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Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 19, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
As the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, Chandrasekaran has probably spent more time in U.S.-occupied Iraq than any other American journalist, and his intimate perspective permeates this history of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquartered in the Green Zone around Saddam Hussein's former palace. He presents the tenure of presidential viceroy L. Paul Bremer between May 2003 and June 2004 as an all-too-avoidable disaster, in which an occupational administration selected primarily for its loyalty to the Bush administration routinely ignored the reality of local conditions until, as one ex-staffer puts it, "everything blew up in our faces." Chandrasekaran unstintingly depicts the stubborn cluelessness of many Americans in the Green Zone—like the army general who says children terrified by nighttime helicopters should appreciate "the sound of freedom." But he sympathetically portrays others trying their best to cut through the red tape and institute genuine reforms. He also has a sharp eye for details, from casual sex in abandoned offices to stray cats adopted by staffers, which enable both advocates and critics of the occupation to understand the emotional toll of its circuslike atmosphere. Thanks to these personal touches, the account of the CPA's failures never feels heavy-handed. (Sept. 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The New Yorker
This revealing account of the postwar administration of Iraq, by a former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, focusses on life in the Green Zone, the American enclave in central Baghdad. There the Halliburton-run (and Muslim-staffed) cafeteria served pork at every meala cultural misstep typical of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which had sidelined old Arab hands in favor of Bush loyalists. Not only did many of them have no previous exposure to the Middle East; more than half had never before applied for a passport. While Baghdad burned, American officials revamped the Iraqi tax code and mounted an anti-smoking campaign. Chandrasekaran's portrait of blinkered idealism is evenhanded, chronicling the disillusionment of conservatives who were sent to a war zone without the resources to achieve lasting change.
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker
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Top Customer Reviews
Maybe your name is James Haveman, a 60 year old social worker. I don't know if we have a job for you. Wait, you are a true party loyalist? How about taking over the Iraqi health care system? Currently we have a gentleman running it named Frederick Burkle, Jr. He's a physician with an MA in public health, postgraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and UC Berkeley. He specializes in disaster-response issues, a subject he taught at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The problem with him is we aren't sure he is a Republican loyalist. So Jim why don't you go over and take his place?
I am definitely not making this up. If this were a novel by, say, Carl Hiaasen, it would be the funniest book of the year. Tragically, this is real life. I finished this book right after reading "Fiasco", and don't know if I can take many more recountings of the disaster that is Iraq.
The folks that were sent to Iraq to build a new nation made all the wrong decisions at just the right time. They were literally trying to turn Iraq into a little USA. The new traffic codes and the new regulations for the stock exchange? The Iraqis read them through, and carefully filed them in the circular file. Another big idea was to sell of the assets of state run companies and attract private investors. Selling an occupied countrys' assets is a clear violation of International Law. And there were no investors in the whole world who were interested in these companies. The CPA eliminated all import tariffs, so Iraqis bought 500,000 cars in the first year of occupation. Of course this meant mile long lines at gas stations, and when you finally got your gas you entered total gridlock on streets that were often full of military roadblocks.
This is another fascinating book on the disaster of Iraq. It'll make you angry and cry out in frustration, but all of us need to know what is going on over there.
The author documents both the unreality of the Green Zone ("The fear on the faces of American troops was rarely seen by the denizens of the Palace") and the terrible errors that resulted from arrogance, ignorance, and plain bureaucratic in-fighting.
The author opens by concluding that most of those serving in the provisional authority simply gave up and went through the motions. He calls them a motley bunch, most qualified by allegiance to the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party, rather than actually being competent or even relevant. The author makes an informed speculative judgement that fully half of those serving, many callow youths, got their first passport to take the political appointments in Iraq. Great line from one disillusioned staffer: "I'm a neo-conservative who has been mugged by reality."
Bremer screwed this up, but it was Dick Cheney who chose him for the job and got General Garner fired. Dick Cheney also personally directed the removal of Tom Warrick, the only person in the US government that actually understood Iraq in all its nuances, from the Garner team, largely to protect Chalabi--a thief and a liar according to CIA and State, a willing accomplice who sucked up to Cheney--and block objections to Chalabi being installed as the leader.
The author also reports that Doug Feith kept General Garner ignorant in order to promote Chalabi as the one with the answers.
The bottom line within this book comes in four parts:
1) Bureaucratic in-fighting and Pentagon civilian arrogance lost the peace before it even had a chance.
2) Looting destroyed all the ministries while the sanctions destroyed the infrstructure. The US made things worse by insisting on hiring US companies playing by US federal acquisition rules, and ultimately spending 40% of the money on security instead of reconstruction.
3) Bremer single-handedly destroyed any possibilities of peace with his first two decisions--purging the Bathists not only drove 50,000 people, the ones with all the knowledge, underground, it provided the insurgency with its leadership. Dismantling the military and police created an army of insurgents overnight. Finally, in seeking to privatize the Iraqi economy, Bremer and his deputies were in specific violation of international law preventing occupying powers from doing just that.
4) Bremer set aside the inter-agency process (just as Dick Cheney did in Washington) and while the author credits Bremer with zeal, it can safely be concluded that he was the most ignorant, arrogant, destructive pro-consul in modern history. Common sense was killed by the Bremer and his CPA.
From Cheney to Rumsfeld to Wolfowitz to Feith to Bremer, there is a clear-cut culpability for destroying what was left of Iraq, for wasting half a trillion dollars, for losing more US troops to combat than were murdered on 9/11, and for creating 65,000 amputees, all for an elective war and a refusal to listen to the wisdom of the truly experienced officers: Tony Zinni of the Marines and Shinseki of the Army. It does bear mention, however, that the success of these four individuals in doing great harm was made possible by the simultaneous failure of three safety valves: the Congress, the press, and our senior military officers, most particularly General Tommy Franks, who was all to eager to do Rumsfeld's bidding, declare victory, and never mind the transition from hostilities to a stablization & reconstruction phase.
All four books together are a compelling indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration, and confirm my view that between them, Cheney and Rumsfeld, between giving Sadaam Hussein chemical weapons in the 1990's, and lying to America to justify an elective war and then screwing it up with Bremer, have done vastly more harm to the publics and people of America, Iraq, and Iran combined, than have Bin Laden and Saddaam Hussein himself. This is my informed judgement as the #1 Amazon reviewer of non-fiction; they have cost America its moral standing, half a trillion dollars better spent on peace, 65,000 amputees, more US dead that were murdered on 9/11, and have destroyed the lives of millions of decent people around the world and especially in the Middle East and the USA.
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