly rewarded in other ways And for myself I’d say, since I just lucked into this profession, I just fell backwards into this profession I didn’t go through college, I didn’t want to be a journalist, I just walked into a newspaper one day because I had a girlfriend in town I didn’t want to go on chopping down trees out of town, I wanted to be in town and I walked into a newspaper and said “I’d like a job.” That’s how serendipitous my entry into journalism was And I’d like to have more money than I do, I’d like to have a prospect with a more comfortable retirement than I do but I certainly can’t regret having had a life that has been absolutely filled with adventure – John Burns, thank you so much for your time

– [John] Thank you