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Reporter's Notebook: The U.S. in Iraq

10/03/2006 5:00 PM Bartos
Barbara Bodine, Visiting Scholar at the MIT Center for International Studies (CIS) former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen ; George Packer, Staff Writer, The New Yorker; Rajiv Chandrasakaran, Author, Imperial Life in the Emerald City; Inside Iraq's Green Zone;

Description: As viewed through the eyes of two well-informed journalists and an experienced Middle East diplomat, the U.S. invasion of Iraq demonstrated a unique combination of arrogance and ignorance, and the -reconstruction" period appears a fiasco with no end in sight. Here's a sampling of panelists' disturbing insights and anecdotes: Barbara Bodine recalls meeting with senior administration officials during pre-war days: -Iraq was to be a blank slate, to prove the tenets of the Bush administration's governing philosophy One senior advisor admits he read no books on Iraq; he wanted an open mind." George Packer reports that in spite of evidence that the -ideological project" that led to the Iraq war was deeply flawed, officials remained committed to it. -Iraq was a more shattered society than most people understood. There was no order to hold Iraq together of any kind, once Saddam was gone. America was not in control from day one," says Packer. Jay Garner, the first post-war occupation administrator, was recalled to Washington after failing to restore order. But his debriefing session with the president was a -backslapping session," according to Packer. -The president said to Garner, 'Do you want to do Iran for the next one?' Garner said, 'No, sir, me and the boys are holding out for Cuba.'" Rajiv Chandrasakaran, describing the administration's almost hare-brained take on post-war planning, tells how U.S. reconstruction officials were intent on creating a western-style capitalist democratic Iraq. In a country with no functioning security, chaos on the streets, and bombed-out hospitals, occupation officials (in large part political appointees) focused on such details as imposing a flat tax and intellectual property law, establishing a traffic code modeled on the state of Maryland's, and privatizing the system of delivering drugs. Says Chandrasakaran, -Had we not gone in there as an occupying force and not squandered political capital earned by toppling a despised dictator, and had we mobilized enough reconstruction resources and implemented them in a meaningful waywe would have made far greater progress." Packer says -the president is enshrouded with yes men and yes women who know the political angle and will not allow anything that cuts against it to get inside the Oval Office. There's an institutional malaise that's frightening." But, notes Packer, -I don't think the president is saying in private, as we now know LBJ was saying in the 60s, what a god-awful mess this is, how am I ever going to get out of it. I think the president believes history will vindicate him, if he just holds firm and keeps his resolve -- that in 50 years people will say he was a visionary leader. If that's going to continue to be the case, no change in policy small or large will save us."

About the Speaker(s): Barbara Bodine spent much of her 30-year diplomatic career in the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. In 2003, she served as coordinator for post-conflict reconstruction for Baghdad and the central governorates of Iraq. From 1997-2001, a period that included the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen. Prior to that appointment, Bodine served as Deputy Principal Officer in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq War and, in 1990, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion and occupation. She received the Secretary of State's Award for Valor for her work in occupied Kuwait.

Bodine also served as the State Department's Associate Coordinator for Operations; as acting overall Coordinator for Counterterrorism; Dean of the School of Professional Studies at the Foreign Service Institute; Director of East African Affairs and Senior Advisor for International Security Negotiations in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Bodine, formerly a Senior Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Director of its Governance Initiative in the Middle East, is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Rajiv Chandrasakaran is an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994. He previously served the Post as a bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo, and Southeast Asia, and as a correspondent covering the war in Afghanistan. He recently completed a term as journalist-in-residence at the International Reporting Project at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, and was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. George Packer's most recent book, The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, analyzes the events that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and reports on subsequent developments in that country, largely based on interviews with ordinary Iraqis.
The New Yorker since May 2003. In addition to his coverage of Iraq, he has written on Sierra Leone, civil unrest in the Ivory Coast, and the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel. Packer was awarded two Overseas Press Club awards for his work in 2003, one for his Iraq coverage and the other for his reporting on the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Packer, a 2001-2002 Guggenheim Fellow, has also written for The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and other publications. He has taught writing at Harvard, Sarah Lawrence, Bennington, and Columbia. Packer is also the author of The Village of Waiting about his experience in Africa. His book -Blood of the Liberals won the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He has also written two novels, The Half Man and Central Square.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, Center for International Studies

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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