We Meant Well by Peter Van Buren
How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project)

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Synopsis



A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction of 2011 title



From a State Department insider, the first account of our blundering efforts to rebuild Iraq--a shocking and rollicking true-life tale of Americans abroad


Charged with rebuilding Iraq, would you spend taxpayer money on a sports mural in Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhood to promote reconciliation through art? How about an isolated milk factory that cannot get its milk to market? Or a pastry class training women to open cafés on bombed-out streets without water or electricity?


According to Peter Van Buren, we bought all these projects and more in the most expensive hearts-and-minds campaign since the Marshall Plan. We Meant Well is his eyewitness account of the civilian side of the surge--that surreal and bollixed attempt to defeat terrorism and win over Iraqis by reconstructing the world we had just destroyed. Leading a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team on its quixotic mission, Van Buren details, with laser-like irony, his yearlong encounter with pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world's largest embassy, who fail to realize that you can't rebuild a country without first picking up the trash.


Darkly funny while deadly serious, We Meant Well is a tragicomic voyage of ineptitude and corruption that leaves its writer--and readers--appalled and disillusioned but wiser.

 

About Peter Van Buren

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Peter Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years. He received a Meritorious Honor Award for assistance to Americans following the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, a Superior Honor Award for helping an American rape victim in Japan, and another award for work in the tsunami relief efforts in Thailand. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. He volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops. Van Buren worked extensively with the military while overseeing evacuation planning in Japan and Korea. This experience included multiple field exercises, plus civil-military work in Seoul, Tokyo, Hawaii, and Sydney with allies from the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. The Marine Corps selected Van Buren to travel to Camp Lejeune in 2006 to participate in a field exercise that included simulated Iraqi conditions. Van Buren spent a year on the Hill in the Department of State's Congressional Liaison Office. Van Buren speaks Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, and some Korean. Born in New York City, he lives in Virginia with his spouse, two daughters, and a docile Rottweiler. This is his first book.
 
Published September 27, 2011 by Metropolitan Books. 286 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference, War. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Researchers doubted Iraqis would pay double for fresh chicken what they currently paid for the frozen Brazilian variety, but American contractors built a chicken-processing facility anyway—and proved the researchers right.

Jul 05 2011 | Read Full Review of We Meant Well: How I Helped L...

Publishers Weekly

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In this shocking and darkly hilarious exposé of the reconstruction of post-Saddam Iraq, former State Department team leader Van Buren describes the tragicomedy that has been American efforts at nation building, marked by bizarre decisions and wrongheaded priorities.

Jun 20 2011 | Read Full Review of We Meant Well: How I Helped L...

BC Books

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If you would like to understand why the war in Iraq (and coincidentally, Afghanistan) goes on without end, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People is definitely the book for you.

Sep 15 2011 | Read Full Review of We Meant Well: How I Helped L...

BC Books

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Christian Science Monitor

Peter Van Buren is not a writer, and he admits as much from the beginning of his memoir, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

Oct 06 2011 | Read Full Review of We Meant Well: How I Helped L...

Dallas News

Two years ago, the U.S. State Department assigned him to Iraq, expecting that he would help figure out how to rebuild the war-torn nation’s water and sewer infrastructureTo read the full story, you need Subscriber Content access.Subscribe to The Dallas Morning News, Briefing, Al Dia or The Denton...

Sep 30 2011 | Read Full Review of We Meant Well: How I Helped L...

Seattle PI

Yet the most basic needs of the local people are completely ignored in the incompetent planning of some incredibly expensive community development projects intended to nation-build Iraq.

Sep 15 2011 | Read Full Review of We Meant Well: How I Helped L...

Salon

He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture.

Sep 11 2012 | Read Full Review of We Meant Well: How I Helped L...

The Nation

One State Department Human Resources employee confided to me that this has, in fact, become the go-to strategy for winnowing out unwanted employees in the too-hard-to-fire category, a sad evolution, given the sorry history of the State Department in the McCarthy era.

Feb 09 2012 | Read Full Review of We Meant Well: How I Helped L...

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