“US values are under siege”
With more than 30 years in the business, he has reported from over 50 different countries and covered numerous wars.
He shared with RT his views about a unipolar world, modern journalism and challenges for democracy.
RT: You recently wrote an article entitled ‘America- a superpower no more’. What made you decide to write that article and why now?
WR: Because I think people ought to know that the world has changed and Americans don't appreciate this. They don't appreciate how rapidly and how extensively the world has changed. We no longer have a bipolar world of Moscow and Washington. The Americans have spent their currency and we have a world in which we have regional superpowers, but there are limits to what a superpower can do, and I thought Americans ought to know that.
RT: You said that the US as a superpower is fraying…
WR: Yes, all you have to do is to look around the world. There's a war going on along the American southern border and so far we haven’t been able to control it. Indeed, we may not be willing to. Now this is a war with drug cartels. Then you look at other areas of the world where you think the US has this great military reach, and it just isn’t so. We have so many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and we're increasing the troops in Afghanistan. So much so that if there were a crisis in the Far East – that is to say if China suddenly decided to invade Taiwan – the US would be pretty helpless to do anything about that at all.
There are real limits to power and that's what the Soviet Union learned in Afghanistan and now in what we thought was a unipolar world where Washington was the soul superpower we are discovering very well that there are limits to power, and the Americans should have learned this long ago because we had something called Vietnam.
RT: Also you spoke about the moral authority that the US fought hard to regain after Vietnam. Do you think that it could be regained again?
WR: No, I don't think it can be regained at all. The US was able to regain, if you will, its moral authority after Vietnam for a variety of reasons. But the United States was defeated in Vietnam. The adversaries at the time, Russia and China, really didn't want to humiliate the US. Now there's a different factor in the equation which will make it next to impossible for the US to regain moral authority – and that's religion. You will never persuade the Islamic world that the US is entitled to the moral high-ground again because the US has foolishly let the radical Islamists persuade the world that the US is at war with Islam. That's 1.2 billion people. And Muslims think they have the moral high-ground now. They think so certainly after 9/11, they think so after Iraq, after Afghanistan and they think so because of the lopsided and disproportionate support the US has for Israel over the Palestinians. How can you claim moral authority under those circumstances? I don't think the US can regain the moral high-ground. It sounds crass, but one of the things you need to regain the moral high ground is a very strong economy and a big bank account. Well, the last eight years of the Bush administration sort of frittered all that away.
RT: Do you think the Americans can accept the idea that democracy, the way they see it, won't be accepted by everyone? You called this an unrealistic crusade.
WR: Yes, it is. The Americans ought to learn that their brand of democracy or their vision of what the world should be is being, again, rejected by much of the Islamic world. Look for example at what the Bush administration tried to do for eight years. They said they were going to democratize the Middle East. Well the Middle East doesn't want American democracy. They've rejected it as a form of political government; they've rejected it as essentially hypocritical; and they've rejected the American brand of democracy as something that just doesn't suit their purposes.
RT: To talk about the Iraq war. It wasn't the first, but it was a highly televised war. How do you think that changes the perception of warfare for Americans back home?
WR: At first the Americans saw this war in real time and it looked very successful. Even Bush thought he'd won the war. He stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier ‘Abraham Lincoln’ and was saying “Mission accomplished!” except he had no clue about what it was like going to war in the Islamic world, going to war with Arabs. And it was folly to think that it would be quick and easy or that the Iraqi people would ever accept willingly, or enthusiastically, an American military occupation.
I mean, how would Americans like being occupied by the British? Well, we fought to throw them out. Russians wouldn't want to be occupied by Germans. Russia fought to throw them out. Occupation is a bad idea and it doesn't work, and the Americans badly miscalculated in Iraq. They thought they would be welcomed as liberators. They were always looking at the world through rose-colored western-civilized glasses. They didn't ever realize that Iraqis, Arabs and Muslims have a very different prospective on the world.
RT: What do you think of Obama's foreign policy so far? Do you really think that they are going down a new path, or are they just new faces with the same policy?
WR: It's definitely not the same old policy. There are very hopeful signs. Obama's trip to Europe showed how welcome it was to have an American president who was not ‘a bully’ if you will. I think Obama's police towards Russia starting out by saying ‘let's hit the reset button – let's start again’ – that was very encouraging. I really hope that he will be able to carry through on that and that the US and Russia will become partners on the global stage because both are regional superpowers.
RT: But are there parts you may find disappointing?
WR: Sure. I wouldn't have sent troops into Afghanistan. My personal feeling on Afghanistan is that's a regional problem and that the US should have learned something from Russia's experience in Afghanistan and gotten out of there. But the Americans are not going to do a better job in Afghanistan, they're doing different jobs than the Soviets did but it’s still a dead-end – they don't belong there.
RT: How do you feel so far that the media has been covering the current economic crisis?
WR: I think they've been reporting the crisis probably as well as they can but the media is not good at covering economic stories, because generally they don’t understand them. Secondly, they’re impatient, and thirdly, they try to make predictions, and you can't make predictions about the economy.
RT: The mainstream media right now is having a very tough time competing with alternative news sources, especially the Internet. Do you think it's going to lose this battle?
WR: If newspapers lose and fold – then everybody loses. Reading and writing are the calisthenics of democracy – Al Gore said that. When people stop reading then democracy deteriorates and the hope for democracy long-term is not good. TV has been on a qualitative decline for probably fifteen or more years now. That is the result of the trend where businesses and businessmen started running television networks. Journalists don't run television companies any more. They work for them, but the bean counters, the businessmen are the ones running TV companies, and when they run TV companies they cease to be journalistic enterprises or quality journalistic enterprises.
One of the most interesting things that is happening in journalism is what the Christian Science Monitor is doing – which is to say they are stopping printing their daily edition and they're going all-electronic. That may be the wave of the future. And you get very good reporting on the Internet now and that may be the inevitable course that journalism takes in the future. But I still like the feel of my paper in the morning. I still like to get my newspapers delivered to the door – the Post and the Times. My wife and I still devour them.
RT: Do you think that we might be on the brink of some sort of a collapse?
WR: I worked in Israel for five and a half years. That was the land of the prophets and you never make prophetic statements or prophecies. Do I think that the American republics are in danger of a collapse? No, but again, getting back to the point I made before, it is changing far more rapidly than we ever thought it could. And most Americans don't have a clue. I think any time also that you have this concept of political correctness you have a threat to democracy. We can't talk about this. Why not? That's the whole purpose of free speech. You have to be able to talk. You have to be able to report. Thomas Jefferson said, and, take nothing else from our conversation if you don't take this, he said: “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility toward every tyranny over the mind of men.” Political correctness is a tyranny that threatens the values of the Enlightenment and the American Enlightenment as well. We're not about to collapse, but our values are under siege.