Peter Van Buren
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.
Help Wanted, No Experience Necessary
The reconstruction of Iraq was the largest nation-building program in history, dwarfing in cost, size, and complexity even those undertaken after World War II to rebuild Germany and Japan. At a cost to the US taxpayer of over $63 billion and counting, the plan was lavishly funded, yet, as government inspectors found, the efforts were characterized from the beginning by pervasive waste and inefficiency, mistaken judgments, flawed policies, and structural weaknesses. Of those thousands of acts of waste and hundreds of mistaken judgments, some portion
Peter Van Buren has become one of the newest targets of the US Department of State. What did he do? He blogged. Van Buren posted a link to a publically available WikiLeaks diplomatic cable, but even after nearly a quarter of a century with the US government, they are opening up an investigation on him. Following the release of a new book from Van Buren, he talks to Lauren Lyster about what you can and can't say in the land of the free.
Peter Van Buren, author of We Meant Well, discusses his time in Iraq.
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