From Lilly Rivlin: I have a friend whose expertise is setting up small businesses for women, minorities, etc. My friend has an assignment to do economic development in Iraq and is writing e-mails that are pretty interesting. This person has agreed that I can share these, but we are doing so anonymously to prevent any negative repurcussions.
… Leaving the central chamber leads to you stone in an mixture of colors and styles. It looks grand without being attractive. It is as if a lot of very expensive stuff was bought on sale and put together by a brother-in-law. In fact, there is a good chance it was. Saddam offsets this antiseptic architecture with insanely ornate, clearly phony French (Louis XVI?) furniture with cheap gold paint now flaking off. The whole thing gives the impression that a tornado swirled “Antiques R Us,” “Home Stuff,” Burger King, and Graceland together. The idiosyncrasy of it all suggests a quality of absolute rule — what the Man wants, the Man gets. The State Department folks left it as is.
I am getting along better with State and have even begun to like the State Department contract manager everyone else loves to hate. She is tough, smart, ruthless. If she weren’t slightly bipolar, she’d be predictable enough to read. I’m working on it. She is a former stockbroker, about my height, wears combat boots, and weighs 46 pounds. She is a big Bushie. She’d actually be pretty if she didn’t wear an expression that says, “I have been sitting on a cactus for a week, and I am going to do so until it gives up.”
There are a lot of folks here – even officials, and even in the State Department – who want to do right. While I do not always agree with their approaches, I do respect the honesty of their efforts. In defense of a couple I have met, they cannot go out, because they are required by their contracts to take so much security that any Iraqis who get near them become living bull’s-eyes. For example, our contracting officer goes out to meet the hoi polloi, whom you can well imagine she understands perfectly, with two bomb-sniffing dogs, a cadre of soldiers/mercenaries, six SUVs or Humvees, and two – count em – attack helicopters with shooters (mercenaries) hanging out. This tends to make Iraqis feel very relaxed.
Ths is my first brush with such an insecure environment. Its effect is pervasive. It provides a kind of tinnitus to life, a constant ringing that makes it impossible to hear low noises. One of the effects on my mind is a kind of ADD — I forget or misremember names, something I rarely did at home. One of the things I notice in the surrounding world is that Iraqis from time to time choose to live without fear — without a personal guard or blast walls, something we do not do inside our compounds and zones. I have found many Iraqis to admire for that. If I were braver, somebody else, and not more afraid of my spouse’s reaction than Al Qaeda’s, I might be tempted to take that risk. But I think I’ll stay home tonight and count the ants in the bathroom.