Interview with Joel Wing, The man behind Musings on Iraq blog
By Diane Maye
April 16, 2015
If you study Iraq politics, chances are you have come across blogger Joel Wing’s Musings on Iraq, which is updated continuously with current casualty statistics and keen analysis on the political situation in the country. His objective, timely and accurate analysis has not gone unnoticed; over the years, Mr. Wing has been cited by numerous media sources, think tanks, and in books on the Iraq conflict. Over the years I've often wondered just who this elusive blogger really is, and how is he able to process so much information on Iraq. Is he really who he says he is? In this interview, I pose 10 questions for Mr. Wing:
[DM] How did you become interested in Iraqi politics? Was there a specific event or issue that triggered your interest?
[JW] It was actually on 9/11. I was watching the TV news on that day in 2001 when former CIA Director James Woolsey was interviewed. Woolsey was a neoconservative who had been advocating for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein for quite some time. He said that the U.S. should attack Iraq even if it had nothing to do with 9/11. At the time I didn't understand why he was pushing that position, but it caught my attention. In the following months, slowly but surely there were more and more voices in the U.S. advocating for a war on Iraq as part of the new war on terror, and I decided to find out what was behind this. I've been researching and writing about Iraq ever since.
[DM] Your profile says you are a teacher. What do you teach? Are your students familiar with your blog?
[JW] I've been a pubic high school teacher in English, California History, American Government, and Economics for the last 20 years. It's a very rewarding profession. A lot of my kids have found out about my blog and interest in Iraq over the years by just Googling my name or seeing Iraq books on my desk all the time.
[DM] Did you attend college? Which subjects did you study/ what was your major?
[JW] I went to San Francisco State University and got a B.A. and M.A. in International Relations. I focused upon U.S. foreign policy, but wrote my Master's Thesis on postmodernism and Islamism. The school had a great program, and my peers in grad school were some of the smartest people I've ever met. I had a great time going through theory and politics with them. I then went into a teacher credential program at Mills College, and got two credentials in English and Social Studies.
[DM] Have you ever been in any other profession besides teaching? Were you in the military? CIA? Other Government Agency?
[JW] Nope, I went straight from college into a teacher credential program to teaching.
[DM] How do you come up with the ideas for your blog posts?
[JW] I read roughly 40 newspapers a day, about half western and half Iraqi. Whatever catches my attention from reading I usually write about. I also do a weekly security report compiling statistics on attacks and casualties, etc. reported in the press. Sometimes there are too many things going on and I feel like I miss a bunch of events. Other times things are a bit dry and I struggle to come up with topics, but I'm committed to writing 4 articles a week.
[DM] Do you know Arabic? How are you able to synthesize and analyze so much information from so many sources (many of them in Arabic) so quickly & accurately?
[JW] No, I don't speak Arabic. I've always thought about learning it via some program like Rosetta Stone or something, but I've never found the time juggling work, a family, and my Iraq research. To read the Iraqi papers I use Google Translate. It's obviously not the best means, but I've been doing it for a while now so I can usually figure out things even when they mix up some of the translation.
[DM] What is your writing schedule like? Do you wake up early in the morning to work on your blog posts?
[JW] At a minimum I read through all my papers each day. I record all the security incidents that are reported in an Excel spreadsheet with the date, location, type of attack, casualties, source, and a link. I also make a copy of any interesting articles I come across. I take notes on those, and those are the basis for any articles I write. That all happens during my breaks at work if I'm not too busy or usually after school. I'm very meticulous and organized so I go through my notes and get all the relevant articles that apply to my topic, outline my ideas, and then write up the piece. Sometimes it takes a week or two to put together all my research and write something up, but most times I'm so busy juggling all my responsibilities I just write something the night before I publish it. No matter what though I'm committed to writing four articles a week.
[DM] Do you plan on visiting Iraq or have you already been?
[JW] I've been offered trips to Iraq three times so far, but I've never been able to go either due to the timing or money or family. I once got an offer to work at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for example but that was a one-year commitment and I couldn't leave my family for that long to do it. I would love to go and plan on doing it sometime, it's just a matter of finding the right opportunity.
[DM] Your blog posts are almost always perfectly impartial and objective. Is this difficult? Is it intentional or does it just come naturally?
[JW] It's just my writing style, and what I try to teach to my students. If you're writing for intelligent people, laying out the facts and providing sound analysis is what I think is important. Of course that doesn't always work because ideologies or passions sometimes don't allow people to accept things no matter what's said, but that doesn't mean I'm going to change how I write.
[DM] What are your future plans for Musings on Iraq? Do you think you’ll turn your blog posts into a book at some point?
[JW] I just hope I can keep up with my work and keep writing. I'd like to do even more interviews, and get as many people as possible to read what I have to say. I've done a lot over the years to try to promote my work, and now that Iraq is back in the news it's paying off a bit. As for a book, I've thought about it before, but my responsibilities have grown over the years and I'm not sure I would ever have the time now to do it.
You can follow Joel Wing on Twitter at: @JoelWing2 or on his blog at: http://musingsoniraq.blogspot.com/