From Iraq to Somalia, journalist Nir Rosen critiques War on Terror


On October 15, 2008, journalist, photographer and filmmaker Nir Rosen spoke about his field experience and overarching impressions in covering key current conflict zones. The Human Rights Program and HLS Peace sponsored this event, entitled “Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia and the U.S. War on Terrorism.” In addition to his own freelance work, Rosen serves as a fellow with both the New America Foundation and the New York University Center on Law & Security. His best known publications include his books, “The Triumph of the Martyrs: A Reporter’s Journey into Occupied Iraq” and “In the Belly of the Green Bird”, as well as articles run by The Washington Post, Rolling Stone magazine, and the Atlantic Monthly. Ahmad Amara, a Global Advocacy Fellow with the International Human Rights Clinic, moderated the discussion.

Beginning with Iraq, Rosen led his audience on a tour of the major sites in the United States’ “War on Terror.” He provided some context to his own investigative methodologies, including the fact that his ability to speak Arabic, especially with an Iraqi accent, provided him access not granted to all journalists.

Underlining Rosen’s unique insight into the world of insurgents, Amara quoted the Weekly Standard: “[Rosen] probably has more sources in the insurgency than any other American reporter.”

Throughout his discussion, Rosen presented an honest and searing assessment of American policy and intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. In terms of Iraq, he expressed continuing frustration toward the U.S. political discourse, especially the acceptance that the surge has contributed to an approaching victory.

“It is true that violence is down,” he said. “But I maintain that is not because of American action, but is because of internal Iraqi dynamics.”

Before the invasion, Saddam Hussein was responsible for most of the country’s violence, but following his removal and the subsequent creation of a power vacuum, sectarian fighting proliferated in a way previously unknown in Iraq. Rosen went on to dissect the development of civil war between Sunni and Shia, and how this division has come to define much of the war.

“We took a country that was fairly stable, and destabilized an entire region,” Rosen said. “None of the initial goals that America set were achieved. WMD’s were not found, because there weren’t any to begin with; there was no al Qaeda presence at the time of invasion, and no real democracy has been achieved.”

Moving on to Afghanistan, Rosen touched upon his trip to the country over the past summer. He explained the lack of hope he saw expressed by both Western diplomats and Afghans themselves. Humanitarian access is steadily receding, and any Afghan of means is planning his own exit strategy.

“As soon as you leave Kabul, you are basically in a war zone,” Rosen said. “And attacks in and around Kabul are becoming increasingly common, as the Taliban have become so confident and comfortable, as if there isn’t an American in the country.”He described the modern Taliban as more pragmatic than their predecessors; they no longer oppose allowing women to work or prohibit girls from going. Additionally, while the Taliban still distrusts President Hamid Karzai, they tend to be more willing to speak with the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP).

Rosen offered no solution to the quagmire in Afghanistan, joking that he was glad to be able to criticize policy without having to set it.

In response to a question regarding the possible efficacy of a troop surge in Afghanistan, Rosen said, “As we increase troops, we increase contact with the enemy. Which means an increased call for air support and even greater chances that civilians will be killed.”

“Even is we can somehow miraculously solve Afghanistan, we still have Pakistan,” he continued. “The idea is gaining popularity in the U.S. of hitting targets in Pakistan, but that is insane. It will only serve to alienate populations.”

With the evening’s time running short, Rosen could only speak briefly on Lebanon and Somalia. He connected Lebanon’s struggles with the war in Iraq.”Lebanon used to be one of the major centers for smuggling weapons and ighters into Iraq, and now that flow has reversed,” he said. “Before we worried about the ‘Lebanonization’ of Iraq, and now its more about the ‘Iraqification’ of Lebanon.”

Having endured 17 years without a government, Somalia has had its rare moments of hope, moments Rosen sees as having been ruined by American interventionism. Following the collapse of the Somalia government in 1991, newly established Islamist courts were met with moderate success, as each clan used its own court to police its own people. The courts even began to take on health and education services. At that time, women could walk the streets safely; numerous road blocks began to come down, and there was a sense of “euphoria” among the general population. But following September 11, 2001, CIA backed warlords began arresting clerics, and a joint American/Ethiopian effort battled the courts.

“This was a tragic betrayal of the Somali people,” Rosen said. “It was their one chance, their one hope in over a decade. Now more and more, we see an Iraq style insurgency.”

Rosen closed with a simple reflection upon U.S. policies of democratization.”America has lost its credibility completely, because we only let you have democracy when it suits us. The elections in Gaza and the Islamic courts on Somalia are perfect examples of this.”On October 17th, Rosen will join a panel of presenters at the New America Foundation’s “Afghanistan Today” event at NYU.

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