If you haven't already caught it, take a few minutes and listen to Gleen Greenwald's interview with Nir Rosen on Salon Radio. Rosen, by far the most interesting war reporter at work today (in my opinion), discusses his new book Aftermath, describing his travels through the battlefields of the war on terror since September 11.
Rosen has written some outstanding pieces from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, among other places, and talks frankly about his conclusions concerning the American war on terror, and his experiences working unembedded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For a quick taste, here's Rosen on the role of international law in the global arena:
[American foreign policy experts are] concerned only with what they perceive to be the interests of the US, and whatever can achieve those interests is legitimate. A purely American nationalism. And therefore anything is justified in terms of attaining perceived American interests. Well I would argue that even from a narrow American nationalistic or imperialistic point of view, they end up harming what's in our best interests.
But I think there's probably a much more deeper racism inherent in that too. Because we would care if the victims were white. We care much less when the victims are brown, or Muslim, or are perceived to be somehow inferior. International law and these legal constraints are perceived to be useful for the weak, but the powerful don't need to refer to them, 'cause in the end, what are you going to do about it? There's nobody who could challenge us. And there's also a sense, a deep sense among people in the policy world, in the military, that we're the good guys. It's just taken for granted that what we're doing must be right because we're doing it. We're the exceptional country, the essential nation, and our role, our intervention, our presence is a benign and beneficent thing.
I imagine that's what it is because the policy makers aren't, they don't let you meet with them, they don't seem necessarily evil, even though in the end the policies are very destructive and disruptive and harmful even to American interests. But they believe that they are doing the right thing, at least for the American people, and that what we want is in the end somehow good for the world.
I guess it's striking when you think about Iraq today, here in the US, it's perceived to be some kind of a success. There's no guilt, there's no hand-wringing, there's no remorse, no lessons learned about the terrible destruction that we brought upon the society and the region. But alone, an inquiry into the legal issues, whether it was a war that was somehow justifiable in terms of international law. International law is something which, I mean, people just scoff at. In fact they to get to scoffing at it so much that I even scoff at it because it just doesn't matter. It matters for weak countries. It's a way for the strong to imprison the weak, to limit their freedom of action. The weak—small countries, non-state actors—certainly don't believe that the powerful are restrained by international law.
And some words on the effects of taking out Saddam Huseein:
We removed the state and allowed militias to take over, and those militias in a sense remained in power. So from the beginning you had militia warfare, you had total destruction of the state infrastructure, a civil war which began in 2003, but grew more and more intense, kidnapping and rapes and serious crime being committed right from the beginning and anybody with any kind of money, middle class, doctor or whatever, their kid would be kidnapped for ransom.
So rampant criminality, which also led to people seeking protection by forming militias. The dominance over Iraqi society on the part of religious groups would have gotten much stronger in the '90s thanks to the sanction devastating society and the flight of Iraqi liberals. Then of course we arrested tens and tens of thousands of Iraqi men, primarily men; the majority of them were never tried or sentenced, but they languished for years in American detention and in Iraqi detention where many were tortured and abused both in American detention and in Iraqi detention.
That left hundreds of thousands of people whose men and sons and husbands and fathers disappeared. Kids watching their fathers being taken away, the kids are screaming, daddy, daddy, and father's desperate and he's bleeding and being beaten and dragged away. So that's hundreds of thousands of families horribly brutalized and traumatized and children who were urinating on themselves at night because they're so scared, the Americans are coming and take them away too. And the women are left with nobody who can care for them and feed them, families devastated. Millions of refugees created. They are displaced either internally or abroad, living in poverty. People who may have been wealthy or middle class even.
Secular Iraqis, liberal Iraqis, educated Iraqis, now reduced to prostitution, having their kids sell cigarettes on the street, lives totally ruined when you're 50 years old, you cannot begin again, especially in a country like Syria or Jordan where there's already a poor economic environment and you don't have access to any kind of employment. And their kids can't go to school, so you now have a generation of children who haven't gone to school for about the last five years.
Every family that I've met in Iraq, or Iraqi refugees as well, has been touched by kidnapping and murder and rape and displacements. You have half a million Iraqis today living inside Iraq who are homeless, squatting in illegal settlements, living in shacks made out of tin cans and cardboard—I saw a house made out of used air conditioners piled up on top of each other—living in massive pits of sewage, stinking of shit, flies all over the place. And, of course, let's not forget you had hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, murdered, disappeared, tortured to death with power drills, with beheadings, their bodies found weeks later in garbage dumps. Hundreds and hundreds of villages in Iraq totally destroy in a civil war, like in Rwanda or Bosnia. Every house blown up. All that's left is a pile of rubble and women's shoes.
It's a totally destroyed society, and militias may not have a real hold today the way they did in the past, but torture is routine and systematic now. If you get arrested, you get tortured. Corruption is rampant; it's one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. Services are terrible, almost no electricity, dirty water, terrible malnutrition, kids not going to school. It's just a destroyed, brutalized and beaten place where the worst kind of people have taken over. There's no space for women—certainly it was better to be a woman under Saddam. Honor killings have increased. It's just a real betrayal of the hopes that Iraqis had with the removal of Saddam.
I was especially interested in Rosen’s assessment of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:
And a key element in the improvement in Iraq was Maliki's growth as a leader. He's brutal, and in many ways he resembles a Shia Saddam, but he asserted himself and the Iraqi state became much stronger and now dominates Iraq, and nobody can overthrow it. And he went after the Shia militias. Crucially, he made a decision to wipe out the Mahdi army and he did that effectively, which even won him the grudging acceptance of many Sunnis. He's credited with improving security somehow and with transcending narrow sectarianism.
And finally, Rosen on the likely future of Afghanistan:
I think that one way or the other the Taliban are gaining control of Afghanistan. That's self-evident when you see even provinces in the north and the west are falling into Taliban hands, or at least the countryside is and the villages are, and that you have no Afghan state to speak of outside the cities. So the country is going in that direction anyway. But, obviously, you wouldn't want your daughter to live under the Taliban rule, although in general I wouldn't my daughter to live in any part of Afghanistan under anybody's rule. It's not like the culture is very liberal, and the Taliban are merely a manifestation of Afghan culture in many places. But, that's not really our problem as Americans. Certainly our presence there is only fueling radicalism and conflict, but are the Taliban a threat to the US? Absolutely not.
They're locals fighting for Afghanistan. And they've been pretty clear that they themselves have learned from the mistakes of their relationship that they had with bin Laden. They saw that it had been, the Taliban inherited bin Laden in Afghanistan and they took over much of the country and inherited him. But I think it's pretty clear to most experts on the Taliban that they would not allow al Qaeda back into their country…
No, I don't think if the Taliban took over in Afghanistan again, I don't think Mullah Omar would come back, and I also don't think that they would invite al Qaeda back, because they would clearly be against their best interests. We've seen an evolution in the way that the Taliban think as well, in how they have learned from their mistakes. And finally, I guess I don't think al Qaeda is that big of a deal in the first place. A couple of hundred angry guys, not very sophisticated, who used their A team on September 11 and killed 3000 people in the US. Terrible, but that's been their only success in the last 10 years. So I think it's insane to go to war in several countries and invest billions and billions of dollars all for what I think is really a pretty minimal threat to the greatest empire the world has ever seen.