The tweet came on June 5. “Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz has died in jail: Nice guy in a nasty situation – made no better by Bush/Blair’s Shock and Awe.” The author of the tweet: Jon Snow. He elaborated in another tweet. “I spent time with Tariq Aziz, interviewed him often..Christian that he was – they didn’t kill him, they just let him rot to death in jail.”
Who’s Jon Snow? Now 67 years old, he’s a familiar face in Britain, where he’s been a news anchor for decades, previously on Channel 4, now on ITN. And who, for those who may have forgotten, was Tariq Aziz? Yes, he was the foreign minister for Saddam Hussein, one of the most monstrous dictators of modern times. But Aziz was more than that. For one thing, he was a very close friend and trusted confidant of Saddam’s; thanks, moreover, to his many appearances on CNN, the BBC, and other international news media, he was probably, for people in the English-speaking world, the most prominent apologist for Saddam’s tyranny. As one BBC presenter put it after his death, he was “the international face of Saddam Hussein’s regime.”
It will be remembered that many of the Western journalists and diplomats who interacted with Aziz found him personally charming. This was not unusual. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, was charming, too. So was Maxim Litvinov, Stalin’s prewar Foreign Minister. (Molotov, his successor, was notoriously charmless.) Journalists and diplomats interacting with such persons need to be on guard against being taken in by their charm. Snow appears oblivious to this fact.
Snow’s tweets about Aziz drew criticism, much of it from other journalists. But he stood by his sentiments. “I can only say I interviewed him and got to know him quite well,” he told The Independent. “I think he was made the fall guy by the West. It’s a long time ago. He’s been in prison for a long time. There were plenty of people who needed to go to prison in that regime. He was one of the only ones who were picked off.” Apropos of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath, he added: “It’s an absolute tragic morass in which everybody has behave[d] badly. What was the idea of going in and smashing that place? It meant Christians couldn’t stay. It meant Jews couldn’t stay. He was picked off because he was a Christian. It’s all tricky stuff – so complicated.”
One might prefer simply to back away from that mishmash of inane remarks, but given Snow’s prominence and influence, it is perhaps salutary to pause for a moment and notice what Snow is doing in his tweets and his follow-up comments. For one thing, he’s not denying Aziz’s involvement in Saddam’s unspeakable atrocities; he’s simply taking the view that since Aziz was only one of many vile creatures whose hands were soaked with the blood of tortured women and children, why jail him when others were allowed to walk away? For another, the reference to Saddam’s nightmare society of torture chambers and mass graves as a “nasty situation” is a world-class understatement. And by describing the situation in Iraq as a “tricky” and “complicated” one in which “everybody has behave[d] badly,” and by focusing on the purported offenses of “the West,” which in his description went in and “smash[ed]” Iraq and made Iraq’s predicament “no better,” Snow is playing moral-equivalency games of the lowest order.