imperial life... 26-03-2012

... in the emerald city, by rajiv chandrasekaran, who is currently national editor of the washington post. not the essiest read but important and quite astonishing in parts. it's the story of the american occupation of iraq told from the point of view of the green zone, the highly guarded enclave in baghdad from which the whole operation was run. anyone who read the newspapers at the time knows, to some extent, but perhaps not the whole extent, that the project was hobbled by abysmal planning, ignorance, hubris and a wilful refusal to involve the iraqis themselves, all of which resulted in the most godawful and tragic mess. what i had not fully realised was that much of this resulted from an over-ridng belief in neo-conservative political and economic ideology. it was believed by pretty much everyone involved in running the coalition provisional authority that an externally imposed free-market system would save the country, a system which was culturally alien, which had not worked terribly well in the poorer parts of america, which ran contrary to the hague convention (which forbids occupying powers from disobeying local laws except when it is necessary to preserve public order and safety), which was never going to work in a place so obviously toxic for foreign investors and which was, quite often, dangerous (you fire a hundred inefficient workers from a factory and you have created a hundred poor and angry people). and the reason most people in the cpa believed in this ideology was that, with very few exceptions, staff were chosen not account of their local or technical expertise but on account of their republican party allegiance (the few beleagured democrats involved styled themselves the donkeys in the desert). consequently the occupation was run by a small handful of genuine experts, a rump of people who simply toed the party line and some cowboys who filled the gaps. the question, you realise, by the end of the book, is not whether it was a good idea to topple saddam hussein, but whether it was a good idea to try and turn iraq into america, which took a few hundred years in american itself. as a poster in the british section read, Yee-haw is not a foreign policy.