Peter Van Buren, who is holding on to his job at the State Department, talks about his incredible new book about his year in Iraq, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
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.