Smarty pants Andrew Denton met his match in his interview aired last night with the redoubtable Matthew Bogdanos.
Repeatedly Denton tried to get Bogdanos to denounce the US over Iraq and the looting of its museum.
Bogdanos was not going to offer glib explanations for such a complex situation:
ANDREW DENTON: Donald Rumsfeld when asked about the looting responded, “Goodness, is it possible that there can be so many vases in one country?” In some ways, does that speak to the misguided nature of the Iraq campaign that here was a society that America was coming to liberate but America had very little understanding of what that society was, is?
COLONEL MATTHEW BOGDANOS: I think you’re being a little harsh in that assessment, but not completely off the mark. It is fair to say that many – the Coalition planners did not have a sense of urgency about the antiquities but, hold on, neither does the world. To this date United Nations and UNESCO has not established a commission to either continue the investigation into the looting of the Iraq Museum or determine precisely how to stop a global criminal enterprise that is represented by the trafficking in antiquities, and not just Iraqi but Egyptian and Jordanian and Greek and Roman and Cambodian and Peruvian, so this short-sightedness, if you will, is not limited to the US. I think much of the international community can belly up to the bar on this one.
ANDREW DENTON: Not limited to the US, but if I may take your pitbull style, Donald Rumsfeld underpins the thinking that went into Iraq, I think you would agree. And if his thinking was at that level of unconcern or ignorance, doesn’t that, as I said, underscore the campaign?
COLONEL MATTHEW BOGDANOS: No, actually Mr Rumsfeld’s not a planner and Mr Rumsfeld doesn’t speak for me. I’ve never met him. I don’t speak for him, he doesn’t speak for me, so no, I don’t think it’s fair to say that a statement by Mr Rumsfeld can somehow be generalised and superimposed on to all the other individuals who were in Iraq or planning to go into Iraq, and the reason I say this is because I have, over the course of the last several years, witnessed far too much courage and far too much sacrifice on behalf of military members from many different countries risking their lives to protect the shared cultural heritage that is represented by the Iraqi antiquities. So no, I have to say on this one I disagree with you. You can’t take a statement that a single individual made and then somehow superimpose that onto another 275 million. I don’t think that’s fair.
ANDREW DENTON: When you received the humanities medal last year for your work in Iraq from the President, you said to him, “Thank you very much, but the work’s not done”, and there is still several thousand treasures from the museum stolen from the vaults in their basement which would fit into a back pack, they’re tiny, and there is a huge international trade, black market, in these sort of antiquities. How do you ever hope to track them down?
COLONEL MATTHEW BOGDANOS: This is easy. This can be done, and it can be done today, not a decade from now. We can start now but it requires a multi-layered comprehensive approach. First we have to establish – we have to increase the level of awareness of the average individuals. We need to craft a message that resonates with everyone that this stuff matters. This is all we have left of our shared cultural heritage, that these items pre-date Christianity and Islam and Judaism. They predate the split between Sunni and Shiite. They represent the similarities each and ever one of us who sits on this earth has in common, and that message needs to resonate throughout the entire world.
Second, we need to have international leadership. The global criminal enterprise that is represented by the trade in illegal antiquities is international in scope. It must be attacked and defeated. I use those verbs intentionally, internationally. And there’s only one organisation that has the infrastructure and the ability to do that, and that is the United Nations. I believe UNESCO must step into the breach. UNESCO, the “C” stands for cultural property. That’s what they’re responsible for. The coordination of the international efforts to protect and preserve cultural property along with Interpol the international criminal police organisation with its 184 member nations already linked across a secure network. If we can get the international community to completely buy in and cooperate on an international investigation, we can have simultaneously investigations in Iraq and Iman and Dubai and Geneva and Zurich and Paris and Tokyo and London and New York and even Melbourne, and we can stop these individuals from trafficking in antiquities. We can do this. It just requires the will to act.
What a fascinating, passionate character!