- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 17, 2005

There are certain things you have to admire about David Enders. Chief among them is that he put his life on the line. Nothing is easier than having a firm opinion about the war in Iraq; the airwaves are full of them. But to set off for Mesopotamia to witness what is going on at first hand — as Mr. Enders did shortly after the U. S. invasion — takes an awful lot of courage. What is more, the young University of Michigan graduate went under his own steam, living and working without the elaborate security arrangements that most foreign correspondents take for granted. The grandson of Lebanese immgrants, he was determined to see the occupation through his own eyes. That kind of reporting requires fortitude at the best of times. Knowing what we do about the humanitarian instincts of the Iraqi insurgents, Mr. Enders’s bravery at times seems positively manic.

The idea to travel to Baghdad first came to him during a semester spent at the American University of Beirut in the early part of 2003. Chided by friends “for being American” (there is no greater crime, it seems, in some parts of the world), Mr. Enders decided to grasp the opportunity to see history in the making. Having raised cash from friends — he appears to have good contacts among the more patrician Oxford students — Mr. Enders envisioned launching an English-language magazine that would become the Harper’s magazine of the Middle East. The first run of 10,000 copies came off the presses that summer. Six more followed at fortnightly intervals.

Mr. Enders needed all his energy and charisma to keep the modest operation afloat. Most of his staff had only minimal experience. The security guard hired to watch over their suburban home-cum-headquarters was every bit as green; Mr. Enders grew used to finding him fast asleep at his post. The sense of impending chaos in the Iraqi capital is unimistakable.

Ultimately, though, this memoir, called “Baghdad Bulletin: The Real Story of the War in Iraq — Reporting from Beyond the Green Zone” in Britain, published in America as “Baghdad Bulletin: Dispatches on the American Occupation” (University of Michigan, $24.95, 179 pages), written in the form of a diary, is of even more interest for its insights into the antiwar left. Undermined by lack of revenue and the precarious security situation, The Baghdad Bulletin is now only a memory. Mr. Enders’ worldview — part Michael Moore, part Jane Fonda — is very much alive and well. Entrenched in the academy, cossetted by much of the media, that bad old ‘60 radicalism limps on towards the sunset, undeterred by its many failures around the world, convinced that it still has the people’s best interests at heart. The spectacle is almost touching, in a way. Halfway through his narrative, during a trip home to find a buyer for the magazine, Mr. Enders pays a visit to one of his idols, Daniel Ellsberg. Three decades after the Pentagon Papers affair Mr. Ellsberg still enjoys the status of a secular saint. After several hours of conversation at the wise man’s California home, the young reporter plucks up the courage to ask a question that has been nagging away at him:

I’m not sure how he’ll take it, but we’ve been talking about the helplessness we all feel in the face of the war machine, so I figure it’s OK to ask.

“How do you keep going?”

“I think we’ll all be rounded up and put in camps. I’m an old man, and I think I’ll die in a camp.”

The last I heard, Mr. Ellsberg had not been dispatched to Guantanamo Bay. But I’m sure he hasn’t given up hope just yet. Everything Mr. Enders writes in this book must be read with that exchange in mind. Most of the coverage of the Bulletin that I saw during its brief lifetime made no mention of the author’s rabid politics. (An admiring review of this book that appeared recently in Britain’s leading conservative paper, The Daily Telegraph, also somehow managed to overlook the Moore-ish tone.) He is the polar-opposite of Stephen Vincent, the fine, prowar reporter killed in Basra this summer, or of Michael Yon, the embedded freelance whose blog has become essential reading. There is no question in his mind of Iraq being a complex, improvised experiment in democracy-building — all he sees, from the very beginning, is imperalist intrigue laced with Western racism. I suppose it is no coincidence to discover pro-Palestinian activists flitting across the background in his narrative: Palestine and Iraq are, to Mr. Enders, merely the latest victims of the capitalist machine.

Filter out the slogans, however, and he can often be engaging company. As he struggles to keep the newspaper in business, his optimism seldom falters. A certain amount of naivete helps keep him sane. He and his friends are cub reporters stealing scraps from the major media. I couldn’t help smiling at the discovery that the one journalist who appears to be even more anti-American than Mr. Enders is the Independent’s, Robert Fisk, shown here giving a condescending lecture to the Bulletin’s staff. (As Mr. Enders writes: “I know the meeting is going to go badly shortly after we sit down. ‘Oh, you’re American,’ Fisk sniffles … .”)

Only half the text, in fact, is devoted to the running of the paper. After it closes, the author returns to Iraq as a freelance and to work for an NGO called Occupation Watch. His hostility to the occupation forces grows ever more feverish. Yet at the same time he is surprised when Army officials fail to go out of their way to cooperate with him. (If you were a soldier, would you want him embedded in your unit? No, I thought not.) Mr. Enders seldom misses an opportunity to paint the military in a bad light. By the time I had finished reading this book, I had come to the conclusion that Donald Rumsfeld should have introduced a new medal for any serviceman obliged to have dealings with the editor of The Baghdad Bulletin.

In one vignette Mr. Enders introduces a 20 year-old grunt who announces that he plans to re-enlist after his term of duty because “I haven’t gotten to shoot anyone yet.” There immediately follows a tense scene in which an unidentified car speeds towards the soldier’s checkpoint. Even when he steps into the middle of the road and aims his M-16 at the windscreen, the vehicle hurtles onwards. When it finally does come to a halt next to the soldier, he sees a child on the passenger’s lap and launches into obscenities. The point, though — which even Mr. Enders registers — is that, at the critical moment, the soldier did not take the opportunity to use his gun. For once, the vicious war machine fails to live up to its reputation.

Clive Davis writes for the London Times, and keeps a weblog at www.clivedavis-online.com.


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