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We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project) Paperback – August 21, 2012
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“One diplomat's darkly humorous and ultimately scathing assault on just about everything the military and the State Department have done -- or tried to do -- since the invasion of Iraq. The title says it all.” ―Steven Myers, New York Times
“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… "We made things in Iraq look the way we wanted them to look," Van Buren writes. With lyrical prose and biting wit, this book reveals the devastating arrogance of imperial ambition and folly.” ―Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“One of the rare, completely satisfying results of the expensive debacle in Iraq.” ―Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“I've read just about every memoir out of Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade, military or otherwise, and this stands as one of the best -- certainly one of the most self-aware and best written.” ―Washingtonian
“Long after the self-serving memoirs of people named Bush, Rice, and Rumsfeld are consigned to some landfill, this unsparing and very funny chronicle will remain on the short list of books essential to understanding America's Iraq War. Here is nation-building as it looks from the inside--waste, folly, and sheer silliness included.” ―Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War
“The road to Hell is paved with taxpayer dollars in Peter Van Buren's account of a misspent year rebuilding Iraq. Abrasive, honest and funny, We Meant Well is an insider's account of life behind blast walls at the height of the surge.” ―Nathan Hodge, author of Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders
“If Joseph Heller's war began in 2004 instead of 1944, this would be the book entitled Catch-22. Once I picked up We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (available September 27), I could not put the book down. I could not believe so much that appears to be fictional satire could instead relate actual events...Very highly recommended.” ―Seattle-Post Intelligencer
“We Meant Well is a must-read, first-hand account of our disastrous occupation of Iraq. Its lively writing style will appeal to a wide audience.” ―Ron Paul, M.D., Member of Congress
From the Author
Learn more, read my blog and see photos from Iraq illustrating many of the episodes in the book at wemeantwell.com! --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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I was against the invasion of Iraq from the start, and like many other liberals I "knew" that occupation and "reconstruction" were going to be driven by commercial self-interest and neoconservative geopolitics. I was wrong. That may have been the goal, but very quickly it turned into a pointless and ineffectual game in which the only rule was "look successful". As the author concluded, assessment followed the kindergarten model: effort was more important than results.
This book is without a doubt a great book and should be read by anyone interested in a real perspective of the war. Too many generals and senior leaders write books talking about things that they never experienced while Van Buren writes from first hand experience. Must read!
The incompetence of the rebuilding effort in Iraq is widely known if not acknowledged. In "We Meant Well," we get a view of what it looked like "on the ground" to a Foreign Service Officer for the year he was there (2009). Well, it looked pretty surreal.
For example, Van Buren was never criticized for giving money to a useless project. However, he was reprimanded for canceling a project that was clearly wasting money. The goal of the top officials was to spend as much as possible so they could look like they were getting a lot done and get that next promotion.
Van Buren acknowledges the sacrifice of the US soldiers, including the fact that in 2009 and 2010 more soldiers committed suicide than were killed in combat. Under Bush and 2 years under Obama, their families did not receive condolence letters from the President.
He is not so impressed with the contractors (at one time there were 150,000 of them), who made a virtue of making money without making anything else. For example, the invading force, like all empirical forces, did not like to do the dirty work. So, young men were imported from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, and elsewhere to take care of latrines, cleaning, cooking, etc. "It all gave the place a last-days-of-the-Raj feel, when it did not give it a we-are-slave-owners feel." p. 40. The guards were young men imported from Uganda. All of these mercenary forces were brought in by the contractors. The importees were paid more than they would be at home, but nothing close to the amount the contractors kept for themselves.
The book is easy reading, but filled with information about what has been happening in Iraq in our name.