"We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People" is an eye-opener of a book.
Sure, we've all seen the news reports about the bribery and corruption, the tribal loyalties, the attacks of supposed allies on U.S. troops, the mistreatment of women, and the general overall chaos and futility of what we've done in Iraq.
But Peter Van Buren, the author of "We Meant Well" and a Foreign Service officer, gets down to the nitty-gritty reasons why it has turned out that way:
It begins with uncontrolled spending of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund bureaucratic foul-ups and lack of communication between the Army and the State Department. It continues with personality conflicts, cultural chasms, the need for people in the field to check off vague and even meaningless and, most importantly, impossible goals while dealing with disorganization of and lack of infrastructure. And it only gets worse from there.
Madame L has had conversations with friends who served in the Army in Iraq whose stories back up, and are backed up, in every detail in this book.
And you know it's true, and that its truth stings, when you find out that the State Department, angered by Van Buren's revelations, began proceedings against him, which he finally avoided by retiring.
But Madame L is not giving her Dear Readers the flavor of this book. Van Buren makes his account work, where others have failed, to show the situation in Iraq, with biting humor and perception, no holds barred. It's like the "Catch-22" of our time. But better.
Madame L hasn't finished reading this book yet but still recommends it highly. When she finishes it, she'll be happy to loan it to any of her Dear Readers who would like to read it.
Meanwhile, you can read the first chapter in this on-line excerpt.