Nolan Peterson is The Daily Signal’s foreign correspondent, focusing on the war between Russia and Ukraine that has not received as much attention as it deserves among major news sources. We talked to Peterson this week to get his insight into why he works with The Daily Signal, and why telling the story of the war is so important.
Why are you a conservative?
After a career as an Air Force special operations pilot, and after years of experience in war zones as a conflict journalist, I understand that the United States remains a beacon of hope for people fighting for their freedom around the world.
I feel like conservative principles best reflect my belief in the right of every person to live in freedom—and I believe that’s a right worth fighting for.
What brought you to work at The Daily Signal?
I first reported on the war in Ukraine in the summer of 2014 while working as a freelance journalist.
I saw firsthand a Russian invasion of a sovereign European country. Tank battles, heavy artillery barrages, rocket attacks—Europe’s only ongoing land war was of an intensity far beyond anything I ever witnessed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
And yet, back in the U.S., the war felt like a secret.
When the war intensified, I looked for a news outlet that was willing to invest in me to report on the war from the front lines.
The Heritage Foundation saw the value in my proposal and invested in my long-term presence in the region. The Daily Signal—and Rob Bluey in particular—understood the long-term value to the American people to be informed about this war.
They took a chance on me, and, in the end, I think it’s paid off.
In 2015, I was the first American journalist to embed with the Ukrainian regular army in combat. And, after more than four years of war, I’m still among only a handful of U.S. journalists permanently based in Ukraine.
Why did you choose to become a foreign correspondent in the Ukraine?
There’s a line I’ve used in a few of my articles that I think succinctly answers this question: “The only way to prevent another world war from happening, is to believe that it could.”
In 2014 I raised alarms that the war in Ukraine could spill over into a larger conflict across Eastern Europe, which could ultimately embroil NATO.
I remember the eye rolls I got from other journalists at that time when I voiced this opinion.
Now, four years later, NATO is building up its forces in the Baltics and across Eastern Europe, U.S. and Russian forces have gone head to head in Syria, and relations between Moscow and Washington have hit a post Cold War nadir.
War between the U.S. and Russia is no longer unthinkable. But we should have seen this coming four years ago. When it comes to the recent tensions between Russia and the West, all roads lead back to Ukraine. So—we have to pay attention to what’s happening in Ukraine. And we have to take seriously the possibility that this war could get much bigger, and much worse.
What is a normal day like for you?
No day is ever the same. I firmly believe in “boots on the ground” journalism, so I frequently travel to the places I cover. Whether at the conflict areas in eastern Ukraine, embedded with the Kurdish peshmerga on the front lines against ISIS in Iraq, aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier off the coast or Syria, or at a coffee shop in Kyiv for a face-to-face interview—I try to get away from the computer screen as much as I can.
Otherwise, I have a pretty strict routine of waking up early to write and then going about doing interviews and editing in the afternoons. Evenings I leave open for the most important part of my day—time with my wife.
Why should conservatives care about the topics you report on?
Our national values are at stake in Ukraine.
Ukrainians are fighting for intangible goals like freedom and democracy, and for the right to chart their own future free from Russian oppression.
Ukrainians are fighting for uniquely American values, and they see our country as a symbol for the kind of future they want to achieve for themselves and their children one day.
“If we win here, we win everywhere,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in his novel about the Spanish Civil War, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
I believe that, in our time, the same can be said about Ukraine. It’s not just Ukraine’s future at stake in this war. It’s the everlasting promise of freedom and democracy for all people. If there ever was a country that deserved American help in pursuit of their freedom, it’s Ukraine. And that’s the story I want to tell.
What questions do you have for Nolan?