February 3, 2007
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Imperial Life in the Emerald City

by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

In her final column, Molly Ivins urged readers to resist the proposed escalation in Iraq and singled out this fine volume as a key lesson.

Anyone who wants to talk knowledgably about our Iraq misadventure should pick up Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone." It's like reading a horror novel. You just want to put your face down and moan: How could we have let this happen? How could we have been so stupid?

Chandrasekaran builds this fine study from casually interlinked snippets and scenes of life in the Green Zone of occupied Iraq. He talks with Garner and Bremer , with earnest young Republicans who volunteered to show Iraq the way, with neocon administrators and Halliburton contractors and injured soldiers. He talks with translators and power engineers. He lets the fools condemn themselves.

Ideologues and hacks rushed into Iraq without a clue and without a plan, save for grand visions and insatiable greed. Billions of dollars vanished into the desert night — two billion dollars in US currency, flown in from New York just six days before then end of occupation, seem to have vanished without a trace. While contractors trucked in gasoline from Kuwait and Fruit Loops from Battle Creek, nobody paid nearly enough attention to the fact that the power was still out, the lines at the gas stations were miles long, and the police were unable or unwilling to protect anyone or to enforce any law. Through it all, the press conferences continued to recite tales of progress in Iraq and to deplore media negativity, while the occupation authorities lined up their next job with the Bush reelection campaign or with Republican lobbyists and think tanks.

Chandrasekaran is convinced they meant well and did what they could. But they knew very little, and they thought they knew everything, and no one gave nearly enough thought to what might go wrong, not even after things had gone to hell.