• Of hearts and minds won in Iraq and the legacy left behind

    February 18, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    AL ARABIYA is one of the leading Arabic-language news sources in the Middle East, with readership concentrated in Saudi Arabia. They were kind enough to review my book, We Meant Well.

    The review notes:

    There’s been an increase of news reports recently assessing portions of the legacy of the work and money spent by international forces along with aid workers in Afghanistan.

    If the book, “We Meant Well: How I Helped to Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” provides any insight, the legacy could be defined by a few successes, but also, sadly, an overall environment of inefficiency, ignorance and a startling cluelessness that even billions of dollars couldn’t cure.

    But the humor doesn’t mask his ultimate conclusion about the nation-building efforts of America and its allies. “Our efforts, well-meaning but always somewhat ignorant, lacked a broader strategy, a way to connect to local work with national goals,” he writes. “Some days it felt like the plan was to turn dozens of entities loose with millions of dollars and hope something fell together,” something akin to monkeys typing, an effort which might produce Shakespeare.

    In “We Meant Well,” Van Buren chronicles jaw-dropping sums being spent on a dizzying array of programs. At $63 billion and counting, “we were the ones who famously helped paste feathers together year after year, hoping for a duck.”


    You may also want to read a write up from a recent speaking engagement I had in Camden, Maine, or commentary on that same appearance from the Government Accountability Project.

    The review in Al Arabiya follows Al Jazeera reprinting my recent article on whistleblowers facing retaliation from the US government, including my own case. I have spoken with journalists from the UK, Iran, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, France and Japan. It remains something between amusing and just plain sad that while these news sources feel it important to bring a variety of opinions to their readers, and while even the US Army asked to hear me speak about reconstruction, all the State Department can seem to do is label me as insubordinate, like they are but some lousy naked emperor, embarrassed. It is not about agreeing, but agreeing to listen. Oh well.



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    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military