What happens when a group of bright, eager but naive neocons and their disciples try to reorganize a nation they know little about?
Not surprisingly, what happens is a disaster.
Such is the tale told in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a compelling report on Paul Bremer and the other Americans—most of them loyal Republicans—who tried to remake Iraq from the safety of the Baghdad's Green Zone.
Chandrasekaran, former Washington Post bureau chief in Baghdad, provides story after ridiculous story of official misunderstanding and bureaucratic incompetence by Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq, and scores of other well-intentioned but misguided political actors.
A couple of examples illustrate the point:
--Bernard Kerik, former NYC police chief and hero of 9/11, was absolutely the wrong man to place in charge of training Iraqi police. His short tenure in Baghdad was marked by considerable posing and grandstanding.
--A 24-year-old with no financial experience who is put in charge of rebuilding Baghdad's stock exchange. His plans are grandiose—computerized data, financial transparency, etc.—but entirely unrealistic.
Imperial Life in the Emerald City is a first-hand chronicle of the many ways nation-building can and does go wrong, aided by the arrogance of the Bush neocons: Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and, not least, Paul Bremer.
Chandrasekaran's book deconstructs the Bush Administration's misadventure in Iraq and offers a potent warning to future idealists about the hazards of democracy-building. Read it and weep.