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

Peter Van Buren. Metropolitan, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9436-7
In this shocking and darkly hilarious exposé of the reconstruction of post-Saddam Iraq, former State Department team leader Van Buren describes the tragicomedy that has been American efforts at nation building, marked by bizarre decisions and wrongheaded priorities. The streets of Baghdad are piled high with mountains of trash; food and clean water are increasingly scarce, but since 2003, the State Department has poured money into such absurdities as outfitting schools (that lack electricity) with computers and importing French pastry chefs to teach cooking lessons. Programs are stymied by cultural ignorance, undermined by local corruption, and badly managed by well-intentioned if oblivious administrators. But photo ops have been enough to satisfy the higher-ups. "If publicity were democracy," Van Buren remarks, "this place would have looked like ancient Athens." A story of the American ambassador and his lawn elegantly evokes the disconnect between American intention and Iraqi suffering: despite blistering heat, seed-stealing birds, and the astronomical cost of water, the ambassador demanded—and achieved—an emerald green garden within the embassy walls. "We made things in Iraq look the way we wanted them to look," Van Buren writes. With lyrical prose and biting wit, this book reveals the devastating arrogance of imperial ambition and folly. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/20/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4299-9523-8
Paperback - 269 pages - 978-0-8050-9681-1
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