Short, Strange Trip: Former Conservative Wunderkind Heads to Kurdistan

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 2.49.11 PMJonathan Krohn Smoking a hookah in Kurdistan

It’s hard to know what opinions a well-spoken, slightly ridiculous thirteen-year old Jonathan Krohn had on the War in Iraq and Middle Eastern politics when he gave his now infamous speech about the “four pillars of conservatism” at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2009. Mr. Krohn insists that it didn’t matter then, and doesn’t now.

“We went to war in Iraq in 2003 — I was eight years old!” he told The Local last week. For the past several months, Mr. Krohn, now 18, has been living in the East Village (and occasionally contributing to The Local) as an N.Y.U. freshman. But now it’s upward and onward: last week, after being interviewed for a profile in The Times’s Style section, he left the country for a four-month stay in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he will report full-time for Rudaw, a Kurdish newspaper with an English-language Website.

Mr. Krohn is now on sabbatical at N.Y.U., and he doesn’t believe that he will be returning. “At this point, here’s my philosophy,” he said. “I’m doing the same jobs that I was planning on doing when I graduated, and I’m going to be in less debt.”

It’s hard to argue with him: the Times profile has already sparked interest from high-profile agent David Kuhn, according to Ray LeMoine, who threw a going-away party for Mr. Krohn at Heathers last week. After the sendoff, the two friends slipped into Chelsea hotspot Electric Room to party with Nur Khan and fellow Style subject Domingo Zapata.

Not surprisingly, the Times profile also prompted some Internet snark, thanks to a line about Mr. Krohn’s personal life: “In the midst of all the upheaval in his life,” wrote Susan Chumsky, “the one thing that has remained constant (‘unfortunately,’ he said) is his virginity.” Today, Mr. Krohn told The Local he is not in fact a virgin; he decided not to ask for a correction because he didn’t want the matter to overshadow the rest of the piece.

krohn2Kelsey Kudak At Big Nick’s.

It’s no wonder setting the record straight isn’t all that much of a priority: this week the precocious teen is focused on writing about a meeting, during a time of heightened tension, between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of Kurdistan.

Rudaw is based in Erbil, a city in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq, a semi-autonomous federal entity that’s populated by Kurds rather than Iraqi Arabs. There’s a long history of violent disputes between the two peoples, most famously Saddam Hussein’s horrific genocide against the Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.

“I was always interested in Middle Eastern history,” Mr. Krohn said last week. “I just thought it was a fascinating culture. I really wanted to cover Middle Eastern politics, and I’ve been able to reach that goal, surprisingly earlier than I thought I would.”

Mr. Krohn sent Rudaw his resume after a friend from the Wall Street Journal recommended that he “start from the bottom” (i.e. work as an intern) if he wanted to live in and report from the Middle East. Rudaw English’s Facebook page calls for young writers to apply as interns. But the paper hired Mr. Krohn as a full-time fellow instead, covering his airfare and providing him with an apartment in Iraq, in addition to a regular wage.

Mr. Krohn’s bio snippet on Mother Jones, the left-wing bimonthly magazine to which he’s contributed, along with Atlantic and Salon, pokes fun at his younger right-wing self. Nearly all his published work covers American politics, especially the current state of conservatism, which seems to only fascinate Krohn more as he moves away from it ideologically. Full-time coverage of Middle Eastern politics would be a complete break from the subject of American conservatism that he’s known for.

Mr. Krohn is unshakably confident looking forward. He described his recent piece about the Iraq War’s effect on the Kurds in breathless tones, with all the excitement of an 18-year-old about to do something totally new. If he was nervous about living alone in a nation that’s been ravaged by a decade of war, in a region that speaks a language he has only just started learning, he hid it well. Before he even arrived in Kurdistan to start his new job, he intended to gather material for a story on protests in Cairo.

“I have a 12 hour layover there, so I have nothing else to do,” he said last week. “Generally Friday is a protest day. I think that will be a good story for someone.”