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BPR Interviews: Alissa Rubin

NYTCREDIT: Earl Wilson/The New York Times 2/10/2015

Alissa Rubin currently works as the Paris bureau chief of The New York Times. In 2016, she won the Pulitzer Prize, “for thoroughly reported and movingly written accounts giving voice to Afghan women who were forced to endure unspeakable cruelties.” From 2007 until 2013 she reported in Iraq and Afghanistan for The Times, serving as the Afghanistan bureau chief for four years.

How has your approach to reporting changed since you started covering conflicts?

AR: A significant segment of my life was as  Washington reporter covering Congress. That knowledge of how things work turned out to be incredibly useful in covering the US role in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We brought an American template, a Washington template, ways of thinking [about] things—what would be done that was very familiar to me from Washington. I think understanding who was going to be in control, who had power, and how much they were going to be answerable to D.C. is a very important part of how I think about covering things. I still have that, although, today, under a very different administration from those that have come before, there is simply less engagement and less effort to impose an American gestalt, if you will, on foreign places.

Did you see a change in Iraqi or Afghan perceptions of America from President Bush to President Obama?

AR: I didn’t really see a big change. If you are living in Iraq or Afghanistan, or name your country, when it is at war, and the United States is an actor in that war, your impression of them is really going to be driven by which side you’re on. You’re always going to have a bunch of people who are opponents of the United States’ position who have been bombed and killed and had their houses destroyed. They’re going to be pretty angry and resentful and form guerilla groups and some of them will become terrorists. If you’re on the other side, you will be grateful, and you’ll like [the US] because they helped you win. I think where you’ll see more of a change is something like with the relationship with Saudi [Arabia].

Has the level of trust in America as a peace broker changed during the time you have coverd American Wars?

AR: I think there is very little trust left. The trust has just steadily declined. We started out with a trust deficit because of our relationship with Israel, which in the Middle East is very unpopular. It has declined further because of different choices we’ve made in terms of who we’ve backed. But, I think now the United States is seen as having deserted Iraq at a crucial moment. [The United States] is not trustworthy in terms of being a steady friend. It is seen as not having done what it said it was going to do in Syria with the “red line” discussion. It has put in place and backed a series of corrupt figures in different countries. And that is a very serious problem for us that has not been grappled with sufficiently. We have participated in corrupt activities, for extremely good reasons, but nonetheless, the perception is that we are not to be trusted any more than any other powerful entity.