'Imperial Life in the Emerald City', a startling account of life in Baghdad's Green Zone, is the winner of the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for 2007. The author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, describes the illusory life in the heavily fortified bunker of the American Green Zone in Baghdad from April 2003, the first days of the occupation, until the ignominious secret departure of Bremer in July, 2004.
Chandrasekaran spent 18 months as 'the Washington Post's' Baghdad bureau chief and has written a book that critics compare to Joseph Heller's 'Catch 22' or Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood'. A movie is due to be filmed soon by writer-director Paul Greengrass of the very somber 'United 93', but one reviewer -- Mark Groubert in 'Crooks and Liars' -- compares the treatment of the book to be more along the lines of Robert Altman's 'MASH'.
We enter a world where Americans, willing to help in Iraq's rebuilding, are screened by White House officials for their views on abortion and who they voted for in the Presidential election.
We encounter a gaggle of young Republicans, who, instead of restoring needed electricity and rebuilding gutted schools, concern themselves with instituting an Iraqi flat tax, selling off local government assets and ending food rationing for hungry Iraqi citizens whose lives have been shattered by war.
There is the eager 24 year old with no finance experience who is put in charge of restoring and modernizing Iraq's aged but functional stock market.
We meet John Agresto, a 58 year old pipe-smoking bureaucrat who takes on the daunting task of restoring the higher education system of Iraq which encompassed 22 campuses and nearly a half million students.
Agresto has no background in post-conflict resolution and no experience in the Middle East. The school he ran, St John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico had fewer than 500 students.
How could he be so qualified for such a daunting task?..Ah, it seems a certain wife of Donald Rumsfeld was on that school board and a Mrs. Dick Cheney had worked with him at NEH, the 'National Endowment for the Humanities'.
So he came socially pre-vetted. Agresto runs into blockade after blockade. Losing complete faith in the White House he decides to head for home. "I'm a neoconservative who's been mugged by reality," he mumbles as he cuts and runs.
It's too bad Agresto couldn't have mugged some his bosses to see what was happening, but as Bush and his chickenhawk conservatives seldom read books, or get into a more dangerous situation than chewing a pretzel on a couch, it is unlikely Bush and his neocon wizards will be moved, even when they see the 'non-fiction' consequences of their imperial designs for Iraq on screen.
UPDATE: Rajiv Chandrasekaran after receiving his literary prize has an update on his book..It will be no surprise that it is the same meme. 'Lords of misrule still in charge at the Baghdad bubble'.
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