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Thursday, August 6, 2009

My exclusive interview with Michael Ware

(photos courtesy Lynda M. Ryba)

So if you had ten minutes to interview Michael Ware, what would you ask?
Here's the transcript of my chat with him prior to last Thursday's event in LA.

All right, so -- back in Baghdad you seemed pretty happy, pretty centered again. Were you feeling it or were you faking it?

No, no, it's -- it's most unhealthy but there's a rather comforting factor to being back in Baghdad. It's where the boys are, it's with the story I know so well, it's just so familiar. I mean, that's been my life. I mean, Baghdad is more normal to me than sitting here in LA or back in New York or anywhere else. Now, there's a lot of other stuff that comes with that as well, but yeah, it's familiarity. That's my normal.

And how were the changes? I mean, it must be so much different than when you last left.

Well, certainly, firstly, just in terms of the bureau. The CNN bureau has shrunk enormously, like every other media outlet, so the press corps is a shadow of its former self. That's -- to a degree that's disheartening. I mean, it's expected, it's understandable, but it kind of hurts a bit, too.

On the street things are ... to the surface degree, much better. People are moving about a bit more now. People are resuming their lives to a degree. But that comes with a price. We're seeing, you know, concentration of political power in ways I'm not sure that are healthy, the creation of a new security apparatus that I think is being used in a way that's very hard to see but is also very malignant. And it also comes, of course, at the expense of US regional standing. I mean, President Obama made it very clear that he wished to bring a resolution to the conflict, the Bush administration signed the deal to set the timetable to end conflict, and that's not without some price.

You also have a political process that's currently underway in Iraq leading up to the national elections in the beginning of next year, so for now it's not in the interests of the major actors to create violence on the streets because everyone's rolling the dice to see what they can get out of the political process. What's going to count is next year when we see how the losers handle their losses.

And what about you, are you going to keep going back, are you going to do Afghanistan, Pakistan?

Well, I've just done Pakistan, I'm probably heading to Afghanistan in a month or so. These are my last couple of days, my last weekend, before I go and play with the Mexican drug cartels. So it's a new position [Michael is now Chief Primetime Foreign Correspondent] based in New York. I don't know whether it's a promotion or a punishment, I haven't figured that out yet. But it means there's no rest for the wicked and we all know that I'm certainly wicked.

Yeah, I've barely had longer than five or six days in one place. I mean, I've barely had five or six days in one place where I could rest my head.

Where things aren't blowing up outside.

Yeah, and I'm not rushing off to a story. I mean, I still have a terrible problem of waking up and I just don't know what city I'm in, I don't know what country I'm in, I don't recognize the room I'm in. I have terrible trouble with the days of the week. Sleep still eludes me. It's not pleasant when it comes. So, yeah, there's not a lot of rest at the moment.

And what are you seeing further down the road?

That I don't know. I think there's unbridled opportunity ahead but the challenge always is what one makes of it. And to get to the truth of that, you have to know what you really want. And to know what you really want, you have to know who you really are.

You still working on that?

(laughs) To say that's a work in progress is an understatement. I wish it was in progress -- it is in progress. It's a torturous affair, as you can imagine, but I mean, everybody goes through this. Everybody, you know -- that is one of the greatest questions in life, is who are we? And we all have our own particular, peculiar complicating factors and I just happen to be struggling with mine at the moment.

How's the book going?

We don't mention the b-word, darling.

Okay. What about other books, have you thought about --

I've got lots of books in my head.

Have you thought about teaching?

Um, it has kind of vaguely crossed my mind. I'd prefer more of a research post, but I do enjoy the interaction with a room full of people and I do enjoy shaping or warping young minds, be it on the rugby field as a coach -- I've always loved coaching and I'm just taking it up again in Brooklyn.

Really? That's fascinating.

Yeah. Not that I'm ever there... And you know, I have taught in the past, back in Australia at a university as a guest lecturer for two years.

Was that law or journalism?

Journalism. I would be the worst law lecturer in the world because I was the worst law student. No one was happier to see me leave law school than the law school. So I think about teaching but I'm most interested in strategic studies. And my other degree apart from law is in political science, so if I return to academia be it for a fellowship to write books, or be it to explore new avenues, it will be in those fields.


Yeah. Much less so journalism. I'm not a great believer in the teaching of journalism.

Yeah, I think it's gut. It's just -- either you feel it or you don't.

Yeah. So I'm more interested in looking at international policy and analysis. Because I think it's no surprise to say I've managed to form my own unique views of things and it helps me -- you know, this is where law school still comes into account. It allows me to bring a certain intellectual rigor to help harness my frontline madness to shape a perspective that I think is little seen out there.

It's a reality check.

Yeah, in fact I'm attempting to write an essay as we speak.

Good for you. I miss your writing, you're such a good writer.

Yeah, I haven't written for a long time. That really takes heart and soul.


Many thanks to James Swanwick of CrocMedia
for setting up the event and the interview
and to Michael for his patience and dedication.

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CNN International produced an excellent hour-long doc that focuses on six reporters covering the conflict in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Stan Grant, Atia Abawi, Michael Ware, Ivan Watson, Reza Sayah, and Nic Robertson all discuss the people they've met, the difficulties in conveying what is happening there, and reflect on the moments that will stick with them forever. The program is airing on Domestic this weekend, here is the promo currently running:

This clip is Michael talking about the lessons he learned in Afghanistan:

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Anonymous said...

Interesting interview with Michael Ware,though I'm not a huge fan. He seems to like to be where the action is. Interesting guy. Wonder what he meant by the CNN media outlets have shrunk? Could that be the reason he is now based in NY and LA doing reports on the Mexican Cartel??

Julie said...

great interview Cyn!