Joe's Reviews > We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

We Meant Well by Peter Van Buren
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Dec 02, 2011

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Read in December, 2011

Van Buren describes his year in Iraq (from 2009-10) with a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team. The story would be almost funny, if it wasn't sickening: incredible sums of money absolutely wasted, trying to build up the structure of a stable state while absolutely basic necessities -- clean water, power, a reasonable assurance of simple safety -- were unavailable. Most of the projects were pointless, and everyone directly involved knew it, but the people in charge of decisions (and money) were far removed from the situation and wanted to press on.

I think most people know that Iraq is not a stable society, and most people know the US has spent an incredible amount in trying to accomplish that task, so the main point in this book isn't really news. But, it does a great job filling in the details, from someone that was actually there.

Van Buren also adds in a significant amount of detail, trying to paint a general picture of the situation that soldiers, security, and other foreigners found themselves in. Unfortunately, I found this part of the book to distract from the rest of it: it really amounted to either a small number of anecdotes, or else vague impressions, and it almost felt like it was trying to bulk up the book. The book is basically about the folly of wasting money on minor, ineffective projects, while basically ignoring the enormous problems that completely destroy whatever small potential benefit could have been had. Van Buren should have stayed focused on that, instead of diluting it down.
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