• Archive for October, 2011

    A Very Short History of US, Iraq and Iran

    October 31, 2011 // Comments Off

    Once upon a time, Iraq and Iran were enemies and fought a big, big war.

    Then the US eliminated that version of Iraq. Iran lost an enemy in 2003.

    As civil society collapsed in Iraq around the US’ ankles, Iran became more and more influential in Iraqi politics and society.

    Today Iraq is a friend, ally and economic partner of Iran.

    The US is at war with Iran, in part inside Iraq.

    Iraq is not at war with Iran. It is just providing the most recent stage.

    We caused this to happen when we invaded Iraq in 2003.

    Next Lesson is how the US eliminated Iran’s enemy the Taliban, and how that has worked out.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    On Russia Today Television

    // Comments Off

    Video from my recent interview with Russia Today:



    If the video is not showing above, follow this link to view it.

    Don’t miss the comments– one guy writes “100 dollars this guy will be dead with in 1 year.”



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Review: We Meant Well

    // Comments Off

    The good people at blog Well, That Was Different had some nice things to say about my book:

    This is a great read. Van Buren is a naturally talented, engaging writer. I read the whole book in one go on a road trip, because I couldn’t put it down. If you have ever read P.J. O’Rourke’s “Holidays in Hell” you’ll like this book, though Van Buren is not quite as brilliantly snarky as O’Rourke (who is?) I suspect he has read a lot of Bill Bryson in his time, as well. Once he’s done taking State to the cleaners, if he decides to write about his adventures in other countries, I’d look forward to reading them.



    Read the entire review if you like.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Money Down the Drain: Falluja Sewer System

    // 1 Comment »

    In an endless search for the perfect allegory for the whole failure of reconstruction in Iraq, the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) offers up the Falluja sewer system in a report issued October 30.

    An insurgent strong hold, the city of Falluja saw fighting more reminiscent of the house-to-house hell of Stalingrad than anything imagined for a counterinsurgency campaign. The massive sewer system the US wanted to put in place would be a symbol of change for the city. Yet continued heavy fighting, poor planning, unrealistic cost estimates and inadequate funding led to significant cost-overruns and delays in constructing the city’s new wastewater treatment system. After seven years and the expenditure of over $100 million dollars, the backbone of a waste water treatment system is now almost reluctantly in place, servicing the toilets of approximately 38,400 residents.

    While some sort of forward movement, this is far short of the 100,000 residents originally intended to benefit from the system. Completion of the existing backbone facility was years late and millions of dollars over budget, leaving Falluja’s streets torn up and in disrepair for years. Many people, including State Department contract personnel, died while working on the project.

    The project started with the Bush-era connections that characterized the contracting side of the Iraq war. Fluor Corp, the company that won the contract, had the cuddly links that flourish in Washington. Suzanne H. Woolsey, wife of former CIA director R. James Woolsey, joined the board of Fluor in January 2004. Just months later, Fluor was awarded $1.6 billion in Iraq reconstruction projects, including the Fallujah sewage plant.

    The work on the system began in 2005, and by mid-2009 the US was declaring the system “three-fourths complete and is expected to go into operation before the end of the year.” “We’re in fact a $100 million raging success,” said Peter Collins, who was chief engineer on the project from August 2006 to May 2009.

    To claim any measure of success in Falluja because the project was less than a total failure is to miss the point. While ostensibly about waste water, this project had the goals of enhancing local citizens’ faith in their government, delivery essential services, building a service capacity within the local government, winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi populace and boosting employment for young men who were otherwise recruitable by the insurgency. In short, the sewer system had as its goals the same things the reconstruction as a whole tried to do.

    The full SIGIR report on the Falluja sewer system makes for sad, almost mandatory reading for those interested in why we may have meant well, we did not succeed.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    New Interview: With Peter B. Collins of KGO San Francisco

    October 30, 2011 // Comments Off



    Listen in on my conversation with KGO San Francisco’s Peter B. Collins, now online. Here’s how Collins sums it all up:


    Diplomats are masters of spin and doublespeak, but Van Buren is not so diplomatic as he details his role in funding reconstruction and nation building projects in Iraq. Not only is Van Buren a brilliant writer–his colorful narrative is tight but rich, laced with snarky humor–his verbal commentary is just as compelling. We talk about the $6.6 billion in lost funds recently “found”; about how he “volunteered” for a tour in Iraq; the roles of contractors, from armed merceneries to third world crews of cooks and service workers; the contrast between his forward operating base and the unreal scene in the Green Zone and much more.

    Van Buren talks about the power struggle between Defense and State over reconstruction, offers comments on our ambassadors, and is blunt about Obama’s October 21 announcement that he is keeping his campaign promise, and almost all US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this year. “The decision…..was made in Baghdad,” said Van Buren, and he added that he thinks there will be thousands of US troops returning to Iraq by next summer.

    If you only buy and read one book this year, make it this one. It’s important, and very well written.



    Catch the whole interview, now online.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Review: Washington Post

    // Comments Off

    The Washington Post reviewed “We Meant Well”:

    Why couldn’t $63 billion invested in the reconstruction of Iraq manage to keep the lights on? How can it be that in 2011, blackouts are still part of daily life, drinking water remains a luxury, and only about a quarter of the population has sewage? If reliable utilities are fundamental to both the grand goal of nation-building and the narrower mandate of counterinsurgency, why didn’t the largest nation-building effort in history get those utilities back up and running?

    Peter Van Buren tries to answer those questions in his memoir, “We Meant Well.” A Foreign Service officer sent to Iraq as part of the civilian surge in 2009, Van Buren was assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team and embedded for a year with the U.S. Army. His account from beyond Baghdad is a nice companion piece to Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.”

    “We meant well” is the sort of phrase whose meaning depends on emphasis. It can be a defense of truly good intentions or a flippant excuse. In Van Buren’s usage, it seems to be more the latter. He describes the majority of his State Department colleagues as people negligently prepared for their jobs, motivated primarily by the prospect of promotions, willingly ignorant of actual needs in Iraq, too lazy to do the necessary groundwork, and with too-short attention spans to care about whether a project is successful and self-sustaining. “These were,” he writes of his team members, “by and large people aggressively devoted to mediocrity, often achieving it.”

    As an example of the ineptitude, he offers the case of a chicken-processing plant. The idea was to create jobs (in the hope that they would keep young Iraqis too busy for insurgency) and to provide a fresh, halal-certified alternative to Brazilian-imported frozen chickens. But the project didn’t do much on the jobs front. For one thing, the plant relied heavily on automation, including a tramway that transported chickens to be slaughtered. As Van Buren points out, “If employment was indeed the goal, why have an automated plant with the tramway of chicken death?” Even more basic, the project team had ignored a U.S. AID report recommending against chicken processing because of “prohibitive electricity costs” and the absence of refrigerated transport and storage. The chicken plant sat idle — at a sunk cost to U.S. taxpayers of $2.58 million.

    More successful were projects instigated by Iraqis. Among these was a women’s center on the outskirts of Baghdad. A local women’s group identified the need: Sparse facilities and dominating fathers and husbands often kept women from receiving basic medical care. Van Buren’s team gave $84,000. And the Al-Zafraniyah Women’s Support Center was born, with a social worker offering counseling, two lawyers helping women obtain government benefits, and a female medical doctor coming twice a week to lead workshops and see patients. An immediate success, the center served more than 100 women in its first month. Yet it was shut down after six months. “The initial funding had run out,” Van Buren writes, “and U.S. priorities had moved on to flashier economic targets.”

    Van Buren’s prose is accessible, colloquial, somewhat macho, with sustained skepticism and moments of humor. After an Iraqi sheik suggested that he would think better of the Americans if they gave him a new generator, Van Buren writes: “I pretended to jot a note: next invasion, bring more generators.”

    Yet the narrative is disjointed, structured less like a memoir than an International Crisis Group report. There’s a section on trash, another on water and sewer, another on corruption, and so on.

    Van Buren manages to conjure up a few vivid scenes, such as one in which a demonstration at the chicken plant leaves one worker with a beard full of feathers. But generally, the writing lacks scenes and characters and dialogue. In fact, almost all the dialogue in the book is separated off in a chapter called “Soldier Talk.” It’s hard to know whether that was an effort to preempt State Department redactions or because Van Buren didn’t take great notes. (Since the book’s release, Van Buren has been almost gleeful about the trouble his writing has gotten him into at State. “I . . . morphed into public enemy number one — as if I had started an al Qaeda franchise in the Foggy Bottom cafeteria,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. Although he remains on its payroll, the department suspended his security clearance for “publishing articles and blog posts on [matters of official concern] without submitting them to the Department for review.”)

    Also unsatisfying is Van Buren’s level of introspection. The “how I helped lose” in the subtitle suggests a certain self-criticism. But his skeptical tone allows him to remain detached. And it’s often not clear what his role was, or whether he was even involved, in the projects he describes.

    An actor Van Buren could have blamed, but didn’t, is the U.S. taxpayer. “We Meant Well” leaves one wondering how we could have spent so much money, and asked so few questions.

    Marisa Bellack is an opinions editor at the Washington Post.


    Read the full review online now.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Your Weekend Horror: 13 Americans Among Killed in Kabul Attack

    October 29, 2011 // Comments Off

    Afghanistan
    At least 13 American soldiers were among more than 20 people killed when a Taliban suicide car bomber attacked an armored NATO shuttle bus in Kabul on Saturday.

    The Rhino is a cross between a regular school bus and an armored vehicle, stronger than the bus but less protected than a true military truck. It is used throughout Iraq and Afghanistan to transport groups of people in situations where it is either protected by real fighting machines (say the run from Baghdad Airport into the Embassy) or where the threat is believed to be minimal (used to be, Kabul). Inside the Rhino, except for the thick bullet proof windows, it always felt to me like a regular bus, a stiff, bumpy ride, and not the “VIP protection” ride often attributed. Someone else sensed the armor and described it more like rolling coffin. There are not many photos of the Rhino out there, but one publicly available is shown above. A Rhino will cost you about $300,000 and seats 24-36 depending on configuration.

    It is a sad Saturday. As my colleague Matthew Hoh Tweeted: “Hope you are having a great Sat. 13 American families will soon be told their son brother or daddy was killed in Afghan.”


    Meanwhile, sadly, in Iraq:

    Soldier killed, 3 wounded in Falluja
    10/29/2011 5:34 PM

    Two goldsmiths killed, their shops stolen in Wassit Province
    10/29/2011 1:49 PM

    Large fire in Nassiriya Oil Storage extinguish​ed
    10/29/2011 1:34 PM

    Govt Employee killed, 2 others injured in west Baghdad blast
    10/29/2011 1:33 PM

    Two Iraqi, US journalists arrested in Basra
    10/27/2011 5:29 PM

    Three gunmen killed in west Mosul
    10/27/2011 5:27 PM

    General hit mid of Baghdad
    10/27/2011 5:26 PM

    Sticky bomb exploded in central Baghdad
    10/26/2011 8:13 PM

    29 wanted arrested in Mosul
    10/26/2011 5:59 PM

    5 leading Baathists arrested west Kut
    10/26/2011 4:49 PM

    Sahwa (Awakening) element killed, 2 others injured in Babel
    10/26/2011 2:52 PM

    3 civilians injured in central Baghdad’s Saadoun Street
    10/26/2011 11:31 AM

    Policeman’​s wife knifed to death in Kut, south Iraq
    10/26/2011 11:29 AM

    Two civilians killed, 15 injured in Mosul blasts
    10/26/2011 11:28 AM

    Four people killed, 5 injured in attack on house in Babel
    10/26/2011 10:30 AM




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    First(-ish) Clear Link Between Anti-US Iraq Violence and Iran

    // Comments Off

    (This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post)

    The US released its first hard public evidence of a link between anti-US violence in Iraq and Iran, US-made radio frequency (RF) transmitters being bought semi-legally by a Singaporean firm, transferred illegally to an Iranian firm and then ending up attached to roadside bombs, Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, in Iraq.

    The Invisible War

    Triggering an IED was always its most vulnerable function, and the one where US technology had the greatest effect in disrupting the threat. Look at current photos of US military vehicles in Iraq– they are festooned with antennas and other electronic devices, many of which are aimed specifically at the electronic triggers of roadside bombs. The crudest way to trigger a bomb is via a control wire. A bad guy literally sat nearby and manually set off the bomb as a US convoy rumbled past. Most such triggermen were either obliterated by their own explosives or killed quickly by the convoy’s survivors. Early stand-off triggers used components from household appliances, garage door openers, radio controlled toys and cell phones. The US grew very good at counter-acting these crude signals, rendering many IEDs dead weight, unable to be blown up at the right times. The key to insurgent “success” was increasingly sophisticated electronic triggering devices, staying a step ahead of US counter-technology. One such tool was apparently the US-made RF transmitters smuggled through Singapore, via Iran, into Iraq. The whole contest was described by Wired.com as “Iraq’s Invisible War.”

    Technical specifications on the smuggled transmitters are not public, but one can guess they might have frequency skipping technology, useful in a home network to avoid interference with cell phones and other portable devices. Such tech would make the transmitters that much harder to interrupt, plus their long range (miles) is handy for the bad guys in hiding.

    US-Iran Proxy War Goes Public, Sort Of

    That Iraq is a battleground for the proxy war between the US and Iran has been an open secret for several years. The US, for internal political reasons, has flirted with publically making such a statement. In 2009-2010, my turn in Iraq, the Iranian connections were sort of kept low key, not secret, but not spoken of openly by senior officials even though Iranian presence was well-known.

    The US started to go public this summer, with US General Martin Dempsey leading the charge, stating “Iran hoped to re-create a Beirut-like moment in Iraq, referring to the 1984 pullout from Lebanon’s capital in the wake of attacks including a major suicide bombing targeting US Marines. Iran’s activities in southern Iraq are intended to produce some kind of Beirut-like moment … and then in so doing to send a message that they have expelled us from Iraq.”

    Soon after that statement, Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the senior US military spokesman in Iraq, said Iranian-backed Shiite militias were working to keep the Baghdad government weak and isolated, and that decisions on the number and types of attacks by the militias are made inside Iran, including through ties with the powerful Quds force.

    Stories appeared in the press about the head of Iran’s elite al-Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani. A note received in 2008 was reprinted in 2011 which said “General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member. The individual who’s going to replace him is a Quds Force member.”

    A More Intelligent Escalation

    But this was all just noise, speculation, and leak fodder until today’s story linking the violence in Iraq directly to Iran, at least as far as public disclosures are concerned.

    Indeed, to make sure the point was clear enough, a Justice Department spokesman said “This is the first prosecution in which the government has alleged that it has the evidence to trace — by serial number — specific components exported from the United States to Iran, and later to IEDs in Iraq.” Justice went on to say that forces in Iraq had found at least 16 of the transmitters in unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs) between May 2008 and July 2010.

    Today’s disclosure represents a more intelligent escalation by the US Government in painting a picture for the always receptive American people, especially after the bumbling attempts to whip up a frenzy over some loser has-been Iranian-American and his B-movie fantasy of whacking the Saudi Ambassador.

    So is the US going to war with Iran next week? No, no, none of this is aimed that high. What we are seeing is a more clever tamping up of public rhetoric, a base that if the US chooses to do so, will serve as the next step in an ongoing war of mostly, for now, words.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    What do you do with a “problem” like Peter Van Buren? Take away his badge, escort him out, bar the door, throw away the key and ….

    October 28, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    (This article originally appeared on Diplopundit on October 28, 2011)

    Hey! That’s going to really shut him up.

    Yesterday, AFP reports that Mr. Van Buren was escorted out of the State Department on Monday and barred from returning while officials there decide what to do next with him. Our own source said that Mr. Van Buren has been placed on administrative leave for the next couple of weeks. Admin leave is like “we’ll pay you so we don’t have to see you.” I supposed that’s until they can find the citation in the FAM that would fit this “problem.” Mr. Van Buren’s current assignment reportedly had also been curtailed. If true, that means they just took away his desk and chair, too. So even if he is allowed to return after his admin leave, he won’t actually have a job to return to.

    As an aside, Mr. Van Buren’s book is the main selection in our house’s book of the month club. Our 5th grader is currently reading it at home and at school. I don’t think it’s going to damage the kid in any way.

    Mr. Van Buren’s book is highly critical of the State Department’s work in Iraq, the accompanying blog, just as critical. Not sure if the punishment is for the book, the blog, or for both. No one would speak on the record. The suspension letter did not cite the book, but did cite as one of the author’s faults, “an unwillingness to comply with Department rules and regulations regarding writing and speaking on matters of official concern.”

    This is the first time, as far as memory goes, that the State Department had actually yanked somebody’s clearance over “publishing articles and blog posts on such matters without submitting them to the Department for review.” Whereas, in the past, I was aware of the shock factor in threatening bloggers with this in-house version of the “nuclear” option, this is the first time where somebody actually pushed the red button. And in a very public way. I can’t help but think that this would send a big chill to the FS blogosphere. Don’t be shocked if folks go back to the 50′s and start hiding their journals under their pillows.

    Of course, now that State had unleashed the “nuclear” option and suspended Mr. Van Buren’s security clearance, what other threats can you cite to help with behavior modification inside the Big House? He’s really going to stop talking/writing/giving interviews now that he had his clearance suspended, or now that he is barred from Foggy Bottom.

    You think?

    You suspend his clearance hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You take away his badge, hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You bar him from entering any door of the State Department hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You take away his desk and his chair hoping that will scare him out of his wits he’d stop blogging. Instead, on October 27, he was the guest of the National Press Club, his appearance covered by WaPo’s Joe Davidson. The hometown paper has finally caught up with the news.

    And look just now — the book even meets the approval of NYmag, which ranked the book significantly higher than the Mexican cyclops shark. See the unintended consequences here?

    So how do you solve a “problem” like Peter Van Buren? Well, certainly not the way the State Department is “solving” it right now.

    First, I think it must be said that the State Department handled the book clearance badly. Somebody should have owned up to the snafu instead of gunning after the author. The 30-day timeline for clearing the book lapsed. It was not the author’s fault regardless of whether or not the person responsible for clearance had a meltdown, a baby, was sick or was on vacation. But State like any old and cumbersome bureaucracy is loath to admit to its own mistakes. They cleared Condi’s book within the 30-day timeline, yet Mr. Van Buren’s book was not afforded the same courtesy. The State Department, in short, broke its own clearance procedure. And when Mr. Van Buren published the book as allowed under its own regulations in the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State accused him of “unauthorized disclosures of classified information,” and asked his publisher for redactions six days before the book hit the stores. Can you imagine them doing that to Secretary Rice’s book? Nope. Big fry, small fry; are there different rules?

    But hey – like Joe Davidson says, “The best way for the federal government to publicize a book? Attempt to muzzle the author.”And it’s free!

    Second, given the potential fallout from a book about reconstruction in what has always been an unpopular, contentious war, and given how much money we’re spending on reconstruction projects over in Iraq, somebody higher than a Deputy Assistant Secretary should have read the book, cleared his/her calendar and spoke privately with the author. Instead of sending the tigers with sharp teeth. I have not meet Mr. Van Buren in person, and he may be far from cutesy and cuddly, but he has written a vivid, engaging account of our reconstruction debacle in Iraq seasoned with absurdities, great and small. To dismiss him as nothing but a disgruntled employee is just plain brainless. Public opinion is already against the Iraq war. Add to that the rest of the domestic headaches that the American taxpayers have been suffering in the last several years. And what do you get? A public relation disaster, with the State Department as the big, bad growling tiger in a starring role. It does not help that State appears to be acting like a big, bad growling tiger trying to eat an angry mouse. Grrrr….No diplomatic skills exercised whatsoever.

    Remember when Matthew Hoh resigned over Afghanistan? He had two tours of duty in Iraq and five months under his belt in Afghanistan when he quit. Hoh received offers of new gigs from both Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke. I understand, he even got some face time with the VPOTUS. I think both ambassadors understood that in our top foreign policy engagement, they cannot be perceived as tone-deaf to the concerns of their man on the ground.

    I’m not saying State should have offered Mr. Van Buren a fancy gig in Paris. But at the very least, somebody from the Seventh Floor should have attempted to speak with him. He, after all, spent 23 years with the State Department and cared enough to write the Iraq Experience down in a book. But no one bothered to speak with him. A DAS alleging his disclosure of classified info did eventually write to him, albeit belatedly, and not really to listen to what he had to say.

    It’s as if the State Department is proud of all its smart people except for those with the guts to speak up, or write a critical book. Or are they only proud of our smart diplomats when they dissent in private, in a channel that the American public never ever gets to hear, and that which the organization is free to ignore? The guy who talks too much not only gets a good hearing in my book, he or she should be afforded an opportunity to contribute in fixing the problems that he cites. No, we do not shoot the messengers in our book. Most especially if they are bearing bad news. But that’s us. Unfortunately, that is often the case in the bureaucracy, the State Department perhaps more so than most. A dead messenger is a good messenger, no news is good news. Ta-daa! And all is great in Iraq.

    Three, Mr. Van Buren is not without faults. He posted articles in his blog without obtaining clearance as required in the FAM. Mr. Van Buren, like his employer, also broke the clearance procedure in the FAM. He even admits to that. But I don’t know of any FSO who blog who had requested clearance for his/her every blog post. The regs make no distinction whether what you write is critical or not, a clearance is required on matters of official concern. And since State’s purview is the entire world, that covers just about everything. So to go after Mr. Van Buren in a singular fashion invites the suspicion that he is targeted for his critical views, not just for the blog but also for his book.

    Four, that convoluted business of the use of a disclaimer. You put up a disclaimer to ensure that what you write is not attributed to the State Department or the US Government.

    Here is Mr. Van Buren’s disclaimer in his blog:
    Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book.
    A spokesman went so far as confirmed Mr. Van Buren’s disclaimer, telling NPR that “the author’s views are his own, and not necessarily those of the State Department.” And really now, if you read his blog, it is hard to imagine anything similar coming out from Mr. Toner or Ms. Nuland from State’s Public Affairs shop.

    And then you have the following disclaimer from the personal blog of the Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Innovative Engagement:

    …… is an employee of the United States Department of State. She has been with the Department of State for fourteen years in both traditional Information Technology roles and also as the Deputy Director for the Department’s first social media office – The Office of Innovative Engagement. The viewpoints, opinions and ideas expressed here do not represent the official opinion or policy of the United States Government or the Department of State.

    She went on to blog about her Twitter cliff notes writing about her agency’s social media policy:
    Public engagement should only be conducted by trained professionals. You should not tweet about something you are not an expert in. An example would be if you are not a consular officer do not talk about the visa or passport process. Direct those people to the appropriate subject matter expert.

    Twitter is a live community of humans and reacts the same way as people do when engaging with them in real life. You should focus on developing a “human voice” or persona for your community. This means no generic tweets or “ever green” tweets! Mass messages across all Department accounts are also considered to be an inappropriate use of Twitter.
    [...]

    Before using any new social media tools for official State Department purposes, it is important that you are familiar with State Department Policy on Social Media: 5 FAM 790. You should also review the Managing Your Social Media field guide. This guide is very important to helping you plan, create, and execute a successful social media campaign.

    Personal vs. Professional Self:

    You must have permission to tweet in your professional capacity. Permission is granted by the head American officer in the section or the Office Director for domestic offices.

    If you are tweeting in your professional capacity, you must disclose the account as being an official Department of State account.

    If you are tweeting on someone’s behalf, you must state who is on duty. Transparency is critical to building trust with your community.

    When tweeting in your personal capacity you should not talk specifically about your job. See 3 FAM 4170 for additional information.

    Whether or not this deputy director had clearance to post this policy item in her blog as a personal item is between her and Public Affairs. However, I do have to point out that both blogs used disclaimers claiming to be writing in their personal capacities. Mr. Van Buren blogs about Iraq and affairs of the state, all on matters of official concern. Ms. Deputy Director blogs about the Department’s social media policy, also a matter of official concern. One is under investigation, the other as far as I know is not.

    According to the regs, some of the factors to be considered in overcoming the presumption of private capacity with the use of a disclaimer include, but not necessarily limited to: 1) The current or former position, rank, and/or duties of the employee; 2) The relationship between the employee’s position, rank, and/or duties and the subject matter of the speaking/teaching/writing.

    It is perhaps worth noting that Mr. Van Buren, a midlevel FSO was a PRT guy in Iraq from 2009-2010, and if my source is correct, is now an employee without a job. The Deputy Director presumably is in the GS scale; could be GS-14/15 and the incumbent in her office.

    By the way, if you find 5 FAM 790, the State Department Policy on Social Media imperfect and hard to wrap your head around, you have the deputy director to thank for that. She reportedly is the co-author of this first social media use policy for the Department of State.

    Finally, there is that notion that they drummed into your head from A-100 on that as a Foreign Service Officer, you are on duty 24/7. They like saying that. And for the most part, folks in the Foreign Service understand that to be true. You like to think you have a personal life until you have to report to the Regional Security Officer who you slept with the previous night. Or until they tell you — hey, you are actually blogging on official time, since you are considered on duty 24/7.

    In any case, you are on duty 24/7 until the government decides that you are not. Remember the case of Douglas Kent, the U.S. consul general in Vladivostok who was involved in a car accident in October 1998 while driving home from his office? State concurred with DOJ that he was not on duty 24/7 when the accident occurred. Here is a trip down memory lane via U.S. Diplomacy:

    After Kent left the post on reassignment, a Russian citizen injured in the accident sued Kent in his individual capacity in a district court in California. According to an August 31, 2006, “AFSANET” message from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), “The Department of Justice with State Department concurrence refused to certify that Kent was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred,” thus undermining his claim of immunity. Ultimately, with AFSA supporting FSO Kent’s legal defense, the case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled in his favor by determining that he was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident took place. The Kent case clearly demonstrates that while Foreign Service personnel, especially those in senior positions, may consider themselves on duty 24 hours a day while stationed overseas and thus fully protected, particular circumstances may put those immunities at risk.

    In theory, the rules are there to protect you. In practice, the rules can mean many different things to many different people — human interpretation, unless it’s done by droids, see? The folks who write the rules can break it with no consequences. The folks who are covered by the rules are also allowed to break it but somebody’s gotta pay the price. If you come to think of it — the big fry, small fry rules only really sucks if you’re the small fry. But if offends our sense of fairness.

    In the end, organizations particularly one as traditional and hierarchical as the State Department cannot tolerate people falling out of a straight line; it’s contrary to its sense of order and proper functioning of the organization. And really — “open door,” “innovative engagement,” “smart power,” and whatnot can only go so far. An organization like State must do what it must do to protect its brand, like any commercial company, only with less money.

    I doubt if the State Department will fire Mr. Van Buren for “disclosure” of alleged classified information in his book, or for linking to a WikiLeaks cable, or for writing/speaking without clearance. That would make it look petty and seem vindictive and would drag this case long and possibly into court. But organizations are not without power; it always has an ace up its sleeve, so to speak. In this case, a catch-all slam dunk section in 3 FAM 4130 otherwise known as “Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment,” could be the ace up its sleeve. A much used up phrase of “poor judgement” is like a flyswatter that can be used for employees writing outside the chalk line, as well as employees who patronize prostitutes.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Not my America. How about you? An Open Letter to the State Department

    // Comments Off

    Book Clearance

    On the book clearance process at the State Department (emphasis added):

    3 FAM 4172.1-5 Materials of Official Concern Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity: Duration of Review
    (CT:PER-584; 11-03-2005) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to all Employees in the United States and Abroad) – All public speaking, writing, or teaching materials on matters of official concern prepared in an employee’s private capacity must be submitted for a reasonable period of review, not to exceed thirty days, to the office specified in 3 FAM 4172.1-3(C). In the case of time-sensitive materials of reasonably brief length, the period of review should be abbreviated in an effort to accommodate the interests of employees.

    3 FAM 4172.1-7 Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review
    (CT:PER-584; 11-03-2005) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to all Employees in the United States and Abroad) An employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of official concern that have been submitted for review, and for which the presumption of private capacity has not been overcome, upon expiration of the designated period of comment and review regardless of the final content of such materials so long as they do not contain information that is classified or otherwise exempt from disclosure as described in 3 FAM 4172.1-6(A).


    I submitted my book manuscript to the State Department on 09/07/2010. Other than a routine acknowledgement of submission, the only substantive response I received was this (names redacted):

    From: PA Clearances Mailbox
    To: Peter Van Buren
    Cc: ????? ; PA Clearances Mailbox
    Sent: Tue, October 19, 2010 5:27:03 PM
    Subject: RE: PA Clearance

    Mr. Van Buren: I understand that by “I replied to your message” you mean to Lisa ????? in the “PA Clearances” mailbox. Lisa was taken ill two weeks ago and I and other colleagues in PA are covering the “PA Clearances” mailbox in her absence.

    We will have to begin from the beginning with this request of yours, or forego PA review/clearance due to our delay in responding to you. I recommend doing the former, not the latter.

    Please advise.
    **********************************

    Abigail ????? for PA Clearances mailbox


    Classified Material
    As to the inclusion of classified material, the Department of State sent this fax to my publisher on 09/20/2011, asking for three redactions from the chapter “A Spooky Dinner.” You can match up the fax with the book text if you wish, but here are the Google searches where the actual material in the book came from:

    Redaction One: cia in mogadishu black hawk down

    Redaction Two: cia iraqi intelligence service budget chalabi

    Redaction Three: cia saddam contacts 1980′s iran

    In order to “disclose” information, one must first have it. Otherwise, it is just speculation. I do not and did not have access to any operational data on the CIA, its budget or its work in Iraq or anywhere else. Why would I? How could I? They aren’t that dumb, folks.

    Blogging without Clearance

    I did submit several articles/blog posts for clearance and was rejected without clear reason. I did go on to post those blog posts here and elsewhere. Guilty!

    Here’s a sample of the discourse, from actual emails:

    STATE (07/21/11): PA and NEA do not clear the article for publication due to the fact that the piece contains information that, if released, could be used to identify and exploit the vulnerabilities and capabilities of security at U.S. bases in Iraq. In addition, it is quite possible that the views you express in the article as official policy goals will be attributed to the U.S. Government, notwithstanding the use of a disclaimer as required by 3 FAM 4172.1-4, and that this will impair the foreign affairs mission of the State Department.

    ME (07/21/11): But all information about US bases and facilities comes from open sources, most hyperlinked. Lists of US bases with far more detailed information are available easily (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&biw=1003&bih=592&q=us+bases+in+iraq+map&oq=us+bases+in+iraq&aq=2&aqi=g3g-v7&aql=&gs_sm=c&gs_upl=4000l6641l0l9047l16l14l0l5l5l0l297l1828l0.5.4l9)

    Please tell me specifically which words could be used to identify and exploit security.

    STATE (07/29/2011): Due to a miscommunication within the Department, the first response you received mistakenly emphasized the security concerns raised by this article. Please disregard that initial response.


    Not all of it was that weird, but the sample is not unrepresentative I am afraid,

    It is right to punish me for those blog postings, in line with the actual harm done (very little, a lot of smoke, little real affect). It is important to note that there are hundreds of FS blogs and Facebook pages out there but the Department is pursuing mine. Here, have a look at some of the blogs, actually linked to by State. I have been in touch with many of their authors, and none tell me they clear their postings. State turns a blind eye to its rules in these instances, even linking to the blogs ensuring they attract a broader audience.

    It is difficult to conclude anything other than that my blog is singled out because it presents a view of State that State does not like. Selective enforcement is not a nice thing.

    Everything Else

    The line between writing publicly about Iraq and not having the judgement to continue do the work I have been doing otherwise more or less successfully for 23 years is murky. The line between writing publicly and not being able to hold a security clearance is even murkier.

    While State has accused me of poor judgement in part because of the documents and information I have posted, it knows exactly what materials and information I have withheld and will continue to withhold. No. no, don’t ask. My point is that I am indeed exercising judgement here and State does know that. People who asked to speak with me confidentially have found those promises kept. Not everything State has given/written me has or will go online. Judgement at work, even if we disagree about the decisions.

    I wrote a book, I write a blog. My judgement at work today would be the same as it was five years ago or last month or since April when I started the blog. I have never disclosed classified information in the over two decades I have had a Top Secret clearance and I will not.

    I am deeply concerned that the State Department is jumping from “A” (blogged without clearance, in which I am not alone) to “C” (cannot be trusted and has bad judgement) without justification.

    The use of what we’ll call here “extra judicial” punishments, i.e., detrimental actions by the Government that cannot be challenged, appears on the rise in and outside of the State Department. These actions exist on a continuum, with my unchallengable suspensions on the “lite” end, people like Bradley Manning detained for over 500 days with charge in the middle, and the use of drones to kill American Citizen terrorists abroad all the way on one end. The results are obviously very, very different, but the thought behind the actions is very much the same: despite the Constitution and our democratic traditions, now when you do something the Government does not like, the Government feels unfettered in striking you as they see fit.

    Not my America. How about you?




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    State’s actions against Peter Van Buren offer a few lessons on use of classified info, power

    // 1 Comment »



    (This article originally appeared in the Washington Post’s “Federal Diary” column, and was written by Joe Davidson)

    (NOTE: There is no classified material in my book, We Meant Well. The book for sale today is an unredacted version. –Peter)

    The best way for the federal government to publicize a book? Attempt to muzzle the author.

    You probably wouldn’t be reading about Peter Van Buren right now had the State Department not stripped him of his security clearance and suspended him after publication of his book, “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.”

    Van Buren’s case provides lessons that go beyond the number of books the censors at State will help him sell. The lessons concern what the government chooses to classify, the way it handles situations involving books with classified information and how the government can use its power to suspend employees.

    Ironically, Van Buren now has free time to promote his book, complete with the classified information, because he was suspended until Nov. 10, with pay, earlier this week. He can’t appeal the suspension, the purpose of which, according to a letter from the department, “is to continue review your situation.”

    The situation is the publication of his book without State’s stamp of approval. State Department officials would not comment on Van Buren’s case.

    In a Sept. 20 letter faxed to publisher Macmillan, State said the book’s “circulation and publicizing have been done without authorization from the Department. The Department has recently concluded that two pages of the book manuscript we have seen contain unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”

    To its credit, the publisher did not fold. “Their specific requests concerned passages in the book that on their face clearly did not contain classified information,” Macmillan said a statement. “In any event, these belated requests were received after the initial shipments of the book had already been sent to booksellers.”

    What State’s letter does not say is that it had plenty of time to review the book. Van Buren said that he submitted his book in September of last year but that State had no comment on it until the September fax of this year.

    According to State’s Foreign Affairs Manual: “All public speaking, writing, or teaching materials on matters of official concern prepared in an employee’s private capacity must be submitted for a reasonable period of review, not to exceed thirty days.”

    Since the 30-day period had long expired with no word from State, Van Buren understandably concluded that the department had no problem with his book.

    “I followed the rules,” Van Buren said at a National Press Club briefing Thursday. “I submitted my book for clearance.”

    But the book wasn’t the only problem. In an Oct. 12 memo to Van Buren, State said his top-secret security clearance was suspended, pending an ongoing investigation, because the Big Brother- sounding “Office of Personnel Security and Suitability . . . has determined that your continued access to classified information is not clearly consistent with the national security interests of the United States.”

    The memo said that by publishing articles and blog posts “on matters of official concern . . . without submitting them to the Department for review . . . your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable.”

    State’s memo did not identify the objectionable blog item, but Van Buren said it was “a link, not a leak, a link from my blog to a WikiLeaks document that was already on the Internet.”

    The fact that the document was available to everyone in the world did not matter.

    “I did write blog postings and online articles without permission,” Van Buren admits. But he understandably questions whether his punishment is in line with the little or no harm done by linking to a document that was readily available anyway.

    Stay tuned.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    US Diplomat Suspended For Writing Controversial Book, Linking To WikiLeaks

    // Comments Off

    (This article originally appeared on The Talk Radio News Service, and was written by Elianna Mintz)

    Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren claimed Thursday that he was suspended indefinitely from his position at the State Department earlier this week after writing a book that was critical of U.S policy in Iraq and linking to Wikileaks on his blog.

    Van Buren’s book “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People” details his experiences in Iraq as a diplomat and the lack of purpose and success in US policy in Iraq.

    “I got off the helicopter at my first operating base and I said the equivalent of ‘so what are we working on?’ and the guy said ‘I thought you were telling us,’” Van Buren told an audience at the National Press Club on Thursday. “It only went downhill from there.”

    “No one was particularly concerned about what we were doing, how much money we were spending, and the results of our endeavors,” Van Buren added.

    And this is exactly what he writes about in his book. Whether detailing a chicken factory built in Iraq from $2 million of U.S taxpayer money that laid dormant or how an Ambassador paid between $2 to $5 million to have seeds and sod imported to grow grass on the Embassy Grounds, Van Buren details what he describes as irresponsible use of billions of dollars in Iraq that brought them no closer to a reconstructed society.

    Upon completing the book, Van Buren submitted the manuscript to the State Department for clearance. Because he received no response, he proceeded with the book publishing and blogged to promote it.

    At the end of August, however, Van Buren’s security clearance was revoked for disclosing classified information by linking to the whistleblowing site wikileaks in one of his blog posts.

    While wikileaks did expose classified information illegal for Van Buren to reveal, Van Buren defends sharing the link by saying the information was already out there and he was merely linking to it.

    On September 20, the State Department requested he remove a chapter in his book disclosing classified material. The chapter, entitled “A Spooky Dinner,” depicts intelligence officials dining in Saddam Hussein’s palace.

    Van Buren refused to remove it from his book.

    On October 21, Van Buren angered the State Department once again when he critically blogged about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughing about Gadaffi’s death in an interview with Diane Sawyer. As a result, Van Buren was suspended indefinitely from his position at the State Department and was escorted from the building on Monday, October 24. His ID badge was confiscated and he is prohibited from entering any state department facility.

    Yet while Van Buren will not be working, he is still receiving full pay.

    When asked by TRNS if all of this was worth writing the book, Van Buren responded that it was.

    “I thought it was a story worth telling but to be honest I never thought I would have to sacrifice my career to tell it, but that’s what happened,” Van Buren remarked. “Was it worth it? I have to say yes. Time will tell.”



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    US diplomat suspended for Iraq book, blog with WikiLeaks link

    // Comments Off

    (This article originally appeared on the Agence France Press site, written by Jim Mannion)

    The State Department has suspended a veteran diplomat for a book critical of US policy in Iraq and irreverent blog posts that included a link to a WikiLeaks cable, he said Wednesday.

    Peter Van Buren, a 23 year foreign service officer who worked in human relations, said he was escorted out of the State Department on Monday and barred from returning for two days while officials there decide what to do next with him.

    They had stripped him of his top secret security clearance a few days earlier, he said.

    “We are unable to discuss individual personnel matters, and therefore have no comment about Mr Van Buren’s situation,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

    But in a phone interview with AFP, Van Buren said his irreverent account of his experiences in Iraq, in a book entitled “We Meant Well – How I Helped Lose the Battle for Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” appeared to have precipitated the action.

    There were also articles he wrote for the Huffington Post and Salon.com, and blogs on his website, “WeMeantWell.com,” which he freely admits were published without prior State Department permission.
    “The State Department said they need 30 working days in order to clear or approve any submission, and unfortunately that is out of the zone of reality for blogging and tweeting and Facebook updating,” he said.
    “I submit it is nothing but a prior restraint on my free speech. I choose not to follow it, and I expect to be punished,” he said.

    One blog post linked to a WikiLeaks cable describing a 2009 meeting Senator John McCain had with Moamer Kadhafi in Tripoli.

    Van Buren said he wanted to make the point “how quickly enemies became friends, and friends became enemies again, and wondering what that meant about US foreign policy.”

    “This was not the nuclear launch codes, or Hillary’s Victoria Secret catalog or anything like that. It was pretty mild stuff. I believe it was listed as ‘confidential,’ which is the lowest form of classification.”

    Van Buren said he had submitted the book for pre-publication review more than a year ago, with no response, and began blogging in April of this year.

    It wasn’t until June that he was told he shouldn’t be blogging, and not until September 1 that they raised the WikiLeaks link.

    “That was followed by two interrogation sessions with our security people,” he said. Then on September 20, they demanded redactions to his book, and followed that by suspending his security clearance.
    The redactions were to a chapter titled “A Spooky Dinner,” which described a dinner with some CIA officials in Baghdad at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces.

    That demand was just six days before the book was to go to book stores, and he refused to comply.
    “I think it’s something of an excuse, if you will, to use the security apparatus as a way to shut somebody up when they don’t have another tool to do it with.

    “It’s unfortunate but I’m not the first person to have found themselves at the pointy end of that stick.”
    Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    One of These Things is Not Like the Other

    // Comments Off

    Security in Iraq is “very good,” but the United States is not letting its guard down while moving out 39,000 troops and equipment by the December 31 deadline, Fort Bragg’s commander Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick said today.

    “They are really continuing to help themselves provide for their internal defense and external defense right now and also improve the quality of life for their citizens,” Helmick said. “Their military is the fastest-growing military in the world, and their capabilities and their ability to conduct operations really improves daily.”



    A twin bombing killed 18 people today in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad — the deadliest attack to rock Iraq since President Barack Obama declared the full withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of the year.

    Two police officials said the first explosion, at a music store shortly after 7 p.m., killed two people. The second bomb struck four minutes later, as rescue workers and others rushed to the scene, the officials said. Thirty-six people were wounded in the attack.

    “Today’s attack proves that the government’s allegations that the security is under control are nothing but baseless allegations and that the tens of checkpoints scattered all over the capital are useless and a waste of resources,” Baghdad resident Jalil said.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    New York Magazine Approves

    October 27, 2011 // Comments Off

    This week’s New York Magazine “approval matrix,” their “deliberately oversimplified guide to who falls where on our taste hierarchies,” places WE MEANT WELL in a nice place.

    Have a look at their matrix, in the upper right hand corner, to see the book.

    WE MEANT WELL out-ranked the Mexican cyclops shark, which was cool. Not that we’re competitors, it’s a big tent you now, room for everyone.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    4479: Soldier Death in Iraq Same Day Obama Announces Pullout

    // Comments Off

    Too much irony for one war.

    The Department of Defense announced the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq.

    Private First Class Steven F. Shapiro, 29, of Hidden Valley Lake, Calif., died Oct. 21 in Tallil, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

    Steven died the same day Obama announced the US troop pullout, stating “ALL troops would be home by the holidays.”

    Sorry Mr. President, too late. Steven is not coming home.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    At the National Press Club

    // Comments Off

    My thanks to everyone who turned out on a rainy Thursday to join me at the National Press Club. Questions from the crowd were excellent, and I was pleased especially to meet several people whom I had only known via email. Thanks!





    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Speaking at the National Press Club 10/27 at 10am – Public Welcome!

    October 26, 2011 // Comments Off




    If you live in Washington DC, please come join us at the National Press Club October 27 at 10am. Here is the press release:

    Writer, Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren to Discuss
    State Department Actions Against His Expose on Waste and Fraud in Iraq

    Location: Zenger Room

    Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren will talk about and take questions on his new book about the State Department’s failed reconstruction efforts in Iraq, “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.” For daring to write about the waste and corruption he experienced in Iraq, Van Buren has become the target of State Department actions to silence him, including the suspension of his security clearance, attempts to retroactively redact his book and a criminal investigation over a Wikileaks link on his blog at www.wemeantwell.com.

    As a Foreign Service Officer, Van Buren volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty from 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops. His experiences while serving there became the basis for his book.

    Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years and received numerous awards and citations for his work. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. During his time at State, he has worked extensively with the military in Japan, Korea and Iraq.

    Van Buren’s appearance is as a private citizen and is on the record for attribution. The views expressed are solely his own and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize his remarks.

    Contact:
    Ben Dooley, NPC Newsmakers Committee, event host
    Phone: (757) 709-4159, bdooley@kyododc.com


    If you need directions, have a look at the NPC site.

    Bradley Manning supporters especially welcome!




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Let’s Watch Qaddafi Get Beaten and (Maybe) Sodomized

    // Comments Off

    Though apparently my posting of a video of your Secretary of State gleeful at the death of Qaddafi may not have been to everyone’s taste, NOW we know why everyone was so happy.

    More complete video of Qaddafi’s death shows that he was captured very much alive, beaten, and according to one interpretation of the video, sodomized with a knife. To be clear, this means that while being held by others, one of Libya’s liberators supported by the US tried to force a combat knife into Qaddafi’s anus. This is unclear from the video, at least to an old sodomite like myself, so judge for yourself below.

    Question for Discussion:
    Qaddafi was not the nicest guy. He had people tortured under his order and almost certainly had opponents killed. He was a dictator.

    The common wisdom on the Internet, and inside the State Department, is that while “unfortunate,” a guy like Qaddafi had it coming. The same logic applied to the US’ murder of bin Laden and our drone killings of any number of terrorist celebs, including several American Citizens.

    Here’s the question: In 100 words or less, indicate how bad one has to be to justify a) knife sodomy; b) pistol shot to the head and c) death by Hellfire missile from a drone.

    Extra Credit:
    How bad does one have to be to justify being tortured by US supporters? Just being a dictator? Calling the SecState a bad name? Not returning library books? Sharing NetFlix with your non-subscribing friends?

    Thanks for waiting, and here’s your war porn video:



    No video? Click here.

    And here’s the link to see still frames that purport to document the sodomy.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    It Begins: Apre US le Deluge?

    // Comments Off


    Iraq has arrested at least 240 former members of Saddam Hussein’s banned Baath Party and ex-military officers over what some senior officials described as a plot to seize power after U.S. troops withdraw at year’s end.

    BUT…

    The crackdown will further alienate Sunnis, many of whom are deeply suspicious of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government. The Iraqiya political bloc, a secularist group that is supported by many Sunnis and has joined Maliki’s coalition government, condemned the arrest campaign.

    BUT…

    On October 23, Ahmadinejad laid out Tehran’s strategy to CNN: “The government of Iraq, the parliament, we have a very good relationship with all of them… And we have deepened our ties day by day.”

    AND…

    And the person deepening those ties day by day? Likely Qods Force Commander, Qassem Soleimani, the man responsible for all of the Iranian regime’s covert activities in Iraq. He oversees Tehran’s relations with its militant proxies there, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas in neighboring states. He reports directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and his budget comes directly from the Supreme Leader’s office.

    MEANWHILE…

    Turkish tanks entered northern Iraq‘s Kurdistan border areas to attack a camp of the anti-Ankara Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the area on Monday, according to Turkish security sources on Tuesday. The Turkish tanks entrance into the area took place in the background of an attack by PKK forces that killed 24 Turkish soldiers last week.

    SO…

    The Kurdish government today donated one million dollars to Turkey to help in the recovery effort following the quake, official sources said today.

    AND OF COURSE…

    A number of persons have been killed or injured in a Katyusha rocket attack targeting the headquarters of the Baghdad Police Academy on Monday, a security source reported. “A number of Katyusha rockets fell on Monday afternoon on the headquarters of the Police Academy, close to the Interior Ministry building east of Baghdad, killing and wounding several people,” the security source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Washington Post Suggests Condi Read “We Meant Well”

    October 25, 2011 // Comments Off

    In an extended review of Condi’s new book, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler suggests Condi might read “We Meant Well”:


    Rice is much more open detailing the administration’s struggle to deal with Iraq’s descent into violence during Bush’s second term. She congratulates herself on forcing more State Department officials into the field, but she might want to read “We Meant Well”— a hilarious and often depressing account by a foreign service officer of what really happened on the ground.



    It is altogether too easy for officials like Rice to make casual decisions, such as hand over the reconstruction of Iraq to State and repurpose diplomats and visa officers as development experts, and then walk away from the consequences of that decision. I do include Condi in my book’s acknowledgements, thanking her and Colin Powell for “leading an organization I once cared deeply for into a swamp and abandoning us there.”

    Rice will no doubt outsell my book hundreds to one, and will no doubt have a warm seat and hot coffee waiting for her on the Sunday news shows so she can explain how she was right all along, make faux (Fox?) apologies for her work hubby George W. and otherwise smooth off the rough corners of her history.

    Thanks, then, to the Washington Post for at least trying to call Condi’s attention to the results of her decisions.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    On NPR’s Talk of the Nation with Ted Koppel and Bob Woodward

    // Comments Off

    I joined Ted Koppel, General (ret) Jack Keane, Bob Woodward and Brian Katulis on NPR’s Talk of the Nation to discuss the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, and that country’s future.

    Koppel nailed it in his first question:


    As much as the world loathed Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein was the equalizing force in the Persian Gulf that kept Iran in check. When George Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he did for the Iranians what they were never able to do for themselves: He got rid of Saddam Hussein.



    Bob Woodard described the military reaction in a way totally different from what I have been hearing from soldiers, but he does talk to a much higher level at the Department of Defense:


    The level of distress within the military couldn’t be higher at this decision. I’ve even heard talk about some senior people in the military discussing resigning over this. The alternative to the withdrawal is to try to persuade the Iraqi government to let some troops stay, to make absolutely the maximum effort to have [that] insurance policy in the Middle East.



    For my part, it was all Iran:


    The Iranians are not going to attack Iraq with tanks and grenades. They don’t need to. They’ve already successfully shown that they can influence events there. The prize of the oil is in the Southern part of Iraq, and the Iranians are a steady influence there. The decision to withdraw was made in Baghdad, not by President Obama. The issues that we uncorked in 2003 — the Sunni/Shia, the Arab/Kurd, and in particular, the rise of Iran’s power in Iraq — were not stopped by 100,000 soldiers during the surge, and they haven’t been whittled back by 40,000 soldiers during the last two years. As the U.S. has stepped back from internal politics in Iraq, the Iranians have filled that void very comfortably, and will continue to do so.


    Listen to the whole show online with NPR.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Insane Bachmann: Iraq Must ‘Reimburse’ for War

    October 24, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    Republican crazy person Michele Bachmann (R., Pluto.) thinks it’s time to present the Iraqis with a bill.

    “I believe that Iraq should reimburse the United States fully for the amount of money that we have spent to liberate these people,” said Bachmann, apparently now released into the wild unsedated, on Face the Nation.

    She also expressed outrage at the Iraqis’ apparent lack of gratitude toward the United States, almost as if she just awoke from an eight year coma.

    “We are there as the nation that liberated these people,” she said. “And that’s the thanks that the United States is getting?




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Sadr: US Embassy Employees Occupiers to be Fought

    // Comments Off

    Ruh roh. This won’t work out well.

    Muqtada Al Sadr, leader of the Sadrist militias and all around bad guy, said that he considers all US Embassy employees in Baghdad as “occupiers”, and stressed that resisting them after 2011 is an “obligation.”

    In response to a query of one of his followers about the increase of embassy employees from 5000 to 15000 after the US military withdraws at the end of 2011, Sadr said “they are all occupiers and resisting them after the end of the agreement is an obligation.”

    Almost all of the new employees of the World’s Largest Embassy (c) will be contract mercenaries hired to defend the building and protect the diplomats inside.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Diplomatic Security Child Porn Guy Indicted

    // Comments Off

    The Diplomatic Special Agent we reported was arrested back in September for kiddie porn was formally indicted on October 19, 2011 for possession and receipt of child pornography.

    He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison on the charge involving the receipt of child pornography, and up to 10 years in federal prison on the possession of child pornography charge.

    Fan of mug shots? Here’s your guy.

    Read the original story if you’d like more details on this outstanding State Department employee.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Jason Linkins on HuffPo

    // Comments Off

    Jason Linkins on HuffPo: Everybody go read We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People by Peter Van Buren and Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War by Matt Gallagher, please!

    Jason also says near the end of his article, about Rick Perry, “FOR PETE’S SAKE, WHAT WILL PETE THINK?” but I don’t think he was actually asking me.





    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Review: “Hilarious, Horrifying and Heart-Wrenching”

    // Comments Off

    A great review from Whirled View.

    Here are some excerpts:


    We Meant Well is well written and biting satire.

    It is brutally honest. Its goal is not to curry favor or plump for yet another trip into the war zone embedded with the troops or a lucrative short term contract to bring American values, chicken-cultivation, or plumbing to Iraq.

    Rather it was written as a wake up call with the hope that Americans will start to understand the ways their hard earned taxpayer dollars have been all too cavalierly tossed around on projects of questionable utility in post-invasion Iraq. Projects that were designed and implemented by Americans too often ill-equipped for the job and assigned to well protected fortresses constructed by the US military for its own troops sent there for a grand total of six months to one year at a time and governed by the metrics they have been required to employ.

    I do know, however, that Van Buren’s tales of public diplomacy wasted and PSYOPs gone wrong fit like the tightest of gloves with the reports I’ve read and heard elsewhere ever since US foreign policy in the Middle East went awry beginning in March 2003.

    But then, maybe his primary fault was honesty – seemingly a problem for advancement in the State Department, a tiny department that has taken on far more than it can handle given its administrative inadequacies, bureaucratic overreach, paucity of funds as well as its questionable handling and lack of experienced staff.



    Read the whole review at Whirled View.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Obama to Create Thousands of Jobs: In Iraq

    October 22, 2011 // Comments Off

    (Originally published on the Huffington Post)

    The US is prepared to spend up to five billion dollars to create more jobs for police officers, paying $100-$150k a year. The Government can’t find enough people to take the jobs, and is looking for recruits, no experience necessary, all training provided, right in your hometown.

    One catch: the jobs are for Iraqis, in Iraq. No Americans need apply.

    The secret mantra of the Iraq war has always been “training,” specifically the always-just-out-of-reach goal of training the Iraq security forces to take over from the US. The cry has been heard for years: George W. Bush even made “we’ll stand down as they stand up” a campaign slogan in 2008.

    Now, as the war in Iraq proceeds through its eighth year, the State Department was on Capitol Hill October 12 in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations begging a skeptical Congress for more money. “Training” is again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. The latest tranche of taxpayer cash is for one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq.

    A Long Train

    The US has been training Iraqi cops for years, under the auspices of Army and State contractors. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Now, with the Army shifting to teaching Iraqis how to operate the hi-tech weapons they will be buying from the US, the State Department is picking up the cop training gig full-time. A job announcement last year hired contract police instructors to go to Iraq, where, under the watchful eye of State’s own internal Stasi, Diplomatic Security, they are preparing to start teaching at thirty locations around the country.

    Given that the Army and State have been teaching police work in Iraq now for several years, the student cops must either be the world’s slowest learners, or have the world’s highest job turnover. Sadly, it looks like the latter. Iraqi cops tend to have very short life expectancies and that is why, even with the healthy salary offer of $150,000 a year (the average per capita income in Iraq is only $3800; cops in the US make concededly less than what State is willing to pay in Iraq. Starting salaries run $40-65k a year), State can’t find enough, um, bodies, to fill up the recruit classes.

    The Hard, Short Life of an Iraqi Cop

    As an example of how life is for an Iraqi law officer, this week alone attacks included two suicide car bombs minutes apart at Baghdad police stations, killing at least 25 people in the capital’s deadliest day in a month. More than 70 people were wounded. In one instance, the street in front of a police station had been closed from 2004, but was reopened about four weeks ago, sadly allowing the suicide bomber to get close to the station house. In other attacks the same day, a bomb wounded a police brigadier general in north Baghdad, while two police were shot in south Baghdad.

    These attacks took place in an Iraq still occupied by some 41,000 American soldiers. Come January 2012, the US Army posture will diminish to an as yet undetermined number, likely around 5000 troops. The State Department hopes to conduct its police training under these conditions, protected by its own mercenary army of 5000 security contractors, using hand-me-down Army gear.

    Corruption, Mismanagement and Torture Play a Part

    The killing of Iraqi cops is probably the main issue holding back recruitment. However, the lack of organized control by their parent organization, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI), is another impediment to a well-run police force, regardless of how much training they receive.

    In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group reported that the Iraqi Interior Ministry was filled with corruption, infiltrated by militia and unable to control its own police. In July 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that Iraq’s MOI had become a “federation of oligarchs” where various floors of the headquarters building were controlled by rival militia groups and organized criminal gangs. The report described the MOI as an eleven-story powder keg of factions where power struggles were settled by assassinations in the parking lot. In its September 2007 report, the congressionally-mandated Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq described Iraq’s MOI as a ministry in name only, dysfunctional, sectarian and suffering from ineffective leadership. To make matters worse, the police have been implicated in multiple incidents of href="http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2011/09/06/cables-reveal-more-on-wolf-brigade-torture-of-iraqis-how-it-fuels-violence/" target="_hplink">torture.

    Who Will Guard the Guards?

    There remain significant questions on if State will be able to oversee the huge police training program.
    The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau came under fire from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police. A 2010 audit concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.” Most of $1.2 billion State was given to train Iraqi police remains unaccounted for. Though not directly related to police training, State’s own Inspector General just found that INL mismanaged another Dynacorp contract in Afghanistan to the tune of href="http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2011/10/state-dept-ig-finds-waste-and-mismanagement-on-afghanistan-contract.html" target="_hplink">$940,000, in large part because of lack of staff to oversee the project.

    Following the negative report by SIGIR, State did the logical thing: they slammed the door on the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction auditors. State’s coordinator for Iraq transition, Patricia Haslach, told Congress that SIGIR has almost no jurisdiction over State Department spending in Iraq, including that five billion sought for police training. State’s reluctance to submit to the audits is understandable; SIGIR stated that 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”

    The Bright Side

    Undersecretary of State Pat Kennedy reminded Congress October 12 without irony that “We have a robust contracting oversight system firmly in place and being executed by our Bureau of Administration. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is overseeing its competitively awarded security task orders using the enhanced oversight and management system put in place over the last several years.”

    Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.”

    And it is not like State has just been sitting on its hands. In July 2011, out of Iraq’s 400,000 cops, the State Department invited nine of them to the US for three weeks with local police forces in Vermont, Pittsburgh and Denver, cities that no doubt offer a lot of points of commonality with policing in Iraq.

    With plans like that, what could go wrong?



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Online Book Chat: Saturday, 5pm EST at Firedoglake.com

    // Comments Off

    I will be online at Firedoglake.com Saturday from 5pm until we run out of the good stuff. Drop by for the online chat session, ask questions, tell me off, complain, whatever you like.

    You need a password from the site to participate, so sign up now and be ready to join us at 5pm.

    See you there!



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Military

Switch to our mobile site