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. They refused them funds, and even threatened violence against at least one State rep. The excellent film, The Green Zone, was based, to a large extent, on this book.
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 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. 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. 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).
The author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, restrains himself from too much editorializing and lets the main characters speak for themselves.
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. 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.
I found Imperial Life in the Emerald City so enlightening and informative that I didn't want to take a break from listening.
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. 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 occupation began with no overall plan, but with conflicting political agendas in Washington. The State Department and the CIA did not trust Chalabi and wanted their own people included in the reconstruction process. Colin Powell learned the details of Bremer's transition plan from the op-ed pages of the Washington Post. Few Americans ventured out of it or were curious about Iraqi customs or learning Arabic. IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY is a long book portraying dozens of people, and includes interviews with dozens of others.
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. 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. 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.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Chandrasekaran holds a degree in political science from Stanford University, where he was editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily.