Insurgency Reporting and the Indispensable Nir Rosen


Nir Rosen TWN Ali Gharib Max Snow.jpg
(photo credit: Maxwell Snow)
Ali Gharib has just published “Behind Enemy Lines,” a penetrating profile of Nir Rosen, whose supporters and critics alike recognize that he more than any other reporter has an unmatched ability to burrow into the meetings, mosques, networks, and thinking of insurgents who are fighting America and its allies.
Some consider Rosen a hero and others a traitor. I think he’s brilliant, sometimes reckless with his own safety, obsessed with achieving results, unique in the real way, loyal to friends, uncompromising but willing to learn and listen.
The New York Review of Magazines profile deserves to be read in full, but I’ll post the clip from the end which carries my own comments about Nir:

Despite his left-wing inclinations, Rosen has still grown into a respected war reporter, writing for a long laundry list of top publications — virtually every major rag read by anyone who’s anyone in Washington. The Times Magazine, Time, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, and Harper’s have all published his work. “He probably has more sources in the insurgency than any other American reporter,” acknowledged The Weekly Standard while in the same breath accusing him of being a traitor.
“A lot of these people who are debating what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing it more from an ideological perspective — they’re severely hampered by their lack of detail,” says Steven Clemons, a foreign policy thinker at Washington’s New America Foundation, where Rosen was once a fellow. “I think it’s that granular on-the-ground awareness that makes Nir more difficult to discount. He’s seen and heard Muqtada al Sadr. While he’s got his views, which are clear and distinctive, his real sword and armor is his appreciation for the facts.”
Clemons is right. Rosen has gotten the stories, and he’s not beholden to his ideology. Ahead of this winter’s Iraq elections, many pundits were making dire predictions of a new round of open sectarian warfare. Rosen demurred, writing a spate of articles declaring that the civil war was over. But his evidence, culled from walking the streets, was still boldly critical of U.S. policy — the ethnic cleansing of many neighborhoods had been successful, leaving monolithically sectarian neighborhoods unlikely to produce conflict. So far, his theory has been borne out. The election and the slow process of forming a government have gone down with little violence.
His fearless independence allows Rosen to do things like embed with the United States’ enemy. He’s beholden to them for his safety; he gets permission from clerical authorities, militias and even Taliban defense ministers to roam freely. But he is not a propaganda tool. He maintains a critical eye and, later, reports honestly on what he saw.
Rosen’s “sword and armor” have also attracted the attention of the United States’ own warriors. Military and intelligence types read his work, Rosen says, beaming with pride that his efforts get noticed. Attention from power circles clearly matters to him. He says he has little interest in writing for magazines — GQ is an example he uses — that are not likely to be read by policy makers.
“I want to get [U.S. Gen. David] Petraeus and [left-wing professor Noam] Chomsky to blurb my book,” he half-jokes. “It’s hard to criticize my facts because I’ve gone places where other people with my politics haven’t.”

— Steve Clemons


2 comments on “Insurgency Reporting and the Indispensable Nir Rosen

  1. David says:

    It was really refreshing to discover Nir Rosen on TWN. Someone whose comments were actually worth reading and thinking about – an honest-to-god treat.
    I’ve taught comp/argument, so I understand debate. But I have, over time, become less enamoured of debate and more interested in finding informed, intellectually honest, involved observers who are willing to share what they are able to find.
    I was particularly intrigued by the first comment out of the mouth of the author of the article which was the subject of the panel discussion on the disastrous debacle known as Israel v. Palestine: “I’m not here to sell you anything.” I’m ok with What do you think?, especially if what I am hearing is the articulation of fact-based thought processes. My only interest in what someone believes is the extent to which it helps me place their thoughts in perspective.
    Nir Rosen is an example of someone whose beliefs likely drive him to do what he does, but I also suspect that his beliefs derive from what he has learned, not the other way around. Apparently the validity of what he writes has overcome the rendering of liberal as a pejorative in America.
    In the interest of full disclosure, I am an unrepentant, unreconstructed New Deal Democrat. It did take a while to get back to the understanding that FDR got it right far more often than most American Presidents, flawless though he wasn’t. I always knew he saved our asses.


  2. Josh M. says:

    He’s incredible. I’d like to one day learn why he does what he does. Is it for the adrenaline or the hope that he can actually change U.S. policy? Both?
    either way, this profiling is phenomenal. Thanks for linking to it!


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