Small Wars Journal

An American Journalist

Wed, 10/29/2008 - 8:12pm
By Bing West

Good for Dave Dilegge for speaking out in Small Wars Journal about the October issue of Rolling Stone magazine, wherein Nir Rosen, an American reporter, described his visit with Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Rosen left no doubt about his active cooperation with the Taliban fighters. "They have promised to take me to see the Taliban in action: going out on patrols, conducting attacks," he wrote, ".... once we are on the road we should take the batteries out of our phones, to prevent anyone from tracking us."

Having told the reader what his intent was, Rosen described the Taliban as "religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords." Rosen concluded his piece by declaring that the war was lost -- unless we negotiated an ending with the Taliban.

But in addition to providing the Taliban with a propaganda coup, did he violate moral strictures, given that killing Americans was an objective of the very Taliban attacks he wanted to watch? Is a journalist guided by virtues higher than those of patriotism or nationalism? Does a journalist transcend the laws and norms governing other American citizens? And who is not a journalist, if every blog and e-mail is a branch of journalism?

This isn't an obvious call in journalistic circles. Last year, David Schlesinger, chief editor for Reuters, e-mailed to me from the UK that "we (Reuters) are regularly in contact with established Taliban spokespeople via email and satellite phone to get the Taliban's view of various news events. Our competitors are as well. This is the normal and essential journalistic practice we follow anywhere in the world -- we report the views of all sides in a conflict without taking any side."

While he did not say that Reuters sent correspondents into Taliban camps, his belief that not "taking any side" was an "essential journalistic practice" reveals an attitude that transcends patriotism and cries our for a national debate. It is doubtful if Reuters in 1941 would have interviewed Nazis while informing fellow Londoners that Reuters was not "taking any side". And although most Americans who fought in Vietnam were outraged when Jane Fonda posed with North Vietnamese soldiers in 1970, the American government never said a word about her conduct, and millions of Americans supported her. Vietnam affirmed an American tradition of journalistic "independence" during a war.

Rosen is in elevated journalistic company in detaching from the American soldiers and their cause. In describing his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins wrote, "This was not my war. This was not my army." Whose army, then, was it?

Rosen described how he and two Taliban fighters deceived the guards at a government checkpoint. Suppose during World War II an American reporter had sneaked through the lines with two German officers wearing civilian clothes. "When we caught enemy combatants out of uniform in the 1940s," a veteran wrote in The American Heritage, "we sometimes simply executed them." The Greatest Generation had a direct way of dealing with moral ambiguity.

"I am a guest of the Taliban." Rosen wrote. Supposing in 1944 he had written, "I am a guest of the Waffen SS." It is doubtful if Rolling Stone would have published Rosen's article during World War II. The norms and values of American society have changed enormously in the past half-century.

Yet had Rosen been captured by Afghan soldiers, it is likely Rolling Stone magazine would have asked the US military to intercede for his release. But if the reporter has no obligation toward the soldier, does the soldier have the obligation to protect the journalist? Should Rosen, if captured, have been released or put on trial for aiding or abetting the enemy?

Not fully trusting the Taliban, Rosen employed the threat of murder more commonly associated with drug lords than with Rolling Stone magazine. "... Those I accompanied knew that they and their families would be killed if anything happened to me," Rosen wrote, alluding to shadowy Afghan associates who had arranged his trip. But supposing Rosen had died and in retaliation six children were beheaded. What is the difference between the Mafia and Rolling Stone, when reporters are protected by threatening to wipe out families?

Most disturbing was the lack of outrage to Rosen's sojourn by the administration, the military, the civilian appointees and the politicians. Secretary of Defense Gates is a cool, detached official who reacts to events. He does not plot a course into the future. He does not project a determination or a vision about how to succeed in Afghanistan. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral William Mullen, calls for a strategic review -- after six years of fighting! - laments that "we cannot kill our way to victory", a vacuous absolution that transfers responsibility for failure to others. Why increase from 32,000 to 50,000 US troops, whose basic training is as riflemen, if the application of force -- killing - is not the objective? A policeman protects the population by arresting criminals; a soldier protects the population by shooting the enemy soldier. Our military succeeds in confusing us all by reverting to Rodney King's plaint that we should all just get along.

When our leaders lack moral clarity and courage, then agnosticism about our mission in Afghanistan is understandable. Rosen's conduct is not the problem; he was taking advantage of American moral lassitude. Our leaders don't stand up for the righteousness of our cause. Why not hang out with the Taliban, if America's leaders see nothing wrong with it?

We are fighting a war. Yet the Department of Defense lacks commitment and passion in the cause. It is morally wrong for an American citizen to deceive friendly troops in order to sneak into enemy territory in the company of enemy soldiers. When not one American official or general will speak out, our Soldiers and Marines who are fighting and dying are let down by their leaders.



Sat, 10/24/2009 - 12:16pm

There are many in other wars like Vietnam who recall the tension between the micro vs. the macro, the kinetic vs. the constructive, the strategic intel seeker vs. the tactical intel seeker, the "gone native" vs. the imposing combat tourist, the imersed journalist vs. the broken down American that no company back home would hire but USAID somehow takes what it can get. This tension is no longer the same when it comes to Afghanistan. It is as if everything is done keeping the homefront blined by "good news" of heroic action. Because it had a free field, the Pentagon has kind of exposed its own limitations and has polarized a lot of people who really just wanted to understand. Through the Bush years the military was on its own, accountable to no one, devoid of clear mission and cheered when casualties (ours) were low and body count (theirs) were high. And yet factions within cursed eachiother irreconsilably. So here we are trying to explain why we need to invest so much more because we're losing when we've supposedly been winning all along. We're losing but we can STILL win, were told by the Exum rollercoaster of bad news-good news. It all sounds like an oncologist trying to talk a cancer patients with massive mets into a new grewling round of chemo with little prospects. So Exum and Nagle managed to convince the convinced. But what the careerists need is not "more troops" but a draf for "a lot more troops" and that you're not going to get. Later, when the troops come home with another Vietnam-like seeming defeat it will be the pink-slipped military bitterly blaming it on not getting the "more" they wanted vs. the civilians who will always find something to blame on the soldiers for the defeat. It is then that the reports of Rosen will clear the confusion created by the Petraeus/McChrystal camp followers like the Kagans.

SWJ Groundskeeper

Tue, 11/04/2008 - 12:35pm


Ken White

Mon, 11/03/2008 - 12:28pm

Mr. Webster:

That's the most sensible comment on the issue I've seen. I agree wholeheartedly and I thank you...

NS Webster (not verified)

Mon, 11/03/2008 - 11:44am

I've embedded twice with US infantry companies in Iraq, in 2007 and again in 2008.

I think Rosen's article is extremely valuable and informative. I think journalists like that write stories of real, lasting value because of the risk involved. In this week's Rolling Stone, Guy Lawson wrote about the Mexican drug wars, and it's fair to say he was in as much risk as Rosen. Stories like that aren't easy, and they offer a perspective we can't get any other way.

Rosen wears his politics and perspective on his sleeve. He is not truly objective, but that's fine, since he's completely honest about it.

I think, though, that a journalist has some sort of moral responisibility to his sources. Threatening your source's families to guarantee safe passage definitley veers into something morally ambiguous I'm not sure I can define.

And, using an American passport to help get Taliban fighters past a checkpoint looking for Taliban fighters moves the reporter very close to combat participation.

I know plenty of embeds who brag about helping US soldiers during combat. Obviously, I would have done the same - but thankfully for all concerned, that's never happened. Had Rosen found himself in a Taliban-US engagement, and helped hand up ammo to a Taliban gunner or carry a weapon during a retreat or advance, he's become a combat participant. At bare minimum, he should be prosecuted, but that assumes he comes out of it alive.

If you are an American journalist embedded with US troops, the "implied responsibility" is to help out when things get rough. Those are a soldier's words, not mine. The flipside of that is if a US reporter gets captured, then they can expect the same fate a US soldier, God forbid, would get. They (We/I) are not neutral. I understand that. The enemy understands that.

If Rosen truly "embedded" with the Taliban, then I think the Taliban could fairly expect him to lend a hand, and that would put him in an awkward - to say the least - position if they started fighting the Americans.

In one of his comments, he mentioned that he thought that account would be a "fun read." I think he would not live through it, and if he so much as handed a Taliban a round of ammo or drink of water, then by the rules of war, he shouldn't.

I applaud his bravery, but I think there are limits to how far a journalist, an American-passport holding journalist especially, should go. "Embedding" is more than just a word, and it's more than showing up and shaking a couple hands; you're part of it, in some small way. If you want to embed with the Taliban, that's great, but for that time period, that's what you ARE.

Sorry, meant to follow up one point to make it cohere with the theme. I have been posting on my site concerning the strategic malaise of the campaign for a long time. No one has attacked me for doing do. That was my point. I don't believe that anyone attacked Rosen for his position. Bing called into question the method.


I agree with eight of your nine points (the ninth is questionable, but perhaps I could sign on with some qualifications, caveats and modifications). But we knew every bit of these eight points before Rosen embedded with the Taliban. Rosen's piece, despite being called intelligence that many field commanders would want to have, wasn't really very informative. Just my opinion. You may have a different one.

So as for shooting the messenger, I don't think so. It's his method rather than his message. I have been posting at my site on our losing the campaign for almost one year now. When inept Army intelligence was telling General Rodroguez that there wouldn't be a spring offensive (and he aped that claim to the press), I claimed that there would be, consisting of two prongs - one in Pakistan by the TTP, the other in Afghanistan by the Taliban and allied elements (and rogues such as criminals and drug runners). Now they are more sensibly claiming that there will even be a winter offensive.

I agree. Shooting the messenger is unwise. I don't think Bing did.

Following up the final (ninth) point, I am not even sure that jettisoning their hard line positions is necessary. I would settle for rejecting the globalists. I am not so far convinced that they are willing or amenable to doing that. I am not sure the hard liners will ever be amenable to doing that. It isn't our business to tell them what kind of government they will have. But it is indeed our business to ensure that globalists and their enablers don't have sanctuary.

Having read the offending article again, I'm not sure which is Mr. Rosen's greater crime in the eyes of contributors here. Consorting with the Taliban or being right about our lack of progress and decreasing possibility of "winning" in Afghanistan?

The points he appears to have made, or demonstrated, include:

1. The Taliban can come and go pretty much as they please. They also have relatively good communications and a very strong network of supporters that we have not disrupted.

2. The Afghan police are corrupt and have poor morale.

3. The Taliban appear to have an enduring presence, ebbing and flowing in the face of what appear to be our old fashioned "Search and destroy" or sweep tactics. They appear to be the law in parts of the country, and can travel undetected.

4. "Hearts and Minds" doesn't work unless the population is protected from the Taliban.

5. Our bombing has not one us any friends.

6. The Taliban are disunited and riven with factions - something we do not seem to be able to exploit at present.

7. We have approximately half the forces the Russians has in Afghanistan, and they couldn't hold the country either.

8. The Taliban know that time is on their side.

9. The Taliban, or parts of it, may possibly be open to softening their hard line policies.

Shooting the messenger is unwise.

Rob Thornton

Sun, 11/02/2008 - 3:07pm

I appreciate Bing Wests observations and Daves as well. It would seem the piece in question is indicative of the authors priorities and interests, and reflect the growing trend of "what an individual wants" as they relate those wants to the broader responsibilities and consequences that their actions may create for others, adverse as they may be. This seems to be the view of many holding U.S. citizenship to which the innate freedoms they enjoy and advantage themselves of are somehow detached from the efforts made by those who serve to secure them. They seem to perceive that it is their individual efforts and goals are the ones which really matter, and that if their individual efforts undermine those of others they are justified for the greater good of profession and the desires they hold close as individuals.

It is also interesting to me to consider how such actions as this in the profession of journalism can create adverse consequences for other journalist these days. In an era where words and images are increasingly a weapon unto themselves, the line between combatant and journalist seems thin indeed - one that at a distance may be invisible. Many enemy combatants have become reporters in their own right, filming their activities and distributing it to an audience hungry for such things. In my view this is a line of effort toward their political goals and does exactly what they have expended their energy and taken risks to do: play on emotions; gather support; resources and will in order to obtain more money, more weapons, more compliance, more recruits, and generate more fear. These efforts increase the means at their disposal and may protract conflict, or even spread it. This is also good for them because if they spread conflict in a way that stretches their enemys resources, they get a twofer. These enemy combatants are combat multipliers of the first order, information used to such purposes might be considered a war fighting function.

This is where I think individual rights impinge upon the greater good. Still as other have made a point, I will use the information I can obtain about my enemy to defeat them - which probably creates a risk a journalist who considers themselves a non-combatant should consider there is always a flip side to the information they collect.

Finally Id say it worth considering that if something looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck from far away how do I know its not a duck? Somebody thinking to replicate the authors experience had better know that in a combat zone its always duck season.

Best, Rob

In 2005 I <a href="">wrote about</a> the incident mentioned at the end of a PBS show called <em>Ethics in America</em> which described something similar. Later it became obvious that <a href="">one side is more prevalent</a> in journalism.

It's not as though this reporter is breaking new ground. This week a group of us saw an Arabic translation of that BBC embed of the talib done in '04 or so, when similar questions were raised. If there is no consequence to such self-aggrandizement in aiding the enemy with advertising, and citizenship means you can wander around perform acts which would, if I did them as a military man, get me prosecuted for treason, then clowns like this will continue to pop up. I would argue that this is a bad thing.

Yes, military people will always complain about journalism and journalists. However, it's an information war, and citizenship has to mean something or there is nothing of which to be a citizen.

Tom W. (not verified)

Sun, 11/02/2008 - 9:38am

Nirrosen says:

<i>does any of this have to do with mr west's vietnam generation being bitter about losing vietnam and blaming their failure in vietnam on the media? i'm sorry you lost vietnam.</i>

No, you're not sorry.

The chuckling teenage contempt you stuffed into that question shows that you're very happy we lost.

The Montagnards aren't. Neither are the Hmomg. But who cares? They're not commie guerillas, who are almost as alluring as Muslim terrorists.

The way you write about those Taliban dudes, it's like you're in love or something. Hey, nothing wrong with that. We all have our tastes. Some of us like Japanese women; some of us like illiterate Muslim terrorists who skin peoples' faces off and rape small boys.

Love the lack of capitalization, too. It's so... youthfully edgy and devil may care. This is a guy who doesn't give a fig about convention!

Except that omitting capital letters on the 'Net is such a moronic, hackneyed style that it's really embarrassing to see an adult journalist doing it.

But you're a person with no human feelings whatsoever, which is why when I read your dumb lower-case blather, I hear it in the voice of HAL the computer.

You say it would be "fun" for us to read your account of a Taliban attack, in which God knows how many police and soldiers would be killed in the line of duty, trying to defend their unarmed fellow citizens against the rapists and face-skinners you're in love with.

Maybe you'll step on a land mine, Nir, and have your lower body blown off, and you'll send out a blubbering missive in lower-case letters, pleading and screeching and showing some genuine emotion for the first time in your life, right before you wink out and fly off to answer for helping the Taliban kill people who are only trying to defend their country and live in freedom.

Now <i>that</i> would be a fun read.

The Naivety of some, but not all, of Mr. Rosen's critics blinds them to the valuable service has given to all of us.

Mr. Rosen demonstrates the ambivalence that is at the heart of all insurgencies, their is no hard and fast divide, unlike between ourselves and the Waffenb SS, between an ordinary Afghan and a member of the Taliban. The Irish "troubles" demonstrated exactly the same thing - there were "IRA" and "Pro IRA" and "Mildly IRA" and people changed their allegiances and degrees of support based on their personal circumstances. That's why Mr. Rosen could simply drive to an area to meet Taliban. Drive to that same area in a few months and maybe the locals are Government supporters again.

To put it another way, today's Taliban is tomorrows upstanding Afghan citizen, and vice versa.

Were Mr. Rosen to "embed" with Al Qaeeda, that would be another thing.

antimedia (not verified)

Sat, 11/01/2008 - 8:33pm

nirrosen "does any of this have to do with mr west's vietnam generation being bitter about losing vietnam and blaming their failure in vietnam on the media? i'm sorry you lost vietnam. for what its worth, i wasnt born yet"

Aren't journalists supposed to get their facts straight? America didn't lose the Vietnam war. The US Congress withdrew financial support from South Vietnam AFTER the use military had already left. The North, supplied by Russia and China, then overran the south because the US no longer supported them.

If there WAS a failure in Vietnam, it was certainly the media's, because they have lied about the events of that war for more than 40 years now - David Halberstram being the most egregious offender.

You seem to have emulated David.

Oobs (not verified)

Fri, 10/31/2008 - 2:06pm

1) More moral others have said, its a slippery slope. Morality must have bounds or, at a higher level, we become willing accomplices to the evil we see. If Nir wants to describe the evil he sees that would be a worthy read--unwrap the onion, and lets see what lies at the core. Equal rights, civil liberties/freedoms and representative government? Or something else?

2) If Nir Rosen is not an American journalist, as he has said, whose journalist is he? If we can all agree that every journalist has a bias--and that is the nature of humanity--then this is a legitimate question. And, one if answered honestly will do Nir much credit. Is it the highest bidder? A foreign national?

3) I'm not sure there is much intel value at all. It is an emotional piece and if it causes anybody in an apathetic world to feel something then that is an accomplishment. On a sadder note, most people probably won't even read it. At any rate, to say that reactionary sensationalism is a new feature of the landscape unique to today is to totally ignore the history of yellow journalism. And, if I knew my history as well as Rob does, I'm sure we could find examples far older then the printing press.

Matt Jones

Fri, 10/31/2008 - 10:12am

Oh, and another thing . . . I do appreciate the absence in Mr. Rosen's comments of the pretense to idealism that one often sees in journalists' responses to accusations similar to those Mr. West directs at Rosen. Rosen's a straight-up mercenary, looking to produce a profitably "fun read" and willing to incur some personal risk to produce it. Reprehensible? Maybe -- but let's use the product of his efforts for whatever it's worth.

Matt Jones

Fri, 10/31/2008 - 10:06am

Let's ease up on Mr. Rosen. His approach to journalism is a symptom of many of the 21st century trends that make today's wars so different from those of earlier eras. Mr. Rosen may hold a U.S. passport, but he's a denationalized product of our "flat world" (not necessarily a bad thing, given the excesses to which too much nationalism so often leads). His education doubtless leads him to reject the notion of moral absolutes, and the social contract of the society within which he's been raised has long been predicated on the equation of citizenship with virtually boundless personal freedom. Like Mr. West, I find this approach to life a little disgusting, but I'm afraid it's just a feature of the landscape today, and to take it on is simply to tilt at windmills. Many of those trundling around today with flag pins on their lapels and yellow ribbon stickers on their SUV bumpers doubtless share Mr. Rosen's worldview in its essentials. For those of us who "take this war too seriously" because we've fought in it and will likely do so again before it's "over", Rosen represents, as Steve notes above, just one more potential source of information. Not the most insightful or reliable, I would have to say, but "one voice among many."


Fri, 10/31/2008 - 9:07am

"I admit that this is hopelessly complex. We won't know about the splintering in the Taliban unless someone is there to cover it. The state no longer has a monopoly on force and intel collection. As we cede ground on those activities, we won't know we're at the line until we're across it and looking in our rear view mirror. But Nir, take a look. Objects may be closer than they appear."

Very well said. However, I doubt we can include most aspects of today's journalism into intel collection, since the mainstream level of writing reflects a superficial glance at complex problems.

SWJ Groundskeeper

Fri, 10/31/2008 - 8:48am

There's a fine line that is being lost here.

Dave Dilegge mentions it but doesn't stress it in his original post. I believe at the root of his objection to Nir Rosen's "embed" is the extremism of the Taliban, not just that they are the enemy. That point doesn't come through as clearly here in Bing West's piece, but I hope and think it is still in play for him.

To a point, Nir Rosen's comments in rebuttal speak to principles I support. We do need both, or all, sides of the story (most stories, more on that later). I'll accept that it's OK to be a journalist first, not an American (notwithstanding the "help me now" dilemna Bing appropriately depicts). Information is power, and it is frequently collected through the hard work of brave professionals. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, it doesn't need our American moral supeiority on its side to make it right. And I do think it is just wrong to never talk to our enemies as a matter of principle.

To a point. I really don't appreciate his "wouldn't it make for a fun read," "sorry you lost Vietnam" and "you take this war too personally" comments, on top of his projectile hopeless nay-saying in his original piece. Maybe it's just him showing his true colors, or maybe it's just a young guy who thinks it cool to shake things up showing his ass. But that's just a small point.

The bigger point here is that there's a big continuum from alternative movements to armed foes to radical extremist enemies, and somewhere along that line those good principles that serve so well along most of the spectrum do start to slide down a slippery slope. Would Mr. Rosen so readily cover a lynching with the KKK, a drive-by with MS-13, or the firebombing of an abortion clinic? At some point, alternative movements are just plain morally and criminally bankrupt, and the duty of all good citizens of this world, not just America, is to destroy them. And that means at some point the gee-whiz journalist code of ethics that serves so well needs to take a back seat to a higher code.

That Nir Rosen seems to ignore that he is at least on the brink of this issue, if not across the line, gives me great pause. I admit that this is hopelessly complex. We won't know about the splintering in the Taliban unless someone is there to cover it. The state no longer has a monopoly on force and intel collection. As we cede ground on those activities, we won't know we're at the line until we're across it and looking in our rear view mirror. But Nir, take a look. Objects may be closer than they appear.


Fri, 10/31/2008 - 8:21am

One of many problems I have with your statements, Mr. Rosen, is that you start with a premise and then presume to write facts or observations to fit that premise. In most facets of observable society, you watch and listen and then once you have accumulated enough information, you write. Facts to create a hypothesis, not the other way around.

For your own elucidation, here is your premise:
"but instead their goals and motives must be understood, and eventually a political accord must be reached."

You ignorance of historical context referencing Vietnam cannot be excused in light of your own reasoning regarding COIN. You've committed grievous factual and logical errors and therein lies your argumentative fallacy. Journalism does indeed suggest, as you have mentioned, a lack of bias. However, you are working from the very core of bias. You can report on our enemy without becoming the enemy.

nitpicker (not verified)

Fri, 10/31/2008 - 3:02am

"In a free country it is the duty of writers to pay no attention to duty. Only under a dictatorship is literature expected to exhibit an harmonious design or an inspirational tone." -E.B. White


Thu, 10/30/2008 - 8:37pm

i mean PKMs, and i mean it was the taliban marching around


Thu, 10/30/2008 - 8:16pm

i did not say i deceived the afghan soldier. on the contrary, both i and the taliban commanders i was with told the afghan soldiers that i was a journalist and in fact i showed him my passport. of course there is nothing wrong with deceiving anybody if its going to protect you, but it wasnt necessary in this case, and i did not claim to deceive them. i in fact had to persuade them that i was a journalist and not a suicide bomber, which is what they suspected at first. in fact no deception was necessary to accomplish anything that i did in this article. moreover, i did not sneak over to the enemy side. there is no enemy side, and there certainly arent any front lines or borders. its the afghan people, the taliban are everywhere. all i did was drive from kabul to a bunch of villages in ghazni. there was no sneaking being done, they were very casual, marching around with PMKs, AKs and RPGs. thats the whole point of the article, that you can drive a couple of hours south of kabul and with no great difficulty and no deception, enter into territory controlled by the taliban.


Thu, 10/30/2008 - 7:52pm

From Bing via E-mail:

The issue is one of standards of conduct. Mr. Rosen entered Afghanistan as an American citizen on an American passport. Negotiations with the Taliban are prudent. But Mr. Rosen was not a negotiator. His intent was to embed with the enemy engaged in mortal combat against American soldiers.

First, Mr. Rosen wrote that he deceived Afghan soldiers to slip past a checkpoint with Taliban fighters, putting in play the credibility of all journalists. A journalist should not deceive allied soldiers at their posts of duty.

Second, he wrote that he was protected by the threat of killing families if anything happened to him. A journalist should not be protected by the threat of killing innocents.

Third, he wrote "if that one Taliban commander had not screwed up my plans to go with them when they conducted attacks... . wouldnt it make for a fun read?" A journalist does not treat enemy attacks that kill Americans as a fun read.

Mr. Rosen justified his three actions by writing, "Im a journalist, not an American journalist". If every journalist believed it was his right, above the laws and agreed-upon code of conduct of any nation, to sneak over to the enemy side to observe attacks, then journalists would be barred from every theater of war.

Oobs (not verified)

Thu, 10/30/2008 - 5:43pm

Why does Nir not feel that he is an American? Very interesting.

The dangers of absolute moral relativism are only rivaled by the dangers of absolute morality.

It is not clear what is won or lost, nor is it clear that all facts were reported. For all claims of impartiality, it seems as if the painting was done thru a lens. Perhaps this is natural; how else can one expect to be invited back?

The question still looms: would the complete elimination of the Taliban as a religious and political structure be better or worse for Afghanistan? To call for a change of course is one say all is lost is entirely another.

The company and battalion commanders I've known in Afghanistan would have loved to have had the kind of first-hand observations Nir Rosen might have been able to provide had he had been able to proceed with his reporting with the Taliban.

I know journalists are given no quarter on today's battlefields and I admire Mr. Rosen's willingness to proceed nonetheless. The rest of us can only benefit.

Steve Blair

Thu, 10/30/2008 - 2:58pm

Interesting to see how quickly this all started to degenerate....

Frankly, I don't care too much who reporters choose to travel with in war zones, provided that they understand that they are in a war zone and accept all the risks that go with that environment. The ones who annoy me are the ones who wander around expecting that their "journalist" status will protect them from all harm and get people killed by being stupid and/or oblivious. If a reporter chooses to travel with the Taliban or whoever, they should also be willing to assume the associated risks (kidnapping, wounding, etc.) and not scream for help if something goes south. Rosen seems to have accepted the risks, so it's not a huge issue for me. As for a "fun read"...I'm more interested in an informed and reasonably objective read. I also tend to approach reporters as one voice among many and not the "one voice of truth."

If there is some sort of strange moral code that says that our reporters are not allowed to travel with the enemy in a manner that will permit us to learn more about the enemy and in turn do something to better our chances of winning a war against them, then that code should be abandoned.

West's frustration with the prosecution of the war would lead one to think that a better understanding of the enemy is something we should acquire, not something we should dismiss while slandering Rosen as something of a traitor.


Thu, 10/30/2008 - 1:42pm

Of course, Rosen's moral character is hardly the issue, except that it's being made into one.


Thu, 10/30/2008 - 1:32pm

i dont know about my moral character, but you can judge my work for yourself at


Thu, 10/30/2008 - 1:29pm

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that Mr. West should find Rosen's Rolling Stone article about the Taliban so troubling. Mr. West's own brand of journalism, based on his embed experiences with U.S. soldiers and Marines, is explicitly pro-American, often in the most reductive sense.

It is precisely this reductive "us vs. them", "good vs. evil" manner of thinking and acting that has led us, hand in hand with the like-minded Taliban, to the current situation in Afghanistan. I can't imagine that Mr. West would advocate ignorance, or roadside executions, as a means to achieve moral clarity. Perhaps that's why SecDef Gates and Adml. Mullen haven't weighed in on the issue that gets Mr. West so hot under the collar. They probably have more important things to do, like, you know, planning new solutions to the mess in Afghanistan.

While I was disappointed by certain aspects of Rosen's Rolling Stone article, Rosen has a long track record of producing some of best, most thoughtful journalism on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I encourage everyone to go to the New America Foundation website where all of Rosen's work from 2003 onward is posted. Then you can make your decision about Rosen's moral character.


Thu, 10/30/2008 - 1:03pm

does any of this have to do with mr west's vietnam generation being bitter about losing vietnam and blaming their failure in vietnam on the media? i'm sorry you lost vietnam. for what its worth, i wasnt born yet
and has not the US administration now recognized that the taliban must be negotiated with? just as they ended up negotiating with the iraqi resistance? i came under similar criticism for spending time with the resistance in falluja, but now those guys are on the US payroll
also, as i recall, the increase in troops (not that i support it) is not merely to kill more people, but to secure the population
some of you people take this war too personally. this is not good vs evil, its much more ambiguous, and if anything you should be grateful for my work, for the light it sheds on your opponents


Thu, 10/30/2008 - 11:28am

objections to my article have been silly so far. i'm a journalist, not an american journalist. my job is not to serve as a propagandist for anybody, just to tell stories and my advantage is that i can tell stories that are hard to come by
any comparison to WWII or the nazis always shows a lack of imagination, but in this case also a lack of understanding. the whole reason why its important to have people like me, able to hang out with militias in somalia, afghanistan, iraq or lebanon, is because they are not a formal army of a formal state, with clear goals, structure, hierarchy etc. on the contrary, their motives are not known and diverse, often at odds, they take up arms for different reasons and as anybody remotely interested in COIN knows by now (except for sassaman perhaps), they do not put down their arms through force, unless you're willing to use force like the russians in chechnya (and that hasnt worked for the israelis), but instead their goals and motives must be understood, and eventually a political accord must be reached.
moreover, journalists regularly embed with the american military when it is conducting operations, attacks, killing. whats the difference?
imagine if that one taliban commander had not screwed up my plans to go with them when they conducted attacks, and i had seen that too. isnt that interesting? isnt it important to understand who they are? and most importantly, wouldnt it make for a fun read?

Niel Smith (not verified)

Thu, 10/30/2008 - 10:52am

I have to disagree with Bing here. First, this is not WW II. We have to stop comparing GWOT with WWII - the parallels are just silly. Like it or not, the world has evolved in the media and social norms since then, you might as well compare it with Civil War media coverage. You can like it or hate it, but it just isn't relevant what would have been acceptable in WWII anymore. We well understood the Nazis, their aims and goals. We barely understand the Taleban, which are not a singular entity with similar goals.

Second, Rosen's piece gave us some insight into the Taliban that we hadn't had before. It made policymakers and citizens THINK, and consider the motivations and viewpoints of the other side. There is value in that when commentators across the US lump all Muslims in global caliphate conspiracies and such, which upon any serious investigation fall apart. Funamentally, it benefits us to UNDERSTAND our enemies.
While I am not comfortable with journalists participating in action against US forces, I think efforts to help us see the viewpoint and motivations of the enemy are sorely needed in crafting realistic solutions for this fundamentally political conflict.

Ernie Pyle can be our guide. He had the intellectual capacity and strength of character to be both an American and a journalist. 'Nuff said.