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Coming on Sunday: Week 2 of “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” in the FDL Book Salon

The new Saddam

If you dropped by the FDL Book Salon on Sunday, you were fortunate enough to catch a surprise visit from author Rajiv Chandrasekaran, taking questions (including some challenging ones) on his new book Imperial Life in the Emerald City — not to mention Ambassador Joe Wilson, who shared his thoughts on our dwindling options in Iraq.

I'll be your host for Week 2, when Rajiv will return to discuss the book and his experiences reporting in occupied Iraq for the Washington Post.   In her post on Sunday, Jane highlighted Chandrasekan's description of some of the key blunders made by would-be colonial ruler Jerry Bremer (pictured above with his phalanx of mercenaries private security guards), as well as tragicomic bumblers like Bernard Kerik and Ahmad Chalabi, during the first year of the occupation.

In reading the book myself, I'm struck by its depictions of how we inadvertently(?) duplicated Iraq's experience with Saddam even as we promised to re-create the country in our image.  For example, here's Imperial Life's take on the Green Zone:

It was Saddam who first decided to turn Baghdad's prime riverfront real estate into a gated city within a city, with posh villas, bungalows, government buildings, shops, and even a hospital.  He didn't want his aides and bodyguards, who were given homes near his palace, to mingle with the masses.  And he didn't want outsiders peering in. . . . Those who loitered near the entrances sometimes landed in jail.  Iraqis drove as fast as they could on roads near the compound lest they be accused of gawking.

It was the ideal place for the Americans to pitch their tents.  Saddam had surrounded the area with a tall brick wall.  There were only three points of entry.  All the military had to do was park tanks at the gates.

And then came Bremer, a narcissist and megalomaniac Saddam would have identified with:

Bremer didn't view the palace as an American embassy that had a responsibility to report developments on the ground to the State Department and the NSC. . . . [Colin] Powell's aides quietly encouraged State personnel working for the CPA to write back-channel memos to the State Department.  To avoid detection, the authors used personal Hotmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts to send their dispatches.  At the NSC, one of [Condoleezza] Rice's senior deputies began checking the CPA's Web site every day to see what new orders Bremer had issues.  It was faster than waiting to receive reports through official channels.

. . . Before he even arrived in Iraq, Bremer sidelined Zal Khalilzad, the White House's envoy working on the political transition. . . . Bremer didn't want someone in Baghdad who had pre-existing relationships with Iraqi leaders.  Bremer regarded Khalilzad as a potential threat — someone who knew more about the players and the country than he did, and could disagree with the viceroy's agenda.

Bremer insisted on approving every substantive CPA policy.  Staffers sent him thousands of one- to two-page documents. . . . One staffer remarked to me that history was repeating itself: Saddam signed off on even the most insignificant decisions because nobody else wanted to, lest they mistakenly contradict the dictator's whims. "Nothing's changed," the staffer said.  "We can't do anything without Bremer's okay."

Chandrasekaran also relates all sorts of smaller, human anecdotes, such as the "sexual tension" on Thursday disco nights at the largest hotel in the Green Zone (where "there were usually ten men to every woman"), and the enterprising Iraqi who built an authentic, wood-fired Italian pizzeria fifty yards from the Green Zone only to be let down when Americans in the "Emerald City" wouldn't even venture that far outside the walls.

So I heartily recommend picking up the book, and please join us on Sunday to talk about it.  See you then! 

Book SalonCommunity

Coming on Sunday: Week 2 of “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” in the FDL Book Salon

The new Saddam

If you dropped by the FDL Book Salon on Sunday, you were fortunate enough to catch a surprise visit from author Rajiv Chandrasekaran, taking questions (including some challenging ones) on his new book Imperial Life in the Emerald City — not to mention Ambassador Joe Wilson, who shared his thoughts on our dwindling options in Iraq.

I'll be your host for Week 2, when Rajiv will return to discuss the book and his experiences reporting in occupied Iraq for the Washington Post.   In her post on Sunday, Jane highlighted Chandrasekan's description of some of the key blunders made by would-be colonial ruler Jerry Bremer (pictured above with his phalanx of mercenaries private security guards), as well as tragicomic bumblers like Bernard Kerik and Ahmad Chalabi, during the first year of the occupation.

In reading the book myself, I'm struck by its depictions of how we inadvertently(?) duplicated Iraq's experience with Saddam even as we promised to re-create the country in our image.  For example, here's Imperial Life's take on the Green Zone:

It was Saddam who first decided to turn Baghdad's prime riverfront real estate into a gated city within a city, with posh villas, bungalows, government buildings, shops, and even a hospital.  He didn't want his aides and bodyguards, who were given homes near his palace, to mingle with the masses.  And he didn't want outsiders peering in. . . . Those who loitered near the entrances sometimes landed in jail.  Iraqis drove as fast as they could on roads near the compound lest they be accused of gawking.

It was the ideal place for the Americans to pitch their tents.  Saddam had surrounded the area with a tall brick wall.  There were only three points of entry.  All the military had to do was park tanks at the gates.

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Swopa

Swopa

Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (www.needlenose.com).

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