Jonathan Steele

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Jonathan Steele (born 15 February 1941)[1] is a British journalist and the author of several books on international affairs.

Early life[edit]

Steele was educated at King's College, Cambridge (BA) and Yale University (MA). He took part as a volunteer in the Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964) helping enable black American voter registration, and participated in the second abortive march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.


He joined The Guardian as a reporter on return to the UK in September 1965, and has reported from many countries. He was Washington Bureau Chief for The Guardian from 1975 to 1979, Moscow Bureau Chief from 1988 to 1994, Foreign News Editor between 1979 and 1982 and Chief Foreign Correspondent for The Guardian between 1982 and 1988 during which he reported on the El Salvador civil war and events in Nicaragua as well as the US invasion of Grenada in 1983.

Following his return to London in 1994 after six years in Moscow, he covered the Kosovo War in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 and the fall of Slobodan Milošević in 2000. As Senior Foreign Correspondent, he covered numerous stories in the Middle East after 2001. He covered the US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was regularly on assignment in Baghdad for the next three years. This resulted in January 2008 in his book Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq which was published by I.B. Tauris in the UK and Counterpoint in the US. He reported on the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War in July/August 2006. He covered the protests and subsequent war in Syria after 2011, making numerous trips to Damascus.[citation needed]

Steele has reported regularly from Afghanistan beginning with his first visit to Kabul in 1981 during the Soviet occupation. He covered the Taliban take-over of the Afghan capital in 1996 as well as their collapse in 2001. His book, Ghosts of Afghanistan: the Haunted Battleground analyses thirty years of Afghan history (London: Portobello Books, 2011, and San Francisco: Counterpoint, 2011). In between foreign assignments, he worked as a columnist for The Guardian on international affairs. He was a member of The Guardian team which analysed the WikiLeaks documents on Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the State Department cables.

Steele is a frequent broadcaster on the BBC and an occasional contributor to the London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books. Since March 2014, he has worked as Chief Reporter of the website Middle East Eye. In early 2012, he wrote that Assad is a popular leader citing an opinion poll in which 55% of those polled said they wanted him to remain as Syrias's leader, although he also commented it was worrying for the Assad government that half of those approving his government wanted free elections in the near future.[2] In The Guardian in September 2018, Steele called for the anti-Assad rebels in the Syrian Civil War to surrender.[3]


Socialism with a German Face (1977)[edit]

Steele's book Socialism with a German Face (US: Inside East Germany, 1977) is a study of the Soviet Bloc country. Melvin Croan, in Commentary, described the "historical chapters" as "basically sound."[4] Steele wrote that "its overall social and economic system is a presentable model of the kind of authoritarian welfare states which Eastern European nations have now become" and the country "as much a part of the socialist tradition" as the other states then in existence. The former leader of East Germany, Walter Ulbricht, he described as "the most successful German statesman since Bismarck."[4]

Timothy Garton Ash, in a 2006 Guardian article wrote: "My question then was, and still is: presentable to whom? Presentable to the outside visitor, engaged on his or her reportorial and ideological journey, but free to leave whenever he or she wishes? Or presentable to the people who actually live there? I think the East Germans answered that question in 1989."[5] In a July 2007 letter to The New York Review of Books, Steele defended himself from an accusation of being "myopic" (made by Garton Ash in a NYRB article) in his writings about the former East Germany.[6] Peter Hitchens a few years later, while praising Steele as one of "the more honest Western Leftists" and a "first-rate foreign correspondent", described the book as a "sympathetic" account.[7]

Ghosts of Afghanistan (2011)[edit]

The Economist described Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground (2011) as being a "fine modern history" with Steele's multiple visits to the country over many years meaning he "is well placed to compare the end of the Soviet era and the present 'transition', the favoured common euphemism for foreign withdrawal."[8] Rodric Braithwaite, in The Observer, comments that Steele "writes with increasing despair about the failing efforts of the United States and its allies to build a viable Afghan state out of the physical, institutional and human rubble left behind by three decades of civil war and foreign intervention."[9]

Prizes and awards[edit]

In 2006, Steele won a Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism Special Award in honour of his career contributions.[10] He was named International Reporter of the Year in the British Press Awards in 1981 and again in 1991. He won the London Press Club's Scoop of the Year Award in 1991 for being the only English-language reporter to reach the villa in the Crimea where Mikhail Gorbachev was held captive and interview the Soviet president during the brief coup in August that year. In 1998, Steele won Amnesty International's foreign reporting award for his coverage of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In 1998 he also won the James Cameron Award.

Personal life[edit]

Steele and his wife Ruth live in London. They have two children, and four grandchildren.[citation needed]


  • The South African Connection: Western Investment in Apartheid (with Ruth First and Christabel Gurney), 1972
  • Socialism with a German Face, Jonathan Cape, 1977 (UK); Inside East Germany: The State that Came in from the Cold, Urizen Books, 1977 (USA)
  • Superpowers in Collision: The New Cold War (with Noam Chomsky and John Gittings), 1983
  • Andropov in Power (with Eric Abraham), 1983
  • Soviet Power: The Kremlin's Foreign Policy from Brezhnev to Andropov, 1983
  • Eternal Russia; Yeltsin, Gorbachev and the Mirage of Democracy, 1994
  • Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq, 2008.
  • Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground, Portobello (UK)/Counterpoint (US) 2011.


  1. ^ "Weekend Birthdays", The Guardian, p. 49, 15 February 2014
  2. ^ Steele, Jonathan (17 January 2012). "Most Syrians back President Assad, but you'd never know from western media". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  3. ^ Steele, Jonathan (21 September 2018). "If ending Syria's war means accepting Assad and Russia have won, so be it". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  4. ^ a b Croan, Melvin (July 1978). "Inside East Germany, by Jonathan Steele". Commentary. Retrieved 16 January 2020. (Steele) socialism in the GDR is as much a part of the socialist tradition as any of its other national manifestations elsewhere in the world
  5. ^ Garton Ash, Timothy (6 April 2006). "To criticise capitalism don't try to defend the dregs of Soviet socialism". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  6. ^ "'The Stasi on Our Minds': An Exchange". The New York Review of Books. 19 July 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  7. ^ Hitchens, Peter (2010) [2009]. The Cameron Delusion. London & New York City: Continuum. p. 70. ISBN 9781441123909.
  8. ^ "Looking for the exit". The Economist. London. 19 November 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  9. ^ Braithwaite (25 September 2011). "Ghosts of Afghanistan: Hard Truths and Foreign Myths by Jonathan Steele - review". The Observer. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  10. ^ "Previous Winners". The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. Retrieved 27 May 2013.