The Cycle | February 26, 2013
>>> our next guest seen the front lines of iraq's civil war , walked the slums of cairo and lived among exiles and now the former "the new york times" reporter is using the experiences to write thriller novels. his main character is a former cia agent who keeps getting pulled back in to serve his country, this time by an abduction near the somali border. joining us now in the guest spot is alex erenson and author of "the night rangers." interesting because you combine the skills of a novelist and reporter and have a mastery of the culture of the areas you're writing and writing a new book of a somali refugee camp on the kenyan side and travelled to the region. when we hear about somalia in the united states we think of pirates, people held hostage for ransom, when's life like right now over there?
>> i have to be honest. i did not go to somalia for the research. i went to kenya and i went to a giant refugee camp and i was going to go to mogadishu. i had a trip scheduled with a guy who's a very experienced so somali hand and it's better if i go alone on this one and i had brought the flack jacket and it stayed in the hotel an i did not cross in --
>> that tells you something of what it's like over there if it wasn't safe enough for you to get in there.
>> in the last six months it's gotten a fair amount safer. it takes a bit to write it and somalia is better but kenya 's a fascinating place and a wonderful country from a lot of ways but it has serious political problems and the giant refugee camps are a very interesting place that the kenyans i think would like to shut down and really can't.
>> alex , in the travels and correct me if i'm mischaracterizing your views but you found you don't think foreign aid really works so if it doesn't work, is it just the way the we're doing it or could be done better or an alternative to pursue?
>> i would not say it never works and i think that the motives of a lot of people who are involved in foreign aid are very good and i don't mean to denigrate them at all but i do think if you look at africa in last 50 years there's trillions of dollars in foreign aid and very, very little economic growth and if you look at the country that's really the greatest success story in the history of the world in terms of pulling people out of poverty it's china. china in the last generation, hundreds of millions of people in the middle class and the foreign aid community has to look at that and ask themselves what they could be doing differently and i think it can work but these giant programs often are not what works and certainly when you start displacing local entrepreneurs and telling local people, we can do this for you better than you can do it for yourself, you set up a culture of dependency and then you snuff out people who are coming up with local solutions to local problems and not really what "the night ranger " is about and it's a thriller but there is that world view , my view of this informs this and i'm not afraid to say that.
>> it's my experience in meeting with refugees that foreign aid , a small percentage of donations of foreign aid actually get to the people that need it. i've seen that a lot sold on the black market .
>> a lot gets redirected to corrupt governments and even if the intentions are good and the ngo delivering the foreign aid is not corrupt it still has a hard time of getting the people it's supposed to get to.
>> absolutely. you have the regions of conflict where the aid winds up feeding the conflict. literally feeding the conflict.
>> because you go with 10 tons of food and 5 ton to the rebel group for fighters or sell it on the black market as you say.
>> i just, i'm very interested in this refugee issue, especially with syria on my mind. but i want to find out a little bit more about the novel. why did you decide to go with fiction when telling stories that are pretty good on their own?
>> well, i think a lot of journalists would love to be novelists. one reason is that as a journalist, you always get lied to by the sources and my sources never lie to me. they may lie to each other.
>> they tell you everything.
>> exactly. or themselves. but they never lie to me.
>> that's great.
>> it is a great lifestyle to be a novelist. and but there's something else which is that like when we think, you know, now or in 50 years from now who defined the cold war for us, more than any reporter i think it's the man who told us what the cold war was about an i'm not saying i'm john luke array but it's the goal and to write something that rises beyond the daily facts for a bigger view.
>> alex , i have written some novels and it is not the easiest lifestyle in the world but kudos to lifestyle in the world. i have greated admiration for you going into kenya . what i want to hear is what is the hairiest story that you have from your time sort of parachuting in these far flung places and trying to get the real story ?
>> well, there's a story that i don't really tell about something that happened to me in iraq. so i'm not going to tell that story.
>> that's the one i want.
>> that is when i was a reporter for "the times."
>> can i check with one of our sources?
>> tell me that story.
>> but a couple years ago i was in afghanistan. i was embedded with u.s. troops there researching the book before the night ranger called requesting the shadow patrol." we were just on patrol and it was one of these ied clearing patrols, and lo and behold, like about ten of us had walked essentially by this little thing that was in the ground. none of us noticed. somebody is like, wait a minute, that is a buried ied. we have to get the clearing guys out of here -- we have to get the clearing guys here to clear this thing out. and, you know, so they do, it takes a long time, they lay the charge, finally they blow it and sometimes it's nothing. it's like a little piece of trash on the ground. in this case it was an ied. so we were all just lucky. but that was a close call . but, you know, honestly, that happens to those guys every day.
>> when you said part of wanting to write the novel is you want to entertain people but you also want to give them sort of a bigger picture. so what is that bigger picture in this novel?
>> the bigger picture -- one, it's about whether aid does any good. but the other big point of this novel, and it's actually very timely is about drones. i think drones is an important part of why the united states have not been attacked. you have to give them credit. but we have grown to rely on them too much and there's frontally not been enough publish discussion about how we use these drones. i'm glad to see even if it's for political purposes, i'm glad to see the republicans are pushing on this a little bit because i think it's a discussion that we need to have.
>> bringing the drone conversation to a broader audience.
>> yes, yes.
>> all right. alex , this guy writes a novel a year. i would be happy if i could write a novel in lifetime. it might be a choose your own adventure one. thanks so much for joining us.
>>> up next, s.e. with a wake-up call for millennials and the rest of us. i've