We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

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Henry Holt and Company, Sep 27, 2011 - Political Science - 288 pages
4 Reviews

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.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - DeaconBernie - LibraryThing

This is a very difficult book to review. Taking the author at his word that this is a true account of his year in Iraq, one is struck by the disconnect with what we know and what we think we know ... Read full review

WE MEANT WELL: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Laugh-out-loud stories about how the United States failed to rebuild Iraq.After 2005, the State Department suddenly received orders to reconstruct the country. In the loop after years of neglect, it ... Read full review


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Caring about Trash
A Story of Local Politics
A Torturous Lunch
The Doura Art Show
Midcourse Correction
Spooky Dinner
Soldier Talk
General Anxiety
Promises to Keep
What Victory Looks Like

Some Chick Event
Widowed Tractors Bees for Widows

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About the author (2011)

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. We Meant Well is his first book.

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