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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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The main take away is how officials were chosen for political connections and ideological purity rather than their qualifications. Time and again Middle East hands and Arabic speakers are passed over for trusted conservatives.
There's a lot of good stuff in this book about the occupation was run and how it went so wrong. And a lot of lessons for people in government today.
This is the story, written by a reporter, of the time immediately following our invasion of Iraq. It's the tale of our government (not in the nation building mode) restarting Iraq after the invasion and the riots and looting that immediately followed our "Shock and Awe" campaign. What I've read so far is pretty amazing, but I'm pretty sure I believe every word of it. It is, of course, one person's perspective, and he's getting his information from others who may be somewhat biased in what they're reporting. But, having some idea of how politicians work, there's no reason to doubt how it is told, how people were selected to fill the roles required, and the bluff and bluster that went into rebuilding a government, foreign to us, into a democracy that is foreign to them. This probably deserves a five star rating, but I'm erring on the side of credibility, and there's one star lacking, in my biased opinion. I think just about anyone who was around when the bombs started dropping and the bullets started flying, and who hung on every picture that was shown on this televised war, will enjoy reading this book. You'll read each page, and nod your head, "Uh-huh!"
As many Amazon reviewers have noted in their reviews, the book does an extraordinary job at pointing out how pervasive political loyalty was in hiring. There are many stories of very well qualified individuals being passed up for positions so that political hacks from organizations like the American Enterprise or Hoover or Stanford Institutes or those with "reasonable" political views (i.e., anti-abortion) could be hired instead. Examples included medical doctors hired to administer Iraq's hospitals and medical infrastructure without any third world experience and a financial administrator to run Iraq's equivalent of the Security and Exchange Commission who was straight out of school without a single day of work experience. The hiring of these "yes" men had results that had the obvious predictable results (i.e., an inability to get the country's hospital systems and stock market exchanges up and running).
Before Christ was born Confucius had the following exchange with one of his students (Analects of Confucius 13.15): "Is there one single maxim that could ruin a country?", the student asked. Confucius replied: "Mere words could not achieve this. There is this saying , however: `The only pleasure of being a prince is never having to suffer contradiction'. If you are right and no one contradicts you, that's fine; but if you are wrong and no one contradicts you - is this not almost a case of `one single maxim that could ruin a country'?" The placing of political loyalty over qualifications in hiring clearly illustrated the dangers Confucius was attempting to point out.
Another consequence stemming from the placement of political loyalty over and above qualifications, though related to it and one that few other reviewers seem to have commented on, was the resulting idealist detachment from reality that resulted. The 21 year old hired to get Iraq's stock exchange up and running, for example, did not want to settle for just that simple objective but instead strived to set up the leading stock market in the Arab world. Considering the "on the ground" facts this proved impossible. Hence instead of, possibly, achieving the objective of just getting the stock exchange up and running at its pre-invasion level of efficiency and transparency the fool could not even get a stock market to open up at all. Another political loyalist, an administrator responsible for Iraq's university system, instead of striving to get the universities open by supplying textbooks and desks did his very best to push making Iraq's university system comparable to those in Western nations. Again, considering the "facts on the ground", this proved a fantasy and the university system could not even open during his reign.
All of this reminds one of the English admiral Lord Hood's actions at Toulon against the French Directorate (in the early 1790s). There, he had a number of objectives open to him. One was destroying the French fleet. Another was establishing a beachhead for the anti-royalist forces to rally against The Directorate. A third was to foster a counter-revolution by supporting the royalist forces already gathered there. Any one of these may have been achievable realistically. Instead Hood tried to accomplish all three and, inevitably, failed.
This book is well-written, well-documented and hard to put down.