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Author Exposes U.S. Gov’t Cluelessness, Gets Persecuted by U.S. Gov’t

Incorporating Washington Post Book World.The U.S. State Department has been known to make noise about protecting free speech around the world. Writers and bloggers, the department says, should be allowed to publish their opinions even if they conflict with government dogma. But these freedoms are granted to humanity by the State Department under the strict condition that the people practicing the free speech live in a distant land, and that the government they annoy is just some bearded bogeyman religious regime like in Iran, or an inscrutable oligarchy like in China. Tell uncomfortable truths about U.S. policy, or so much as mention “Wikileaks,” and the American Authorities will hound you like a furious baboon (a furious baboon-hound, we mean). Hence the current jihad against Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. We have read and reviewed this delightful book!

Van Buren is a Foreign Service officer who spent a year in Iraq (2009-2010) heading two “reconstruction teams” assigned to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure and “win hearts and minds.” What Van Buren saw in Iraq during the “civilian surge,” however, was mostly waste, futility, and criminal insanity.

We meant well.It’s not often your Wonkette book reviewer recommends “topical” books, but we recommend this book wholeheartedly. It’s savagely funny, hugely entertaining and 100% free from political and media clichés. Best of all, it’s filled with vivid (and grimly hilarious) pictures of the actual “reconstruction of Iraq.”

Van Buren outlines several comical ways our government is trying to Americanize Iraq. Just a few examples: a truckload of classic American books translated into Arabic that end up being dumped behind a Baghdad school (their purpose was to teach Iraqi children “basic literacy skills,” but they were apparently unreadable); the expensive construction of a milk-processing plant in the middle of the desert far from people or dairies; programs to make Iraqi women dress more like American women, etc. In the midst these schemes, no one thinks to attend to basic necessities like water, sewage, and electricity.

Van Buren has to endure several mind-numbing meetings with clueless administrators, advisers, policy wonks, and military brass. The cast of characters at a meeting with “fellows” from a “prominent national security think tank” includes an unnamed neoconservative journalist:

He liked military high tech; he used words like awesome, superb, and extraordinary (pronounced EXTRAordinary) without irony to describe tanks and guns. He said in reference to the Israeli Army, “they give me a hard-on.”

And another fellow:

He insisted on using the phrase tipping point to refer to just about everything, including lunch. He called people in the news by their first names (Barack, Joe, Meatloaf). He looked at his smartphone for messages a lot, even though we were several hundred years away from the right kind of cell phone coverage.

As Van Buren writes, “It became clearer to me why this war had played out so well, with people like this intellectually backstopping the policy makers.”

Some of your reviewer’s favorite scenes occur in the hyper-insular American Embassy in Baghdad (the world’s largest embassy, larger than the Vatican). Especially at Baghdaddy’s, the Embassy bar:

You began to understand why Embassy policy forbade photography at after-work events once you learned that the most important characteristic of Baghdaddy’s was that booze was cheap …. The serious drinkers rolled in right at 8 p.m. to start on two-dollar shots of vodka, grain, or maybe kerosene. These were the older, former alpha males of the community, no longer able to attract mates and shorn of their once proud plumage, who just wanted to get drunk rapidly with purpose. Eight o’clock was like the VFW hall on a pale Wednesday afternoon — if you were there, you were there to drink, and if you were drinking, you wanted to get shitfaced. If you wanted to talk to anyone, you’d drunk-dial your ex-wife.

And then there’s dinner with the CIA in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces:

The Agency grabbed for itself one of Saddam’s primo palaces, in the Green Zone, of course, but separate from the Embassy and the Army …. Outside they had thrown up T-walls and barriers and checkpoints and enough razor wire to encircle Folsom, perimeter security so that any yahoo driving past would know this was a serious place, not some random Army IT office or a goddamn State Department motor pool.

The best parts were inside, where most of Saddam’s I’m-on-crack decorating style had been left untouched. You could blink and think you were in a Macao sauna or Sinatra’s Vegas for all the red velvet and brass, but the tacked-up strings of lights around the doorway and the big sign pointing to the bar as if you were in a frat house were giveaways for anyone who had been in any station anywhere. The pool with the winged griffin statues and red spotlights added to, but was not needed to complete, the scene. If you had ever gotten stoned as a kid, this was the vision you’d have wanted to stretch out your buzz.

…. We all took a moment to marvel at the plates and ask the person next to us what, if the room could talk, he thought it might say. Had Saddam deflowered virgins here, planned the invasion of Kuwait, and maybe met with al Qaeda right at this table, who knew? It was, of course, equally possible that in this room Saddam had met his Agency handlers in 1983 to discuss the war against Iran or receive info from Don Rumsfeld about the new weapons he was getting from the United States to kill Persians and Kurds.

There is much more, but we shan’t spoil it for you. You can find Van Buren’s website here. Buy the book, everyone!

It goes without saying that the State Department and the Obama administration are unhappy with We Meant Well. In fact, the State Department demanded redactions 1) after the book had already been cleared for publication, and 2) after it had been sent to booksellers. And now the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security is hounding Van Buren, ostensibly because he used the word “Wikileaks” on his blog.

The current administration cares as much about Van Buren’s right to criticize as it does about the demands of the OCCUPY movement, so expect the American Freedom Agenda to go on indefinitely.

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People by Peter Van Buren, Metropolitan Books, 288 pages, $15.67

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104 comments

    1. PalinzADummy

      No, but theyhave it on good authority from people who can that Van Buren must DIE NOW!! Watch out for those remote-controlled drones, Peter. I understand USAmerica has lots of them, mostly operated by teenage boys.

      1. LowProfileinGA

        He expressed his opinion, pissed off his private sector employer, and got fired.

        ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.") Key word: Congress

        No freedom of speech issue was involved.

        Sorry, not worthy of snark.

        1. SorosBot

          And then he said his employer was violating his right to free speech, showing that he had no idea how that works. That was sarcasm.

    1. GOPCrusher

      Freedom of speech. Freedom of your employer to fire your ass if they don't like what you said.

    2. snarkycomments

      That's why I bought it as an e-book. That way if it really turns out to be bad for America they can revoke it from my Kindle.

  1. OC_Surf_Serf

    the expensive construction of a milk-processing plant in the middle of the desert

    We can smell their dairy air….

  2. V572-½‡‡‡‡‡

    He insisted on using the phrase tipping point to refer to just about everything, including lunch.

    You mean Malcom Gladwell was a consultant over there? Jeez, they're really scraping the bottom of the barrel when they sign up fuzzy-headed New Yorker writers.

    And really:

    …endure several mind-numbing meetings with clueless administrators, advisers, policy wonks, and military brass.

    This is in my job description. In fact it is my job description.

          1. PalinzADummy

            I'm practicing my patented StarTrekTheOriginalSeries ScreamAndLeap(tm) battle technique, Weejee.

            Just for the pun. I can ignore the rocks.

  3. Beowoof

    Always love a guy willing to piss off the government by pointing out just how much stupid shit they do.

    1. PalinzADummy

      There was a time when people actually got paid to make fun of the rulers. Remember court jesters?

      Yeah, I AM that old. Whippersnappers.

  4. ManchuCandidate

    It sounds like the sequel to the Ugly American.

    The Even Uglier US Americun.

    At least he wasn't a Good Humor truck driver who got hired because his daddikins was a GOPer donor and hated abortion.

  5. Goonemeritus

    To truly Americanize the citizens of Iraq we would need to give them a high fractious drip, internet porn and send Sarah Palin over to misinform them about the role of government.

    1. KeepFnThatChicken

      No, you just need an ad campaign from Hill & Knowlton. We started the first Persian Gulf War because of dead babies and overturned incubators.

      1. PalinzADummy

        Oh, yeah, I remember those dead babies now. Pity we had to kill a few hundred thousand more to rescue them, but it was WORTH it, right? Right?

        Fellas?

  6. SexySmurf

    The unnamed neoconservative journalist who got a hard hard looking at the Israeli Army is obviously William Kristol.

    1. V572-½‡‡‡‡‡

      So many virtual upfists, even though Kristol's hardons are probably chemically induced these days.

      1. Rotundo_

        Meds probably don't do it for KillyBilly anymore, I think he needs pix of exploded children and anal electical stimulation (they use this on elephants to get semen-the electrical stimulation, not the blowed up kids) to launch Kristol tadpoles these days.

    1. Lascauxcaveman

      See!? She would have been that much better than Bush. Less killing/dying for our troops that way.

      (Credit where credit is due.)

  7. SorosBot

    So there's the wealthy Americans getting drunk in their gaudy walled fortresses, mostly oblivious to the world outside where the mostly brown masses lack access to basic necessities, can't afford decent food, and suffer constant violence, and any attempt to improve the situation is just a band-aid that does nothing to resolve the core problems.

    Sounds almost just like home!

    1. Lascauxcaveman

      And I can think of a few folks in Arizona or Southern Utah that'd be purty-darn-jealous of that fine useless desert dairy they got out there in eye-rack.

  8. sati_demise

    So, does he discover where the 8 Billion in US tax dollars went?

    Or is this a murder mystery?

    1. PalinzADummy

      You mean the $80 BILLION that got airdropped into the war zone? Hahaha, they'll never find that, the rats in Baghdad probly chewed it up to make nests for their babies, jezus fuck me, where's the booze again?

  9. SayItWithWookies

    It's nice to know that even if we take all the weapons and head-bashers out of Iraq, we still have enough arrogance and ignorance for them to keep finding new reasons to loathe us. Really, there's no damn reason to keep a single soldier or civilian advisor there, especially since — as the right-wingers keep insisting — that as soon as we leave, the Iranians are going to be the heaviest influence in Iraq. Hell, let them be the arrogant occupiers who everyone hates.

    1. PalinzADummy

      And before Georgeya took us in there and fucked things up forever, Iraq had been the West's tool in keeping Iran down. Irony isn't dead, it's just got cancer, diabeetus, and Anthrax Leprosy Mu.

  10. Radiodead

    Wait teabaggers, look over here, Obama wasted $500 bil on a loan to a green energy firm, Solyandra. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    1. GeorgiaBurning

      80 billion in Iraq to military and "contractors", 1/2 billion in California to engineers and high-tech grifters. Math is hard for them but talk-show politics comes easy.

  11. Mort_Sinclair

    Here's what's going to happen. Iraq warmongers and apologists, i.e., Patriotic Americans, are going to squat on Amazon and shit all over this guy's book in order to drive the rating down. If you care about this stuff, and I kinda do, get over there and high-five the great reviews and eighty-six the critical ones. The guy deserves a kudos just for having the balls to write it. Good for him!

    1. zhubajie

      May an un-bowdlerized version be put into the p2p networks! E-mule, etc. That's how samizdat is done today.

  12. coolhandnuke

    Dovetailing this to REM's calling it quits; An alternative title for Van Buren's book–"Fables of the Reconstruction."

  13. gullywompr

    This commenter happens to work at said department, and it's true we are not to discuss the W-word, much less look at it. It's kind of a policy…

    Speaking of media clichés, is it still hip to use "inscrutable" and "China" in the same sentence?

    1. 4TheTurnstiles

      No, don't use "inscrutable" and "China" in the same breath. Leave that to Lord Byron and the other great minds of the 19th century.

      So *no one* at the foreign service peeks at wikileaks? What else are y'all going to gossip about, the shitty roads in Mexico City?

      1. gullywompr

        "So *no one* at the foreign service peeks at wikileaks?"

        Only the ones that want to get fired. No shit – it's forbidden. They'd forbid you too, if there was any way to do it.

  14. Guppy06

    "He insisted on using the phrase tipping point to refer to just about everything, including lunch."

    But did he tip?

    (Sorry, had to.)

    1. DahBoner

      "But did he tip?"

      If he's from America, then yes, he's probably circumcized.

      Europe? Probably not..

  15. flamingpdog

    Freedom isn't free (at the State Department);
    Freedom isn't free (at the State Department).
    You gotta pay the price, you gotta sacrifice,
    For your liberty!

    - Up With People, 1967 or 1968, at an unnamed (for pdog's protection) junior high school in Wash D. C.

  16. Extemporanus

    Van Buren is a Foreign Service officer who spent a year in Iraq (2009-2010) heading two “reconstruction teams” assigned to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure and “win hearts and minds."

    HAHAHAHA…wait…what? That date's not a joke?!

    Well, fuck…

  17. WhatTheHeck

    I’m amused at the part in the book about U.S. Taxpayers giving away suitcases of cash for the spreading of freedoms.
    Hey, U.S. gobbermint, I can become your best friend if you bring me a suitcase of Benjamins.

  18. zhubajie

    Before you know it, he'll be labelled a "terrorist" and blown up or "disappeared" to some Afghan torture chamber.

  19. Doktor Zoom

    Nobody who's read any of the many postmortems of the Iraq occupation can be surprised by any of this (For that matter, neither could anyone who's worked in virtually any large organization). Van Buren's chief sin appears to be casting the story in the tone of Catch-22 instead of the Sober Policy Discussion genre.

  20. L188188

    OK, I just bought it you fuckers. (Purely on the horrible truth of that "VFW hall on a pale Wednesday afternoon" remark.)

  21. playingfair

    you missed quoting the best from Peter Van Buren's NPR interview – where he calls himself a drug dealer – http://www.npr.org/2011/09/26/140711553/the-greed

    "In Iraq, we had money everywhere."

    "It was literally in boxes you had to step over. At one point in time, I had $100,000 in a safe in my office."

    "I felt like a drug dealer pulling out bundles of money."

    So where were those Tea_nut Repug Fiscal Conservatives during those years?

  22. playingfair

    you missed quoting the best from Peter Van Buren's NPR interview – where he calls himself a drug dealer –

    "In Iraq, we had money everywhere."

    "It was literally in boxes you had to step over. At one point in time, I had $100,000 in a safe in my office."

    "I felt like a drug dealer pulling out bundles of money."

  23. gullywompr

    Clarification, we are not to discuss any of the content therein. Which of course, we can't anyway because we can't look at it either. See how that works?

Comments are closed.