The best short summary of what has been happening in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years that I have seen. Everyone should buy Rosen's book. --PG
November 10, 2010
Independent journalist Nir Rosen has been covering the Middle East since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In his new book, Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, Rosen writes in length about Iraq, the U.S. occupation, the civil war, and how the war affected the broader Middle East, from Jordan to Syria to Lebanon. Rosen also writes about Afghanistan and his time unembedded with the Taliban, as well as the role of independent media and the failures of the U.S. press. [includes rush transcript]
Nir Rosen, independent journalist and author of Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World. He is a fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security.
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SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday that the United States is "open" to the idea of keeping American troops in Iraq past the 2011 deadline for withdrawal. Speaking in Malaysia, Gates added that the request would have to come from the Iraqi government. He noted that any talks on the issue would have to wait until Iraqi leaders agreed to a power-sharing deal and ended the long stalemate that has followed parliamentary elections in March.
Meanwhile, inside Iraq there’s been little respite from the violence in recent weeks. On Monday, bomb attacks on Shia Muslim targets in three Iraqi cities left at least 19 people dead and many more injured. Last week, a deadly siege by gunmen in a Catholic church in Baghdad left 52 dead. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited the Our Lady of Salvation Church on Tuesday.
PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI: [translated] Despite the pain we feel from such a huge attack, we will not be subjected to their will. Yesterday was Karbala, Najaf and Basra. And so, they will continue on with their attacks. Their means are a combination of hatred and political motives to hinder the political process and block the reconstruction of the country.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Here in the United States, former President George W. Bush has defended his decision to attack Iraq in 2003. In his first major interview since leaving office, Bush spoke to NBC’s Matt Lauer as part of a promotional campaign around his memoir Decision Points.
MATT LAUER: So, by the time you gave the order to start military operations in Iraq, did you personally have any doubt, any shred of doubt, about that intelligence?
GEORGE W. BUSH: No, I didn’t. I really didn’t.
MATT LAUER: Not everybody thought you should go to war, though. There were dissenters.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Of course there were.
MATT LAUER: There were—did you filter them out?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I was a dissenting voice. I didn’t want to use force.
MATT LAUER: Your words: "No one was more sickened or angry than I was when we didn’t find weapons of mass destruction." You still have a sickening feeling—
GEORGE W. BUSH: I do.
MATT LAUER:—when you think about it.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I do.
MATT LAUER: Was there ever any consideration of apologizing to the American people?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I mean, apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision, and I don’t believe it was a wrong decision.
MATT LAUER: If you knew then—
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah.
MATT LAUER:—what you know now—
GEORGE W. BUSH: That’s right.
MATT LAUER:—you would still go to war in Iraq?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I, first of all, didn’t have that luxury. You just don’t have the luxury when you’re president. I will say, definitely, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush.
Well, for more on Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and US involvement in other parts of the Middle East, we’re joined here in New York by independent journalist Nir Rosen. His latest book is called Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World. Nir Rosen is also a fellow at New York University’s Center on Law and Security.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s start with President Bush’s words.
NIR ROSEN: Well, what’s he going to say? This is a man whose legacy is Iraq. He said that 25 million Iraqis are better off. Certainly the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis are not better off. Their families aren’t better off. The tens of thousands of Iraqi men who languished in American and subsequently Iraqi gulags are not better off. The children who lost their fathers aren’t better off. The millions of Iraqis who lost their homes, hundreds of thousands of refugees in the region, are not better off. So there’s no mathematical calculation you can make to determine who’s better off and who’s not.
AMY GOODMAN: Though he said Saddam Hussein is gone.
NIR ROSEN: Saddam Hussein is gone, that’s true. The regime we’ve put in place is certainly more representative, but it’s brutal and authoritarian. Torture is routine and systematic. Corruption is also routine and systematic. There are no services to speak of, no real electricity or water. Violence remains very high. So, there’s nothing to be proud of in this. The Iraqi people deserve much better, and they’re the real victims of Bush’s war.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what’s happening right now in Iraq? There’s been a long stalemate following the parliamentary elections in March. You were in Iraq many times since 2003, and you documented very closely, for example, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army. Where does he fit into all of this, and where does the Iraqi government fit into the picture today?
NIR ROSEN: Well, Iraq today, and in the future, I think, will look more and more like Mexico or Pakistan, in that you’re going to have a strong central regime—a little bit authoritarian, certainly corrupt, brutal security forces, but strong. Nobody can overthrow it. Nobody is threatening to overthrow it. No more real militia activity. And terrible violence, which just becomes normal, much as it is in Mexico or Pakistan, a violence which doesn’t threaten the new order, but certainly threatens the lives of many civilians on a regular basis, and people have to adjust to that and live their lives accordingly.
Prime Minister Maliki is going to remain. He was always going to remain. There was never any question. When you’re in power, why would you give up power? And the Americans have been backing him since at least August. And indeed, he’s probably the least worst candidate, in that he has at least the support of some countries in the region and of the majority of the Iraqi people, to some extent. He does have a certain amount of legitimacy. He’s credited, rightly or wrongly, with the reduction of violence that began in 2008, when he went after Shia militias.
So, the Sadrists—the Sadrists are much maligned, but they are the largest, perhaps—they’re the only grassroots movement in Iraq and the largest real movement, real party.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who they are.
NIR ROSEN: They are a Shia movement which represents the poor, dispossessed, angry and marginalized Shias of Iraq. This is a class of—a sort of revolutionary class, which in the '50s and ’60s supported communism, was anti-establishment. And the voice of that anger in the ’90s, and certainly post-American invasion, has been the Sadrists, a religious movement, which is more or less anti-establishment, anti-federalist, was very much anti-occupation, was part of the resistance, but also played a major role as a Shia self-defense militia that got drawn more and more into the civil war and became more and more implicated in brutality, first against Sunnis and then even against Shia civilians. They were finally crushed by a combination of the Prime Minister Maliki's forces and the American military in 2008. So now they remain a real serious movement, the only one which even talks about improvement of services and social issues. At the same time, they always have that implied threat of the ability to return to their militia activity.
They were associated with Iran. Because they were marginalized, they ended up looking to Iran for support. And certainly, some of their units were trained by the Iranians to be better able to blow up American vehicles, have better aim with their mortars. These days, it’s no longer an issue anymore, because the occupation is sort of mostly a non-issue.
But they’re—it looks like they’re going to be integrated into the government, in the new coalition, which has been controversial. I maintain that it’s a good thing, that you want them in the system. When they were marginalized, they were pushed to violence and acted as spoilers. But when they’re in the establishment, when they’re part of the government, it’s very difficult to be anti-establishment when you’re in the establishment. It’s very difficult to try to undermine the system when you have to deal with mundane things like improving sewage services and electricity and things like that. And you don’t want this group of people who historically have been marginalized from Iraq to continue to feel marginalized.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying "they," "they," but Muqtada al-Sadr, explain his—what happened to him.
NIR ROSEN: He was the son of Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, an ayatollah that was allegedly assassinated in 1999 by Saddam’s agents, though nobody really knows who did it. And he didn’t have—Muqtada—a high level of clerical education. But that wasn’t really the point of his popularity. It was more that he was a son of this important family and that he spoke in this sort of common Iraqi accent and expressed the anger of this sort of revolutionary class of Shias. And when he was angry, he was popular. To the extent that he stopped being angry, he would often lose popularity. He was pushed in 2007 to seek exile in Iran, where he’s allegedly studying to be an ayatollah, which will give him more clerical authority.
But he remains the single most popular individual among most Shias, although he’s reviled by many Sunnis because they blame the Mahdi Army for its sectarianism. Obviously, the Americans have a grudge against him, as well, because his forces were involved in attacking the American occupation. And it appears that he’s biding his time waiting for the right moment to return to Iraq, where he won’t assume a political role, but he’ll be a very important symbolic leader of this movement.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And in a moment we’re going to play a clip of President Bush. He also spoke about the surge. This has been talked about as the great success of the American occupation of Iraq, as ending the civil war. But I wanted to ask you first about the civil war. This is how you start your book, and part one of your book you call "The Lebanonization of Iraq." What do you mean by that term, and how did the civil war really take hold in Iraq?
NIR ROSEN: By "Lebanonization of Iraq," I mean that sectarian identity became more and more important and the key to obtaining power, and sectarian groups were pitted against each other, much as we see in Lebanon. Now, in Lebanon it’s more of a formal structure; in Iraq it was just a sort of—became that way, although the Americans did introduce certain sectarian quotas into the original sort of puppet governing council they established. And this was very disturbing to the Iraqis, because they had never thought of themselves primarily as Sunni or Shia, and that had never been the overt, primary way in which you would attain power. So, in the summer of 2003, when the Americans began to institute this kind of official sectarianism and institutionalize it, you had Iraqis warning the Americans are trying to create a civil war. Now, they weren’t actually trying to create a civil war; they were just incompetent and stupid about the way they went about the occupation.
Now, the civil war did not begin in 2006. There’s a common—there’s a narrative which has become accepted that things were going more or less poorly, thanks to various incorrect decisions, and then in 2006 the Samarra shrine, a Shia shrine north of Baghdad, was blown up, and suddenly the civil war broke out, and we had nothing to do with it. In fact, the civil war started, you could even say, in 2003, when, following the invasion, you had this huge power vacuum, and militias began to form, and scores were being settled. But certainly, by the end of 2004, the civil war started in a very intense way. Americans destroyed Fallujah in late 2004. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Fallujah poured into western Baghdad. They began to displace Shias from western Baghdad, who fled to East Baghdad and began to displace Sunnis. Now, Shias were still quite weak in those days. But beginning in 2005, after the elections of January 2005, the Shia-dominated government began to be much more aggressive in its pursuit of Sunni militiamen, of Sunni resistance figures, and the al-Qaeda types. And it also began to crush Sunni-dominated neighborhoods.
The balance of power really shifted in 2006. And I met resistance leaders, Sunni resistance leaders, in Baghdad and Anbar, Syria, Jordan, and they all said the same thing: "We lost. We lost." It was a huge shift in how they thought of themselves. They had once thought that they could easily overthrow the Americans and overthrow the Shias. They looked down on the Shias as somehow being inferior to them. In 2006, they realized they had been defeated, not by the Americans, but by Black & Decker: it was power drills. If you found a corpse and it had its head cut off, it was killed by a Sunni militia. If you found a corpse with the marks of power drills in it, you knew it was killed by Shia militiamen. That was just their signature. And you had this brutal Shia counterinsurgency campaign—Shia militiamen in collaboration with Shia-dominated police and army—which just crushed Sunni neighborhoods and the Sunni population and beat them, until they finally realized they had lost. Many were depopulated from Baghdad. Not that Shias didn’t suffer—they suffered terribly, perhaps even more—but just numerically, Shias had the superiority, and they had the Americans backing them in this de facto relationship. And the Sunni population was crushed. And that is what finally pushed Sunni resistance groups to ally with the Americans against al-Qaeda and against the Shia militias. And that was the first huge shift in improving security. And the second big shift was Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to order his men, the Mahdi Army, to freeze, to go and have a ceasefire. Then you saw—this was in the summer of 2007. That’s about six, seven months, eight months maybe, after the surge began.
In addition to that, the surge, which began in January 2007, this introduction of 30,000 new troops, didn’t reduce violence. I was just in Iraq about a month ago. I visited Diyala province, where I saw villages. There are hundreds of villages in Diyala that in the summer of 2007, six, seven, eight months after the surge began, were totally destroyed by al-Qaeda and various militia warfare. All the houses were blown up. One day al-Qaeda would show up, they attack with mortars, they’d slaughter many of the men, and then they’d blow up all the houses. It looks like Bosnia. And that was seven, eight months into the surge.
The real shift, though, was when the Mahdi Army declared a ceasefire, and then you saw a huge drop in violence. Now, the American role was important, eventually, in sort of holding these gains, but the key factors was the Shia victory in the civil war, the crushing of the Sunni population in this brutal counterinsurgency, which the Americans, brutal as they were, were never going to be that brutal and just slaughter civilians en masse, and the separation of Iraq’s groups. You no longer had really mixed areas. Iraq’s social fabric is destroyed, perhaps forever. Sunnis and Shias were separated. The Americans came in with 30,000 new troops, focusing on Baghdad, surrounding neighborhoods with these vast concrete walls. It was very oppressive. It destroyed the social fabric even more, destroyed local markets. It made life very difficult. But it actually helped, in the sense that now there was only one entry point and one exit point. So the Americans and the Iraqi forces collaborating with them could determine who belonged and who didn’t belong. They could prevent weapons from being smuggled into each neighborhood. They could prevent militiamen from going into the neighborhood. And they could—they were basing themselves in these neighborhoods, which allowed them to, A, improve services—in many cases, Sunni areas weren’t getting any electricity or anything—B, develop sources so they could better go after militias. So the Americans did play a role, but it was primarily Iraqi social and political dynamics.
And finally, there was the evolution of Prime Minister Maliki, which is key to understand. He came into power with the blessing and support of the Sadrists. But as he matured as a leader and actually began to take his position as prime minister more seriously, he realized that the Mahdi Army and the Shia militiamen were competition for power and were undermining his control over the state. So, in a surprise move in 2008, he went to war with the Mahdi Army. Even the Americans didn’t know about it, actually. They were caught by surprise and had to quickly catch up. He called it "Charge of the Knights." The Americans ended up rescuing his forces, who were suffering setbacks in their battle against the Mahdi Army. But the Mahdi Army was subsequently destroyed. And it was Maliki, not the Americans, who was credited by the Iraqis, Sunnis and Shias alike, with destroying the Mahdi Army and with this improvement in security. So you finally had a government which had a certain amount of legitimacy, as well, thanks to the precipitous drop in violence.
Now, it’s an improvement only by the horrible standard of 2006 and 2007, when you had a brutal civil war with thousands of people being killed every month. So you have the Iraq of today. I was there a month ago. Every day there are bombings and assassinations with silenced pistols. You’re sitting in traffic. Somebody could walk by with a magnetic sticky bomb, put it in your car. It blows up. Nobody knows why. It might be an al-Qaeda thing. It might be political parties fighting with each other. It might be mafias. A director-general of a hospital was killed. Was she killed because of that position? Is it al-Qaeda trying to undermine a system? Or was she killed because of some sexual affair? Or because maybe her deputy wanted her job and he hired a militia to kill her? Which happens a lot. That thing is a true story, actually. It’s a constant, sort of, but normal pace of violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Nir Rosen, we’re going to come back to this discussion. And then after that, on this eve of Veterans Day, we’ll talk about PTSD. Nir Rosen has written the book Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Nir Rosen. His book is just out. It’s called Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World. As we turn now to another comment by President Bush. President Bush’s memoir is just out, and he talked with Matt Lauer of NBC about that period of heightened sectarian violence in Iraq in 2006 as being "the worst time" of his presidency.
GEORGE W. BUSH: That was the worst of my presidency, period. And the reason why is because I thought we were about to lose in Iraq.
MATT LAUER: So, in terms of decision points, how hard a decision was the surge for you? Where does it rank?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Oh, it was a very difficult decision.
MATT LAUER: But the surge did succeed in reducing, if not eliminating sectarian violence. Have you been given enough credit, sir, for the success of the surge?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I don’t—I don’t seek it. And—
MATT LAUER: Do you think you deserve it?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it’s an interesting decision, that when people analyze it, will say, "Well, it’s an interesting decision he made." The verdict is still out.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So that’s President Bush talking about the surge with Matt Lauer. And, of course, General Petraeus is the one who headed up that surge in Iraq. He’s now the head commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. President Obama has, in effect, done his own surge in Afghanistan, sending in 30,000 additional troops. What’s your take on what’s happening there?
NIR ROSEN: As we see, 2010 is the worst year on record, and violence is getting worse and worse. The Taliban control maybe 80 percent of the country, and they’re spreading in the north. And they’re spreading in non-Pashtun groups—Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen. So it’s not working.
Now, the surge didn’t work in Iraq. As I said, it was primarily Sunni and Shia developments, Iraqi developments. But even if the surge worked in Iraq, none of the factors which existed in Iraq exist in Afghanistan. So, in Iraq, you had Sunni militias realizing they had lost and that they were being defeated and that there was a potential Rwanda of Sunnis that could have happened, and it pushed them to ally with the Americans. Sunnis in Iraq are 20 percent of the population, a minority. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are dominated by Pashtuns. It’s not a Pashtun movement, but it’s dominated by Pashtuns, who are maybe 40 percent of the population, the largest group. And the Taliban feel like they’re winning. The Pashtuns have not been punished at all.
Maybe if you were the Russians or the Israelis, you could really massively bombard Pashtun areas and defeat them, if you were genocidal. The only successful counterinsurgency in history, really, is Malaya, where the British took half-a-million ethnic Chinese Malayans, moved them from their homes, and put them in concentration camps. And that sort of worked. So, if you are insanely brutal, you could do that to the Taliban, just move all the Pashtuns. Short of that, you don’t really have any sign that’s going to work.
In addition to that, Prime Minister Maliki developed some kind of legitimacy. A key principle of counterinsurgency is that you want to build the capacity of the government, strengthen it, and spread it throughout the country so it can take over. In Afghanistan, that’s the last thing you want to do. The government is predatory, is corrupt. It’s not a beast you want to feed; it’s a beast you want to starve.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And this is Petraeus’s key strategy. He literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency.
NIR ROSEN: Well, he signed his name at the bottom of it. It was really written by hundreds of other guys, all kinds of experts, and maybe he, you know, dotted a few T’s and crossed a few I’s. But yeah, he’s credited with writing the book, certainly. Although these days, in Kandahar, we don’t even see them engaged in counterinsurgency. It’s just a massive kind of military sweep.
Now, in Iraq, they called it "population-centric counterinsurgency." The theory is you’re going to protect the population. But in Iraq during the surge, the Americans killed at least three times as many civilians as they did before the surge, with air strikes, with kill-and-capture operations, with terrain denial using artillery in populated areas sometimes. So the population did not feel protected.
Likewise, in Afghanistan, we see civilian casualties continue to be going up. And we’re fighting a local movement. We’re fighting the Taliban. Al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda is in Pakistan. It’s in Yemen. It’s in internet cafes, in slums around the world. So it makes no sense that we have this massive military footprint in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda isn’t, as opposed to Pakistan or Yemen or elsewhere, where they are. Not that we should invade Pakistan or Yemen, obviously. But even by our own military logic, what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan, fighting a local indigenous movement, which is maybe not loved by many people, but is the only grassroots movement with any legitimacy in much of the country and is spreading? And we’re backing a regime which is hated, illegitimate, lacking credibility, oppressing people. The police, when they’re not doing drugs, are ripping people off at checkpoints, are stealing from people, are switching sides to the Taliban. We talk about reconciliation, trying to get the Taliban on our side? So there was a reconciliation last week in Ghazni province, I think. You had the police switching sides to the Taliban. And we’re setting up militias now, creating new militias, which historically has been a terrible problem in Afghanistan. There’s no sign of progress.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: You spent time with the Taliban in Afghanistan. You write about that in the book.
NIR ROSEN: Yeah, some of it was against my will.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, explain what happened.
NIR ROSEN: Well, what I found, with the Taliban I met, in general, they seem to be—and accounts of other people who have met them—are very local: farmers, villagers, people from the villages where you’re meeting them. And they’re fighting for very local reasons, not for al-Qaeda, not for jihad against the Jews and Christians around the world or any kind of battle until Judgment Day. They’re fighting for Afghanistan, for Islam, for revenge, because maybe somebody from that village was killed. They’re fighting for local grievances. Perhaps one tribe or one clan is being backed by the Americans in a rivalry with another clan, but they’re primarily locals, with local leadership.
Now, what we are seeing, though, in a shift, Petraeus has had some success in his kill-and-capture operations targeting mid-level commanders. What that’s doing, though, is actually having perhaps a negative effect. These older, more experienced commanders were part of the community, had a relationship with the community. The community could pressure them. Likewise, they dated back to the days of Mullah Omar, and they were responding to a real sort of chain of command. These guys are being killed or arrested. A younger generation has taken over, a generation with less ties to the community. They’re beginning to kill or alienate traditional elders and leaders. They’re much more radical. And they’re also less likely to obey commands of Mullah Omar and the old Taliban leadership. So you’re going to have an even harder time trying to negotiate with these people.
And you’re actually—you are pushing them into the hands of al-Qaeda. It’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Taliban are not al-Qaeda. That’s insane. The Taliban have their own hierarchy. It’s Afghans in the senior levels. Al-Qaeda, to the extent that it even exists as any kind of movement, has Arabs at the top, not Afghans, or maybe some Pakistanis. They’re two separate movements. But by killing more and more of the traditional Taliban leadership, we are going to push them eventually into the hands of al-Qaeda.
AMY GOODMAN: AP has reported scribbled notes from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar have surfaced in mosques all over Afghanistan’s ethnic Pashtun heartland, threatening death to anyone who takes up a government offer to negotiate for peace, according to a longtime Taliban member. Your response, Nir Rosen?
NIR ROSEN: It’s certainly possible. I mean, in Afghanistan, you never know what’s true and what isn’t, thanks to the war. I think the Taliban would like to negotiate. I think Petraeus has sort of nixed any possibility of negotiation. He really takes this war very seriously. He’s increased the offensive and increased kill-and-capture operations, going against their own doctrine that he’s associated with from Iraq. Whether it’s true or false, it doesn’t matter. But it seems as if they’ve abandoned counterinsurgency now and are just pushing massively with these clear sweep operations, arresting large numbers of men. I think the Taliban would like to negotiate, but they’re going to negotiate from a position of power. And I think the Americans would like to somehow weaken the Taliban momentum, so that the Americans feel like they’re negotiating from a position of power.
But the Taliban are there to stay. And our attention span is going to be limited—a year, five years. People talk about 2011 or 2014. We’re not going to stay indefinitely. And why are we even there? We’re investing so much money in this country, and what’s the return for it? To fight the Taliban? The Taliban are going to attack the U.S. with pickup trucks and AK-47s? It just doesn’t seem likely. And if the Taliban take over and al-Qaeda wants to return and set up training bases, even better. You can find them, and you can blow them up, as opposed to Pakistan, where they have much—there’s a much better infrastructure, much more dense urban areas, it’s easier for them to integrate. One thing that we’re doing, actually, we’re pushing Afghanistan’s problems into Pakistan, which seems like a terrible idea. So you have insurgents who are pushing—who are fleeing into Pakistan, drug networks. And the Taliban, al-Qaeda, that used to be at the border area, now are fleeing, thanks to the drone strikes, into Karachi, into Sindh and Punjab. So we’re further destabilizing Pakistan, and that’s where the real threat might be.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Nir, we have to go, but I wanted to ask you a last question. You write about, in the book, how you started reporting. You were working here in New York as a bouncer, and you decided to go to Iraq, and you’ve been one of the premier independent journalists, unembedded in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, across the Middle East. Why did you become—decide to become a journalist? And you end the book with a punchy critique of the U.S. media. Your assessment, as well, of that?
NIR ROSEN: I was a bouncer in Washington, yeah, but that wasn’t like it was a career without a promise. It was just something temporary. My aspiration had been to be a journalist for quite a long time. And I was increasingly frustrated with the reporting of the buildup to the war in Iraq, where it seemed obvious to me, and to friends who were academics and students who knew the region, that it was just impossible that there were weapons of mass destruction. And we knew that the war was going to go horribly wrong. We could see that the media was very much parroting the American line and was very subservient to the American establishment. And I felt very passionate about it. I had some basic knowledge of the language. I had missed my opportunity in Afghanistan, but I knew Iraq would be my opportunity. And indeed, that proved to be the case.
I remain deeply emotionally involved in the country. Friends I’ve made there in 2003 are the ones who help me now, although every time I go back, I have to erase a few names from my cell phone because they’ve been killed. And that happened just this last trip a few weeks ago.
But I also remain frustrated with the American media, at least the establishment, with few exceptions. You have some very brave and independent journalists. But too often, they seem to return to sort of being the handmaids of power, instead of challenging power, instead of having this adversarial relationship with people in power, realizing that people in power lie. And I think that’s been the fundamental principle guiding my work, is anybody in power is going to lie to maintain their power. It should be obvious, whether they’re a leader of a militia in Baghdad, whether they’re the leader of the free world. And our job is to undermine that power and undermine those lies.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Nir Rosen, for your work and for this latest book, Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World. He’s a fellow at NYU Center on Law and Security.