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Customer Review

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's make Kansas in the sand, February 3, 2012
This review is from: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project) (Hardcover)
Side-splittingly funny and agonizingly tragic, We Meant Well is not only the best book I've read about our involvement in Iraq but it's also the best written. Van Buren is wrong about one thing, though: we actually have taught the Iraqis something. They now know, if they did not previously, how unfettered capitalism works. Not to mention how to game U.S. foreign aid programs. In saying that I suspect I underestimate them, though. The souk has been around a lot longer than the U.S., and like any folk in the Middle East the Iraqis are masters of its intricacy. So often while reading We Meant Well I was put in mind not of the Iraq war but of the everyday dealings that take place in the thousand-year old Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

Mr. van Buren deserves kudos not only for his wonderful writing and razor-sharp memories but for his bravery (the offspring no doubt of courage and frustration) in setting forth with numbing hilarity the incidents he both witnessed, overheard, and personally participated in. Unless Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha take over State, his career there is finished. I'm sure he knew that when he started writing this book, and I can only admire his guts.

Bush Jr. and his team thought they could wave the magic wand of money and turn Iraq into Iowa. Can't be done. You cannot impose an American-style democracy and economy from on high. Japan is still Japan, Germany still Germany (try, even in this day and age, to use a credit card in small town Bavaria). The Iraqis owe allegiance first to family and tribe, not to a central government. One would think we would have learned this by now in Afghanistan as well. Of course, a few hundred van Burens might make a difference in such places, but they sensibly choose to work elsewhere. Their would-be superiors know that there's no glory in gifting people with solar-powered wells, or antibiotics for their farm animals, or vaccinating their kids. Doesn't make for good photo ops. I can only hope that in addition to his writing (and I look forward to more of it) he has found or can find a job that is not only suitable to but respectful of his abilities.

Both the Pentagon and State are truly topped with giant windmills, and I can only admire Peter van Buren for tilting at them.
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