Read Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran Online


From inside a surreal bubble of pure Americana known as the Green Zone, the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority attempted to rule Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Drawing on interviews and internal documents, Rajiv Chandrasekaran tells the memorable story of this ill-prepared attempt to build American democracy in a war-torn Middle Eastern country, deFrom inside a surreal bubble of pure Americana known as the Green Zone, the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority attempted to rule Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Drawing on interviews and internal documents, Rajiv Chandrasekaran tells the memorable story of this ill-prepared attempt to build American democracy in a war-torn Middle Eastern country, detailing not only the risky disbanding of the Iraqi army and the ludicrous attempt to train the new police force, but absurdities such as the aide who based Baghdad's new traffic laws on those of the state of Maryland, downloaded from the net, and the twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance put in charge of revitalising Baghdad's stock exchange. Imperial Life in the Emerald City is American reportage at its best. Promotional Information: Imperial Life in the Emerald City won the BBC 4 Samuel Johnson Prize for non #45;fiction, 2007 Prize Information: Winner of BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction 2007., Shortlisted for Guardian First Book Award 2007....

Title : Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone
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ISBN : 9780747592891
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 500 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone Reviews

  • Will Byrnes
    2019-03-24 02:28

    Baghdad’s Green Zone is a world unto itself, with its own power supply, water, restaurants. One need never leave, and many never do. The author describes the separateness of the place but uses that as a base from which to foray out to related subjects. Some of his examples are particularly poignant. One enterprising fellow built a pizzeria just outside the compound, only to discover that the Americans all eat inside. He talks much about the plague of outsourcing and how it resulted in oddities like sending laundry to Kuwait to be done. He offers many examples of earnest people trying to do good, but being stymied by either the impracticality of their dreams or interference from a completely politicized administration. He devotes considerable space to the process whereby so-called sovereignty was handed over to the locals. Despite the vast sums allocated by the USA for this enterprise it seems that many of those attempting to actually reconstruct Iraq were always sorely lacking in funds. There was a ridiculous level of bad-faith dealing between the CPA, which was aligned with the Defense Department and any personnel operating at the behest of State. They refused them funds, and even threatened violence against at least one State rep. This is yet another portrayal of the bounteous ineptitude of an administration that put ideology and partisanship ahead of any form of practicality. It continues to be shocking. Bremer features heavily here, as an imperious dictator, but with some tempering of the dark portrayal. While the gist of the content is certainly familiar, it is useful, nonetheless, to have the gist filled in with a host of details. A worthwhile if not a required read. The excellent film, The Green Zone, was based, to a large extent, on this book.

  • Daniel
    2019-03-07 01:13

    Alternate Titles for this book could have been:1. How not to rebuild a nation you just bombed the sh*t out of2. How to F*ck up everything you touch, the Neocon way3. Corruption, cronyism and good old fashioned incompetence on an unforeseen scale4. Southern Efficiency in the Middle East5. A Confederacy of Dunces6. Beavis and Butthead Do IraqYou get the message. In other words, if 10% of what Chandasekaran writes is 10% true, then this was the greatest con job in the history of the American Republic. Seriously, people need to be in jail, starting at the very top and working on down to the lowliest Republican crony.That they got away with it (and continue to by and large) is simply amazing. Of course, not a lot of the things written here caused a lot of outrage when reported individually. It is only when seen together that the gross misconduct and the sheer negligence and dereliction of duty by the American State Department, defense contractors and Provisional Government really shines through.

  • Megan
    2019-03-13 04:16

    The short take: bad organizational structure and writing that is really just mediocre journalistic prose.Although Chandrasekaran begins with a narrative "I," he never really identifies himself, and then launches into details about things like relationships between State department members and Pentagon members back in Washington, making one wonder where the information is coming from. There is little direct quotation, and his presentation and interpretation of events are so mixed that it's difficult to feel that it's an unbiased account. The author hence fails to be convincing in his arguments for the exact reasons and mechanisms by which the U.S. (or more specifically, the Coalition Provisional Authority) failed in Iraq. His explanation of sources given in the notes at the book's end is somewhat redeeming, but not necessarily helpful at the end of the book.Sadly, what appears to be his other goal - to provide an engaging story about the war in Iraq and paint a portrait of life inside the Green Zone - only half succeeds for some of the same reasons. There is no clear voice: sometimes you hear directly from the author, but this often slips into third-person narration, sometimes focused on a CPA employee, sometimes on the state of events in Iraq overall, but he never stays long on one given theme. These vignettes tend to feel stilted, disjointed and formulaic. His attempt to build characters out of key CPA personnel basically includes introducing each person with the same details: what they were doing before Iraq; basic physical description, including particular attention on dress and hair style; current job in the CPA; 2-3 key personality traits; if they're qualified for the job and good, reason they are soon fired; if they aren't qualified, explanation of the GOP connection that got them the job and is why they're keeping it and bungling things up in Iraq.The book is obviously supposed to outrage you at our handling of things in the early part of our presence in Iraq. That it manages fairly well: there's no missing the fact that loyalty to Bush was the main standard by which people were chosen for CPA projects, and that for the most part, this landed us with a bunch of incompetent, unknowledgable fools who were supposed to "build democracy" in the country whose infrastructure we had just destroyed in our "shock and awe" campaign. Also fairly obvious throughout the book is that the definition of "democracy" most of these people are working with looks suspiciously like the definition of "free market capitalism." The money that gets poured into privatization efforts and computerizing the Baghdad Stock Exchange, rather than into rebuilding power plants, water purification plants, or education and improved public safety, is astounding. The lack of questioning of this conflation is also amazing. Why should we think that unlimited opportunities for businessmen to make money will bring peace to a land and teach people how to govern themselves? There's an obvious lesson that we need to really examine what we mean by "democratic values" at home before we attempt to force them upon others.The other point that I find most interesting, which comes up only briefly, is that the ethnic and religious divisions fueling Iraq's civil war were largely created by us Americans. The distinctions between Kurd, Sunni, and Shiite existed, but much less so before the American occupation. (Claiming certain affiliations could be pretty dangerous under Saddam's government.) In our attempt at "fairness," however, we hardened these categories to set up governing structures equally divided among these different groups, forcing stronger affiliations, and essentially laying the groundwork for civil war. While Chandrasekaran doesn't lay this out, it lines up well with what has happened in other colonized states like Rwanda (see Mahmood Mamdani's book on this). So, all told, it was an informative book, though otherwise disappointing.

  • Rick
    2019-03-15 03:13

    A brilliant satire on the occupation of a Middle Eastern country....well it would be, if it weren't true. This gives the reader a fairly shocking insight into the incompetency, arrogance and corruption involved in the Iraq occupation.The Coalition Provisional Authority sets up shop in one of Saddam's palaces and creates a little bubble of Americana called the Green Zone surrounded by a Baghdad teetering on and, subsequently, falling into an abyss. The author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, restrains himself from too much editorializing and lets the main characters speak for themselves. These characters do present themselves as, in the main, honourable people who were woefully out of their depth and/or practising self-deception to a staggering level. There are also tales of corruption and plain stupidity - as well as heroism and selflessness. An excellent piece of reportage, that is both well-written, witty and ultimately, inceredibly sad.

  • Shane
    2019-03-15 08:18

    I knew the war was hatched by a fantasy driven cabal, but this book really laid it out in detail. It's an interesting contrast to another book I recently read, titled "Muqtada," by Patrick Cockburn. Cockburn's book deals with the Iraq almost exclusively from the standpoint of (anti-U.S.) Iraqi Shias. This book deals with the war almost exclusively from the standpoint of the U.S. crew than ran Iraq up until the elections in 2005. Both compliment each other well. The gist of the book is that as soon as the war was started, a hand-picked bunch of neocons, or neocon sympathizers, were put in charge of administering Iraq. Most had no idea what they were doing. As Chandrasekaran describes it, many were true believers of the neocon fantasy of rebuilding Iraq to be a shining example of democracy and free capitalism in the Middle East. Douglas Feith, the neocon in charge of setting up the CPA, though it would be accomplished in 90 days. The Coalition Provisional Authority's viceroy, Paul Bremer, dropped all trade restrictions immediately and moved to privatize industry, which the old ministers of the state owned companies were happy to do to make a bunch of money...until their workers tried to assassinate them. Chandraskaran gives a good sense of how much the CPA really believed they were revolutionizing Iraq and his examples of how they did it make a really interesting read. He talks about people hired to deal with traffic who went about writing traffic laws based on those of Massachusetts, a professor from Johns Hopkins University hired to reconstruct the university system who set his sites on creating academic freedom rather than rebuilding the bombed out buildings, and grand plans to create an area code system well before a constitution was even written.To me, Chandraskran is operating a little too much within the official story--he says the occupation ended when sovereignty was handed over and at times suggests that a free market might not be such a bad idea--but it's his total immersion within their fantasy world that makes the book good. His illustrations of life inside the Green Zone, where people used water shipped from Kuwait and had their laundry done there too, are emblematic of US involvement in Iraq: they have their own little world, where they pat each other on the back for being pioneers of freedom, while hell reigns down around them.

  • Troy Blackford
    2019-03-23 04:18

    This was a well-researched and shocking look at the attempt to provide Iraq with a democratic, capitalistic government and way of life after its US invasion/liberation. That such a massive undertaking was began without a clear idea of the next step is a strange truth that is drilled home again and again. Missteps, misguided actions, and good-but-not-thoroughly-thought-through-intentions make up most of this book, but the insights into day-to-day life in the green zone are no less compelling.Heavily recommended.

  • Karen
    2019-03-04 04:58

    Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone is the compelling story about the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the culture of inexperience, arrogance, and cronyism within the U.S. Green Zone. My previous impression of the Iraq war was that U.S. officials were well-meaning but sometimes misguided and the U.S. media portrayed a sugar-coated view rather than the reality of life on the ground. Listening to this audiobook, I felt shocked by just how much worse the situation had been than I'd previously realized. I found Imperial Life in the Emerald City so enlightening and informative that I didn't want to take a break from listening.Ray Porter's narration more than does justice to Rajiv Chandrasekaran's story. This audiobook felt like listening to a fascinating novel rather than a nonfiction account by a newspaper journalist... the story and narration are powerful and engaging. I highly recommend this audiobook to anyone who wants to better understand the "story behind the story" of the U.S. in 2003-2004 Iraq.

  • Eddie
    2019-02-25 02:22

    I read this during Spring Break. A very informative book. It is kind of depressing to see how the U.S. Government has allowed private contractors carte blanche as well as establishing a bureacracy in the middle of the war zone in Iraq that would compare with any on Capitol Hill. It made this die-hard Conservative wonder about the effectiveness of our involvement in Iraq.

  • Steven Peterson
    2019-03-04 09:04

    A review of the book when it first came out a few years back:Rajiv Chandrasekaran is with the Washington Post; he has spent time in both Afghanistan and Iraq since the American missions in both places. His experiences in Iraq as well as his interviews with those in Iraq during the time of the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority, under the control of Paul Bremer) and the precursor organization (under Jay Garner)provide important bases for this work. The picture is not pretty, and ties in with arguments advanced by other books on Iraq written of late. First, as readers already know, there was no real plan for after the war. The book makes it clear that much of the redevelopment of Iraq was ad hoc. Since no one understood how much in tatters the electrical grid was, there was no real preparation for dealing with the degraded system. And the end result was that infrastructure was worse after the war as compared with before. And the CPA was unable to do much to restore power and make the system work better. Second, many of the "leaders" selected by the CPA were chosen for their political connections. For instance, very young (twenty something) people who had built IOUs from the Administration for, for instance, working in the Bush election campaign, were selected to head units for which they had no expertise at all. Sometimes, seasoned administrators were pushed aside, occasionally because they were not gung ho enough politically. Third, the CPA was fairly clueless about what was happening on the ground in Iraq. They were slow to pick up on the insurgency, for example. It took them some time to understand the importance of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. They became landlocked in the "Green Zone," as conditions worsened outside. The book begins with a quotation from T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), who said in 1917: "Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them." The book indicates the number of times when Iraqis were given secondary status to Americans, whether in running organizations or on political decision-making. One important neoconservative, on reflection of his experiences in Iraq, became most disillusioned. He commented to the author: "I'm a neoconservative who's been mugged by reality (page 5)." What began as an easy military victory turned into a quagmire. As the American involvement moved from liberation to occupation, things began to disintegrate. As one Iraqi told the author (page 290): "The biggest mistake of the occupation was the occupation itself." All in all, one of the more powerful books about the American incursion into Iraq; it is also one of the best descriptions of the CPA's reign in Iraq. It triangulates strongly with other volumes.

  • Ms.pegasus
    2019-03-04 03:08

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book is journalism at its best, and the loss will be irreparable if newspaper journalists fade into extinction. The Emerald City is an image reminiscent of the Raj – Americans relaxing around a swimming pool, in a 7 square mile enclave, enjoying drinks, eating American food, relaxing in clean clothing in the middle of Baghdad. The segregation from the real Iraq was genuine; the relaxed lifestyle an illusion. The occupation of Iraq brought a flood of ill-prepared, idealistic visionaries with conflicting goals to reconstruct a society that was already broken before the American invasion. They enjoyed the comfort of air-conditioning, laundry service carted out to neighboring Kuwait, and a modern hospital facility run by the 28th Combat Unit. What they lacked was the time to scale the steep learning curve ahead of them, an overall plan that included knowledge of Iraqi political and economic realities, and an incentive to leave this cocoon of safety. IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY; INSIDE IRAQ'S GREEN ZONE, intersperses anecdotal “scenes” of individual lives and vignettes of ironic humor with in-depth analysis of the events from the fall of Baghdad to June 2004 when an interim Iraqi government took over and Viceroy Bremer departed. The arbitrary decision making that affected these lives is at times disturbing. A primary obstacle to reconstruction was the hasty selection of a team lacking in experience – especially post-conflict experience. Some quickly adapted. Steve Browning's name is frequently mentioned. Originally with the Army Corp of Engineers, he succeeded in providing generators for the country's hospitals, and distributing medicine sitting idly in warehouses to the places they were needed. He also tried to learn some Arabic and to observe respect for Iraqi customs. Unfortunately, his story was the exception rather than the rule. Too many appointees were selected because of their Republican Party affiliations. One such recruit tried to make an anti-smoking campaign a public health priority. The occupation lasted for less than 9 months. It was too short a time to learn from mistakes, but long enough for mistakes to accumulate in an increasing number of Iraqi minds.The occupation began with no overall plan, but with conflicting political agendas in Washington. The Pentagon wanted to stabilize Iraq and favored installation of Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi. The State Department and the CIA did not trust Chalabi and wanted their own people included in the reconstruction process. The NSC initially left the details in the hands of the Defense Department. By Fall they were re-thinking the domestic implications of Bremer's plans and began exerting greater control. Colin Powell learned the details of Bremer's transition plan from the op-ed pages of the Washington Post. Internal communication was not the only problem. The Green Zone was an island of safety. Few Americans ventured out of it or were curious about Iraqi customs or learning Arabic. A major misstep was the failure to recognize the importance of religion – even for secular moderates. Insistence on an American-style separation of Church and State made no sense in Iraq. Similarly, no one in a leadership position understood the importance of the Shiite leader, Sayyid Ali al-Sistani. Another miscalculation was the structure of the Baath Party under Saadam. Bremer's de-Baathification policy disqualified many of the most able and well-educated from a role in the new Iraq. IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY is a long book portraying dozens of people, and includes interviews with dozens of others. Chandrasekaran holds our interest by organizing various stories – the obsession with privatization, the problems with the electric grid, the escalation of violence, the ill-conceived awarding of an airport security contract to an inexperienced start-up which went on to scam the government out of millions due to fraud. However, this can, at the same time, make for a confusing narrative. The astute reader would be wise to keep a brief chronology of events, and a list of names mentioned in order to grasp the structure of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). (If you want mine, I'm happy to oblige).Chandrasekaran obviously wonders if fewer mistakes would have led to a better outcome. Yet, he does not force the reader to agree with him. By presenting a many-faceted story, he allows each reader to judge for himself. I finished this book with the sad conclusion that failure was inevitable. Rather than finding fault with any particular individual, his story seems to tell the saga of a classical tragedy brought on by hubris.

  • Louise
    2019-03-03 04:17

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran brings depth to the story behind the headlines. He has certainly taken a large body of knowledge and distilled it for easy consumption.Now I know why stories of reconstruction were so fuzzy and few. Tommy Thompson (Secy of Health and Human Services) provides a photo-op for a new hospital --- opened in the Green Zone but not presented as such. Now I know how Casey (son of Cindy) Sheehan (and 7 others) died --- Bremer closed Moqtada al-Sadr's paper without alerting the US patrols of that area. I learned much more.This book makes me angry all over again. One of the benefits of this endeavor could have been providing a better life for the Iraqis, but it's like Katrina on a larger scale. Even seasoned disaster or war zone professionals would find this a challenge. Mr. Chandrasekaran describes how people were hired, not because they were qualified, but for their connections, starting with the top, Jerry Bremer was tied to Henry Kissinger.Did Bremer think that rendering 1/3 of the Iraqi population unemployed was a practical thing? Did Bremer think that changing the food rations (socialism) to debit cards (capitalism) in a country with no phone lines, computers, etc. was a practical thing? Fortunately a firefighter from Buffalo could explain this to him, but he may not have backed down if he hadn't had so many other problems.The 24 year old hired to open the Iraqi stock exchange impeded its opening by fanciful attempts to copy the US stock exchange technology and regulations and on pages 229 -231, takes credit for its eventual opening in a manner, if not for him could have been done months earlier. This is the template for the attitude expressed by Bremer and others in the Green Zone reunion described at the end of the book.The actions and the attitudes that spawned them clearly fit the patterns described in Conservatives without Conscience. Some participants, like John Agresto have a more realistic appraisal of what could have been and what went wrong. Others may never understand. In the meanwhile, the missed opportunity has made life for Iraqis (for insight into this Waiting for an Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq more difficult, and the latest news suggests little change.

  • Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
    2019-03-19 03:06

    Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a journalistic recounting of the disastrous American attempts to rebuild Iraq as a mini-America in the aftermath of the second Gulf War. I am British and have read numerous historical accounts of our monumental Empire-building cock-ups, however it would have been nice to believe that such heavy-handed imperialism was a thing of the past. Chandrasekaran's book shows that it certainly isn't and I spent much of the first half in a state of almost continuous disbelief. By the second half, I was becoming quite punch-drunk from the continued revelations.When Iraq fell to the American army, politicians back in Washington had already determined that they wanted the country to rise up again as a shining beacon of capitalist democracy in the Middle East. They didn't know how to achieve this goal, but set about it by cocooning their staff in Saddam's luxurious palace complex, giving lots of press conferences in English and, most importantly, by only sending people who had been vetted for the 'right' political leanings. Not for ability or experience, just for an unshakeable belief in George W Bush. Extreme paranoia an advantage.Imperial Life In The Emerald City is basically a guide for how not to occupy a country you have just invaded. Even if that country's people wanted you there initially, they will soon change their minds if treated as irrelevant and, with hindsight, it really is no surprise that organisations such as ISIS grew out of the chaos. I appreciated Chandrasekaran's clear writing style as there are so many different people mentioned that keeping track of who's who is difficult, especially for someone like me who doesn't really follow American politics. The book has extensive detail which makes vividly imagining the Green Zone enclave easy and I now feel as though I have a far greater understanding of what really happened in Iraq and why.See more of my book reviews on my blog, Stephanie Jane

  • Bear
    2019-03-21 04:04

    This book was well done; however, a lot of focus was on the negative. MSM tends to already be trying to drag down what is going on there; Not saying it's all rosy, but as a retired Military person, I know exactly what the cost is in combat and "occupation" force, and really would like to see someone not use this war (and that's what it is) for political badgering because you don't like how the administration is doing things, so much as an opportunity to observe and report and let smart people decide what is truly going on. It's tough enough for the command structure to keep people motivated in a long war without those they are protecting (as in free speech) using it to focus on how things aren't perfect. They never will be... but why not focus on something positive for once. I rarely hear about the good things we are doing, unless I open the blogs of military people doing the hard job, being away from their families, helping a nation to recover. And at the same time, making sure the other nations around this one do not get too medieval in trying to grab land from the weak. This topic deserves a long, many-volume review, not a sound bite. That said, many things in this book were enlightening and brought out the true nature of those in power below the Presidential level. I've been in charge of thousands of people, and there is so much that is never reported that cannot or should not be brought to light...and so much that is neglected which SHOULD be highlighted.

  • Carly
    2019-03-17 08:04

    I started reading on a Friday night and could not put it down until on reaching page 274 I simply couldn't keep my eyes open.This is a shocking, damning picture of the idealogically driven attempts of the Coalition Provisional Authority to rebuild Iraq after the fall of Sadaam Hussein. The utter naivity of some at the highest levels is sad, but unforgivably there is also deliberate refusal to engage with the country's actual situation in lieu of creating a utopian America of the Middle East. Chandrasekaran's portrait is scathing but achieves this through an almost laconic prose style that largely lets the idiocy and amorality speak for itself. There is so much damning material that almost anyone could have pulled together an interesting account but Chandrasekaran charts the events with understated skill and an exceptional eye for the absurd. He rightly captures the seemingly few good souls who fought against the prevailing winds of incompetence and therefore achieves a balance in the account as well as relief from an almost unmitigated tragedy. I am wiser for having read this sobering and important book.

  • Hadrian
    2019-03-06 01:59

    A brief history of catastrophe. I'm glad that this long national nightmare is coming to a close, although what remains of America's imperial ambitions is yet to be seen.

  • Minn
    2019-03-20 02:01

    Given the historical context of American intervention into foreign government, and their foreign policy achievements, the invasion of Iraq appeared very much to be the latest attempt by the U.S empire to extend itself and its considerable resources into a country that didn't need the clumsiness of Americans, but ought to have had the autonomy to rebuild itself. Chandrasekaran's writing is compelling and restrained, although with such a vast cast of characters, sometimes his ability to steam ahead on certain events or people, can be confusing. He keeps a conversational tone throughout, but it is quite clear how incredulous he is at the actions of the Coalition Provisional Authority.He is critical of the Bush administration's inability to assign anyone with the knowledge or education to help Iraq rebuild, of bureaucracy that prevents action and impossible goals designed for optics rather than reality. While Iraqi's cried out for electricity, employment and the right to govern themselves, Republican party loyalists and corporations such as Halliburton landed in Iraq to do nothing much at all. The book details security measures around the Emerald city, designed to protect Americans from the opinions of those they were supposed to help; cult like support for the Bush administrations actions; the dismissiveness with which Iraqis are treated and the incompetence, arrogance and ignorance of leaders sent to manage the CPA, including Paul Bremer. It is easy to see why American foreign policy is resented in many of the nations it purports to 'save'. Funding for higher education was allocated to build partnerships with American universities, rather than resurrect Iraqi ones from the rubble. Baathists with no real connection to the Party, apart from the memberships they were forced to get, were fired from their positions and prevented from being able to work again. The CPA attempted to create a private sector out of state owned enterprises, dreaming of capitalist markets while such enterprises were empty because of looting. Refusal to consult Middle Eastern experts, inability to understand societal relations and ignorance of Iraqi customs led to division by religious lines and set up a poorly representative council of Iraqis to plan out Iraq's future. It's frustrating to read about the sheer incompetence of the CPA and the Bush administration in the handover of Iraq, particularly as we've seen Americans make the same mistakes over and over again. Refusing to consult their Vietnamese military counterparts in Vietnam, attempting to protect democracy by overthrowing elected leaders and involving themselves in disputes and conflicts without properly considering the effectiveness of their interventions. Without a doubt, the United States is a super power, but unlike the ideals proclaimed by its founders and many presidents long after, it has strayed from its standing as city on a hill, as a beacon of democracy and a protector of freedom. The world today has been changed because of American foreign policy and its need to act as global policeperson, perhaps for the worse.

  • Kevin
    2019-03-16 07:25

    We set out to build Iraq with minimal, if any, preparation. We contracted many people who had little to no experience in post-conflict rebuilding and some with no qualifications for the project they were hired to run. We largely ignored the Iraqi population. We didn't listen to contrary opinion. What could possibly go wrong? The result is a Catch-22 like atmosphere without the laughs. It would be hilarious if it was a novel but unfortunately it's non-fiction. Some may read it as a political jab at the Bush administration and all those in charge of the situation, I don't read it that way. There is no presumption that a liberal policy would have made things better. We took an idealistic approach to rebuilding the country and assumed the best case scenario be the result. When things went wrong there was nobody willing to listen and no ability to change. The result was civil war. Would a better policy also have resulted in a civil war? Possibly. But if it did, in all likelihood the opposition would have been fewer in numbers. Our lack of preparation let us down. Our inability to face reality let us down. We let the Iraqi nation down. All we really need to do was take a step back, but instead we dictated the terms of the rebuilding. And failed. We should have listened to Lawrence of Arabia.

  • Atar
    2019-02-28 09:22

    Imperial Life In The Emerald City (Inside Iraq’s Green Zone) by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a fantastic look into the failures of nation building by bereaucrats and politicians who tried to bring only American ideas and policies to Iraq, without taking into account what the citizens of Iraq might want. The book shows in clear detail what not to do, not to try, and not to enforce upon a people with their own culture and customs. However not everything done was a bad idea, some things were widely beneficial and hugely popular amongst the Iraqis. This book makes others I have read about the American missteps in Iraq look like magazine coverage compared to the authors detail of events. It’s no wonder this book made finalist for National Book Award. Also a National Bestseller. It’s a thrilling book to read.

  • Greg
    2019-03-14 06:05

    Everyone knows the American occupation of Iraq has been anything but a success, but if you really want to know how and why it spiraled into a free-fall, read Imperial Life in the Emerald City. It’s an enraging document of spectacular failure--about how, during the first year of the occupation, virtually every effort to restore food rationing, medical care, electricity, factory production, traffic law, the university system, the police force, the Iraqi news media, and the writing of a new constitution was hobbled by the American authorities’ “It’s my way or the highway” attitude towards decision-making--not to mention the infighting between the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department.What hurt the U.S. most, thought, was a mix of stubborn allegiance to rewarding recruits’ political (Republican) loyalties and the government’s willingness, for the sake of saving time, to seek out people who had little to no experience in the problems they were sent to Iraq to fix. (The phrase “no previous experience” appears in just about every chapter). A candidate applying for a staffing job in the Green Zone could be considered “ideal” simply because he'd worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount, or was a prominent Republican National Committee contributor, or simply responded that he opposed abortion and supported capital punishment when asked in a Pentagon interview.The biggest takeaway from Imperial Life in the Emerald City is that, in the end, the war in Iraq is the Iraqis’ war, not America’s, and that perhaps our biggest failure was to think that democracy can be replicated on a one-size-fits-all basis. For his epigraph, Chandrasekaran chose a 1917 quote from T.E. Lawrence: “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”

  • Anna
    2019-03-11 08:15

    Hey, I've got an idea. We've got a big project. An important one. Actually, an impossible one. But we're Americans, and we've done some great things in the past. Let's grab our friends and head out. No need to hire selectively and look for highly qualified people. There are 300 million people in this country, but our friends are probably as good as it gets, so we'll use them. No need to train them. Now that they're over there, let's make sure that they can't possibly get their hands on the resources they need to do their jobs. Make sure they spend all their time together and that no one else talks to them, so that they don't get any stupid ideas. Anytime they start to get traction on whatever impossible task we've set for them, let's change the plan. You know what, when I write it down it starts to sound like a bad startup. Which just goes to show you that one doesn't need to be a Republican to fall for this kind of thinking. At least your typical bad software startup fails on a small scale, and no lives are at stake.This is a good book, but an incredibly depressing one. The author points out that there were some extremely hard-working intelligent people in the CPA, and even they couldn't overcome the obstacles. The hard-working people who weren't so intelligent and had no useful experience...well, no surprise that they couldn't get it done, either. If the author found lazy people in the CPA, he doesn't mention them. There's one thing in our favor.The military comes out looking like a world-class organization made up of well-trained, disciplined individuals. The military takes planning very seriously, and it shows. Too bad we don't have a group of civilians that we prepare for situations like this, the way we do with the military. Oh, wait, that's the State Department. I honestly don't think they could have accomplished this impossible task, either, but at least we could say we sent in the A team.

  • Don
    2019-03-07 05:27

    This is primarily a collection of anecdotes of the tenure of the Coalition Provisional Authority under Bremer in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the shorter tenure of Jay Garner preceding the CPA. The purpose of the book is to illustrate how badly the U.S. screwed up the occupation of Iraq. While a few of the anecdotes don't strike me as being nearly as negative as the author colors them, on balance this book basically makes one ill, just by emphasizing how badly we were served by our government. The lessons he draws from all of this seem to be the following:1. The mission of creating a liberaly, moderate democracy in Iraq was unrealistic from the beginning. It remains unclear to this day to what extent this was, in fact, a driving motivation for our invasion; certainly, there were elements in the Bush administration for whom this was the principal goal, but at the same time it is clear that other parts of the administration weren't particularly interested in this at the beginning. The author does not get into the internal domestic politics of this, but he does make it clear how foolish it was to believe we could impose a political culture on Iraq.2. By and large, the CPA was staffed by Republican loyalists, rather than by those considered the most experienced, expert and competent for the particular tasks. Those few individuals who were actually sent to Iraq because of their expertise were often ignored by CPA senior management.3. As a result, much of the attention and energy of the staff was focused on projects which were silly, pointless or worse, rather than focused on the essential tasks of re-establishing adequate electrical power, etc.4. Even where the U.S. addressed important project missions, the resources committed were completely inadequate and were spent wastefully.

  • Sydney
    2019-02-28 08:16

    Never in all of the years of reading have I been as outraged as I was while reading this book. The matter of fact recitation of the never-ending list of inept post-Iraq war decisions, incompetent staffing, corrupt contractors' waste of now-sorely needed tax dollars caused me fits of apoplexy.Beyond defeating Saddam there were few other identifiable victories during the period covered by the book. Post-war planning occurred organically, as messes developed strategies were eventually devised to counter them. Results: too little too late done poorly. The extent of cronyism and inexperience of the people sent to manage complex governmental and civil affairs made me shudder. The Bush Administration seems to have completely ignored anyone with Arabic/Iraq expertise and sought to apply a let's remake Iraq in the image of America strategy. With hubristic blindness they sought to nation-build but sent political hacks, adventure seekers, avaricious and unprincipled contractors, progeny of "big" donors and lackeys. Couple this with the false reports of success that were then reported to Washington and it makes the perfect recipe for the civil unrest that percolated.What makes matters worse is that those in power made decisions in isolation from Iraqis. The assumptions that neoconservative ideology could trump on-the-ground realities did a huge disservice to the legacy of Ronald Reagan and neoconservatism. The cost of this lost opportunity to leave Iraq better than we found it should haunt all who were involved.

  • David
    2019-03-21 07:18

    Written by the former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post, this book is simply what he saw in Iraq between the "end" of combat in 2003 and Paul Bremer's ignominious departure in 2004. Mostly what he sees is the complete mismanagement of basic postwar planning; the first raised, then dashed, hopes of Iraqis who have already suffered through the destructive rule of Saddam Hussein; and the arrogant approach of American political appointees, institutions and companies that are intent on transforming Iraq with little or no knowledge of the country that they are in. Life in the "emerald city" - the Green Zone for the Americans, set up in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces -- takes on an unreal quality, as Americans first set up a miniature world with all of the comforts of home, and then become increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with their mission.The book strives to set an impartial and objective tone by simply describing increasingly ineffective and unrealistic American plans to transform Iraq. Given the politics around the Iraq war, this makes it an effective firsthand account, particularly of the absurdities of American life and intentions in Iraq.However, the book doesn't really have an overall narrative or viewpoint, which detracts from its ability to analyze why things happened the way they did. The book is most effective when it follows the particular struggles of people in Iraq, mostly Americans, who are often well-intentioned but often clueless. As one of them puts it, "I'm a neoconservative who got mugged by reality".

  • Robert
    2019-03-02 09:08

    Although not a supporter of the US administration that entered Iraq under the pretense of finding and destroying WMDs that never existed, this author expresses an unabashed bias against the administration and virtually everything the team in Iraq, and Washington, did during the days immediately following the invasion and the chaos that ensued.At times the author was contradictory. Criticizing in earlier chapters that some things moved too quickly, the author would, in later chapters, criticize that those same initiatives moved too slowly. Where other people who may have never been in the midst of a disastrous, chaotic situation ( e.g., hurricane, tornado, flood, fire, earthquake, etc.) may find this book fascinating, for those who have been in the midst of a disaster will remember how so many things are so unfortunately out of control, that you find the author's contempt for progress of any kind belittling. The only (small) redeeming factors were that I learned of some details about the days following the Iraq invasion that I was not aware of, and the book was a quick read so not much time was wasted. However, those qualities do not rise the level of wanting to recommend this book. There are too many good books to be read than to be spending time listening to someone express one-sided biases.

  • Bookmarks Magazine
    2019-03-01 07:17

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post and its former Baghdad bureau chief, knows the landscape in Iraq as well as anyone, having spent two years in-country as a reporter. His careful, evenhanded reportage amplifies the seriousness of the problems that America still faces in Iraq. As Adam Dunn points out, "the Iraqis don't fare much better than their occupiers" under Chandrasekaran's judicious gaze. The book covers ground similar to that of Larry Diamond's Squandered Victory (2005) and Anthony Shadid's Night Draws Near (2005), though the author's proximity to the events he reports in this "withering assessment" (Andrew Metz) separates Emerald City from the spate of books being published on the war in IraqThis is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  • Chris
    2019-03-08 05:02

    An outstanding, and darkly comic, inside look at America's false hope and ill intentions toward rebuilding Iraq. As someone "who came of age" during the run up to the Iraq invasion and subsequent years, this book took me back to 2003 and 2004 as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) set out to remake Iraq in Bush's vision of America. This book delves deep into the CPA's Green Zone - and explores the horrible irony of setting up shop in Saddam's former palace grounds with all the trappings of modernity and comfort all the while the Iraq's people lived with no basic services, no protection, and no support from the CPA. The author intertwines personalities, both Iraqi and American, life in the Green Zone, with life around Baghdad and tell the story of an invasion that was ill planned and horribly executed. An excellent read - very detailed, well written, and darkly entertaining.

  • Swati
    2019-03-26 05:04

    who needs satire when you have the coalition provisional authority?

  • Anna
    2019-02-26 08:00

    without a doubt, fred flinstone would have done a better job in iraq that paul bremer

  • Julie Ehlers
    2019-03-18 03:25

    What a clusterf**k.

  • Angel
    2019-03-02 01:13

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the author and narrator of Life in the Emerald City, describes his experience in the Green Zone of American occupied Baghdad, Iraq. The Green Zone was originally used for the Ba’ath Party’s administrative headquarters lead by Saddam Hussein. However, after the Americans invaded, it was used as the headquarters for the American military. Jay Garner, the head of the Office of Reconstruction for Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), was transferred to Baghdad to set up his headquarters. As he struggled to find a competent team to help him with Baghdad’s post-war reconstruction, the American government attempted to pass Ahmed Chalabi as the new Iraqi prime minister. Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a non-fiction book about the aftermath of the invasion in Iraq, and the attempt of the American government to rebuild Iraq and re-establish an Iraqi government. The tone throughout the book is informative. The book contains nothing but facts. This is beneficial to the reader if his or her goal is to be informed of post war Iraq. The book contains fervent descriptions and vivid imagery. These parts of the book can be quite interesting and sometimes go on for several pages. The characters in the book seem real because the characters are real people. Overall, the book is very thorough in explaining the facts of post war Iraq. Although Life in the Emerald City has an abundance of factual information, the book is at times hard to concentrate due to the constant bombardment of information. The book may not engage some readers due to a lack of connection with a main character because the book is of the nonfiction genre. Also, the authors purpose is strictly to inform, and some readers may not desire to be informed but to be entertained. Readers with a shorter attention span may find it difficult to focus for long periods of time while reading this book. This book deserves a four star rating due to its surplus of accurate facts about post war Iraq. It did not receive four stars because the book would only be enjoyed by a small audience. Also, it was difficult to stay concentrated for long periods of time (after about fifty pages). This book would not be recommended for readers that have difficulty concentrating or short attention spans. However, the book would be enjoyed by someone interested in Iraq’s history, especially someone interested in the period after the American invasion. Overall the book was decent and provided a lot of information.