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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) First Edition Edition
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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!
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Top customer reviews
Someone said that you should not write the history of a war until 10 years after it has ended. This may apply especially to those who were engaged in it, since it allows some of the personal pain to heal and permits one to provide a more balanced view of events. That said, it is important for those who were not present to have memoirs like this one so that they can use it as a means of measuring other accounts set out later by those with a personal agenda of redefining the past.
While this particular book is a good, and sometimes hilarious, account of what was seen and done in the presence of the author, it suffers from a lack of empathy in its attempt to get across its righteousness. The author explains how he was trapped by the machinery of the Foreign Service personnel system, through a combination of the carrot of cash and career advancement and the stick of being washed out or dead-ended, into spending a year in a PRT in Iraq. He wants us to see the unfair position he was placed in and how his only solution for the sake of his family and his own career, in which he had invested his life, was to continue to take the King's coin and do the King's bidding. Readers of the book who have not been in such a position might think it simple to choose to leave or to find another way to avoid the choice, but, in fact, the author's exposition about the pressures placed upon the Foreign Service at this time is true. His choice was a very human one, but regrettably for the quality of the book he fails to apply the same standard to others.
A stronger editor might have helped by forcing the author to confront his own unwillingness or inability to see how everyone within the system was faced with the same pressures; that he was not alone. That everyone who took his path found themselves subject to the intolerant beast called war. If anything, the higher up in the chain of command, the greater the pressures that were exerted. People with longer careers than his, with more to lose, since they often had even fewer alternatives, were crushed or driven out. That this happened during the Vietnam War and in the living memory of many within the Foreign Service made it seem even more cruel, since it seemed so predictable as to cry out to be avoided. Unfortunately, the author seems to assign too much blame to his immediate supervisors, regardless of their merely having taken the same road that he took. He demands that they pay the price that he was unwilling to pay; they should have sacrificed their families and their careers to protect him and his. Had his righteousness been tempered with a little more compassion, this book could have been both an excellent source of wisdom as well as a good read.
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.