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We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (Anglais) Relié – 27 septembre 2011

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Book by Van Buren Peter

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124 internautes sur 135 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Great Study in State Department ann Military Buraucracy 28 septembre 2011
Par Virginia music lover - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
This book could serve as a text for courses in Foreign Policy, government organization, or military operations. It is a withering look at how some State Department bureaucrats and military officers play a game in order to advance their careers, without much care as to the effect their projects and policies have on flesh and blood people. Van Buren's book is humorous, and easy reading. Underneath, there is a level of tragedy and sadness, as clearly the author was affected by the amorality and immorality of wanting U.S. efforts to once again "win the hearts and minds" of a people whose country we had invaded.

Van Buren discusses the tedium, the mind numbing meetings, the social meetings between Iraqis and U.S. officials where optics were the prime concern, the worthless projects, and the waste of huge sums of money. We do not see one-dimensional characters for the most part. We meet Iraqis who are idealists (very few), trying to get rich, embittered or saddened. Military officers are often portrayed as interested in short term success to enhance their careers. State Department policy is seen as confused, ignorant, and ever changing.

Every taxpayer who thinks we should give the military whatever it wants in terms of a defense budget should read this book; they will likely reconsider their opinions. Those who think U.S. foreign policy is guided by experts with clear goals will receive a rude awakening.

As I write this review, I have read that the author is now being harassed by federal investigators. This is very much a whistleblowing book, and sadly whistleblowers are often punished. I wish the author well; clearly he will have no future in government. However he seems to be a patriot, intent on telling the public how badly our government functions.

In short, this is a book that is both entertaining and disturbing.
49 internautes sur 55 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
I cried until I laughed 14 octobre 2011
Par Patawan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I've had the honor of working for the author who, in my personal opinion, is a management genius. Be it a visa line, aiding American citizens flee a disaster zone, or applying lessons learned from the Home Depot into government work, Peter is awesome and I'd "serve with him anywhere."

Knowing Peter, I perhaps did not laugh as much as other readers. Rather, as his tour progressed in the book, I became more apprehensive and distraught knowing that a good man and a great officer such as himself could be negated by the selfish greed of locals and self-promotion agenda of superiors. I can only imagine the frustration and disappointment he had to go through. Among the chapters of mind-numbingly stupid US-funded projects, Peter details his experience living at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) with its smells, sounds, and tastes (whether agreeable or not). The reader will come to understand the social relationships in a FOB; sometimes funny which is surprising noting the number of mortar attacks that occurred, sometimes heartbreakingly human.

I strongly encourage any State Department employee, officer and contractor alike, to read it. You'll probably be disappointed, disgusted, and/or outraged. Once that's passed though, learn the lessons offered in the book.
50 internautes sur 59 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Actions without Accountability 30 septembre 2011
Par AJM - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Probably the closest thing to an honest audit of our efforts to "rebuild" Iraq, this book is disturbing to the point of being humorous. If only it weren't OUR country, our war and our tax dollars going to fund the circus. Or real lives being destroyed so that the show can go on. What's clear from the stories told here - that there's really only one goal in Iraq - "look busy". Blow things up so we can rebuild them. Identify non-existent problems so we can throw money at trying to solve them. Iraq is the US's ultimate exercise in sloppy socialism - pouring money into building schools, industries, infrastructure, etc (none of which ultimately works or is used as intended) - all the while those same things crumble into ruin back home. If half the stuff in this book is true, then our leaders should be shamed into resigning and then replaced with people who (like the author) "get it". As mentioned in a previous comment, the opposite will likely happen - the author now being harassed into submission and under threat of losing his job for being honest. Welcome to the new America.
61 internautes sur 75 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Six Stars & Beyond--Open Heart Surgery on a Corrupt Ignorant Government 29 septembre 2011
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié

The author himself begins the book with a reference to Dispatches (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics) followed by Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition, to which I would add A Rumor of War. This is a great book, an important book, and I salute the Department of State people with integrity that approved it for publication, while scorning the seventh floor craven autocrats that have bullied the author for telling the truth. This book is the real deal, and I have multiple notes along the lines of gifted writing, humble *and* erudite, quiet humor, ample factual detail, gonzo-gifted prose, an eye for compelling detail, *absorbing,* a catalog of absurdities and how not to occupy a country.

Late in my notes I write "Reality so rich it stuns. A time capsule, priceless deep insights into occupation at its worst."

And also write down an alternative subtitle: "The Zen of Government Idiocy Squared."

This is a book, from a single vantage point, of the specifics of "pervasive waste and inefficiency, mistaken judments, flawed policies, and structural weakness." Speaking of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT), the author says "We were the ones who famously helped past together feathers year after year, hoping for a duck."

We learn that at the peak in 2007, there were 31 PRTs with Private Military Contractors (PMC) paid to provide security, and 13 embedded PRT (ePRT), where the US Army provided security and all else (housing, transport).

62 agencies competed with or ignored one another in Iraq, all of them "fragmented and under-staffed." One PRT served a population the size of Detroit with a staff of six.

The staffing that the diplomatic surge provided (once allowed by the mercurial and perhaps insane Donald Rumseld and frat-boy Paul Bremer was "mostly amateurs. Out of 610 PRT personnel in mid-2007, 29 spoke Arabic, or 5%. [This is of course what happens when a mercurial government compounds its own ignorance with an insistence on unilateral US citizen staffing, excluding multinational participation at the tactical level, where legions of Arabic-speaking, Islam-understanding real experts are available from many countries.]

The PRTs received three weeks training (neither the author nor I make stuff like this up). Week One is a dummies guide to Islam. Week two focuses on spreadsheets used to track the billions being blown into thin air. Week Three is what we in the CIA call "crash and bang"--the cursory basics of shooting and using a car as a weapon to escape.

QUOTE (14): "Missing from the training was any history of the war and our policy, any review of past or current reconstruction projects, any information on military organization, acronyms, and rank structure, any lessons learned from the previous years' work, or any idea of what the hell a PRT was and what our job was going to be."

Recurring themes throughout the book, which assuredly should be a war college and government entry level reading staple, include:

+ enthusiastic ignoring of reality by all parties
+ chaos at all levels across all boundaries
+ no one asked the Iraqis what they wanted--ever
+ no one did market research in support of any thing they proposed
+ the one constant was illegal DVDs, many made in China
+ the one thing not lacking in Iraq was money by the billion
+ Embassy isolated, flip-flopping, totally divorced from reality
+ US loose money took Iraq from 20th to 4th on the global corruption index
+ We did not play well together
+ We overpaid for everything, with no accountability anywhere
+ Constant struggle to determine if what we paid for even existed
+ Cognitive distance between and among all participants
+ Good projects like the 4H Club did not require money, and were shut down

The author has one chapter on the "tribes" imposed by the US on the Iraqis, including soldiers, KBR white (good old boys), KBR brown (doing the dirty work), KBR green (security), other contractors including Filipinos and Ugandas, Iraqis, and Iraqi-American translators.

Early on one gets a finely-crafted sense of the "Mad Max" nature of the environment, and I have a note to myself: devastating detail on the mediocrity of it all, the pervasive corruption (corruption is not just about honor, it also includes being stupid and irresponsible at taxpayer expense--see my Journal: Reflections on Integrity UPDATED at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog).

The below quote is in my view a microcosm of the insanity of the entire $80 billion a year US secret intelligence community that provides "at best" 4% of what the President or a major commander needs to know, and nothing for everyone else.

QUOTE (30): Speaking of the overhead surveillance blimp, "With the appropriate clearance, you could watch the video feed from your desktop computer as the soldier in charge zoomed in on patches of real life outside our walls. In the odd way that soldiers entertained themselves, dogs going at it were always worth zooming in on, and one troop claimed to have a night-vision enhanced video clip that will never make Wiki-Leaks, showing a man in close carnality with a donkey."

I've spent my life in the real world, including decades in residence across Asia and Latin and Central America, but have never encountered a level of inter-locking detail such as this author provides on the basics--each factoid that he presents is an indictment of the incapacity of the US Government - including its $80 billion a year "intelligence" community - to actually get in touch with ground truth. Four words capture the essence of the mass of detail: trash, water, sewage, power.

I've known Turkey was playing the US for big bucks in Afghanistan, this is the first time I read in detail about how Turkey gamed the US system to secure massive amounts of funding for work that could have been done by indigenous Iraqis for 1-2% of what Americans paid Turkey (as well as KBR and the others of course -- roughly 60 billion from Congress, 90 billion captured, 18 billion donated, and nothing to show for it.

The essence of American hubris and hypocrisy at the tactical level is captured by the author in this quote:

QUOTE (76): "...instead of holding local elections as the starting point for converting the country into a democracy, we appointed local sheiks as local leaders, with the promise of elections to follow, someday. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

It merits comment that most of us knew we should not have invaded Iraq; that General Shinseki honestly appraised Congress of the 400,000 needed to keep the peace after the invasion; that General Garner was on the verge of succeeding when Dick Cheney pulled him out and sent Paul Bremer in to assure the failure of the US; and that the US Government is not designed to serve the public interest, but rather -- since 1980 -- to optimize the transfer of wealth from the US taxpayer to the banks and corporations that comprise the various taxpayer-funded special interest groups that are inherently antithetical to the public interest.

Worthy of note for me were two major discussions of homosexuality among US forces in Iraq, the first righteous, that no one seemed to care about one's sexual proclivities; the second, which should not have surprised me but it did, to the effect that there is much more homosexual activity, including among normally "straight" men, and all of it is aided by Facebook pages and other social networking means that get down to the specific Forward Operating Base (FOB).

The chapter on the three colonels, pp. 122-130 is not fair to many, but is consistent with both the stories out of Afghanistan, where one reserve officer was ordered home for writing about the number of useless colonels, and with more recent stories in the media about "toxic" US Army leadership culture. Self-promotion rules, and books on counterinsurgency are for show, not for reading.

QUOTE (130): "One of the difficult parts about counterinsurgency was that it was hard to tell when you had won. You measured success more by what did not happen than what did, the silence that defined the music. Silence did not play well with self-promotion, but it sure as hell beat the sound of IEDs.

There are many specific examples throughout the book, but the one that will stay with me forever is the chicken processing plant built at a cost of $2.58 million, that ended up killing and processing twenty-five chickens.

QUOTE (144): "How many PRT staff members does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One to hire a contractor who fails to complete the job and two to write the press release in the dark."

QUOTE (152): "Our job was not to think in or out of the box but to retrace endlessly the outline of the box itself."

On page 157 hundreds of soccer balls decorated with flags go to waste because the Saudi flag has a Koran verse in it and no one would kick that. The Chinese sub-contractors knew to leave off the Israeli flag, but not the Saudi flag. For me this is a tiny reminder of Winston Churchill's wisdom, "The Americans always do the right thing, they just try everything else first." The depth of the ignorance, naivete, and downright irresponsible attitudes across the US Government stun me to this day.

The chapter on the CIA is narrow (misses NSA and other pieces) and half-admiring and half-sad, ending with the observation that while State can know its failures today if it is honest, it will be decades before the truth comes out on the failure of intelligence.

QUOTE (208): The devolution of counterinsurgency into counterreality was hardly limited to my ePRT, or to the State Department."

QUOTE (222): "Our American goal [insert any idea here] was irrelevant. They had a system in place that predated our idea by approximately five thousand years. More was not better."

Late in the book I learn the author's FOB was mortared 70+ times and read some very good stuff on wounds, training to treat wounds, and the reality of treating wounds. This is followed by the factoid on page 240 that out of 4471 US deaths in Iraq, 913 have been suicides (here in the USA we are reaching 18 veteran suicides a day, and one hushed-up self-immolation of a veteran in New Hampshire). In 2009 and 2010, there were more suicides among US troops in Iraq than combat deaths. In June 2010, there were 32 suicides in one month.

The chapter on "What Victory Looks Like," pp 245-254 is destined to be an extract of great value to courses across the spectrum from public administration to ethics to economics 101.

QUOTE (253): "We meant well, most of us really did. Hubris stalked us; we suffered from arrogance and we embraced ignorance."

The last sentence of the book, on page 268, helps explain--above and beyond all that went before--why the Department of State "mandarins" are freaking out, remembering that in the class war that the rich have won, Secretaries of State are part of "they" not part of "us."

QUOTE (268): "No thanks really but a special notice to Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who led an organization I once cared deeply for into a swamp and abandoned us there."

The book has 60 notes, most of them pointing to online sources. As a 30 year veteran of the classified world, I am certain that there is nothing classified in this book; that the State Department personnel involved in clearing the book were righteous and professional; and that anyone at the State Department harassing the author is ripe for impeachment or a civil lawsuit.

I certainly do encourage everyone to buy this book, it will join Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Losing the Golden Hour: An Insider's View of Iraq's Reconstruction (Adst-Dacor Diplomats and Diplomacy Book), and Still Broken: A Recruit's Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon as classics--I mean that in the very respectful sense--of how not to do diplomacy.

There are roughly five parts to the demise of the American "Empire," in this order:

1 Lost of electoral system integrity leading to two-party tyranny and complete corruption in Congress and the Executive.

2 Out of control Department of Defense regardless of who is in charge, with Donald Rumsfeld *barring* the Department of State from presenting and then executing its well thought out, in advance, plans for post-war occupation and reconstruction.

3 Shallow Department of State unable to surge anything, with a fortress mentality from the years when Madeline "Gerbil" Albright decided that her legacy would be bunkers no one could get in or out of.

4 Corrupt tendency to rely on contractors for "surge" when what really happens is they steal away the shallow bench from within, and we end up with no government and rotten contractors.

5 Zero intelligence because intelligence is irrelevant in this town. Paul Pillar just wrote the definitive book on the political side of that problem, see Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform. We are wasting $80 billion a year to provide "at best" according to General Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret), 4% (four percent) of what the President or a major commander needs, and nothing for anyone else. So are we surprised to have Iraq turn into a three trillion dollar keystone cops meet griftopia sinkhole?

I mention the above in part to observe that the Department of State does the best it can with almost zero resources, in the face of grotesquely over-bearing and very ignorant Department of Defense "leaders," and to observe that even Jesus Christ himself could not succeed in Iraq as long as Dick Cheney was hijacking the White House, George Bush was trapped in a family farce, and Donald Rumsfeld was nearly lunatic with the abuse of power. See in passing:

Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
The Bush Tragedy
Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy

PLEASE buy this book and then share it (I donate all my books to the George Mason University Library, without marking them up, for a modest tax credit). The day must come when those who are in power not only avoid the mistakes this author points out, but also embrace the messenger rather than trying to shoot him.
13 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Court Jester Speaks Truth to Power 27 janvier 2012
Par Frederick Marrazzo - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Peter Van Buren gets kudos for taking the time to compose his thoughts and put them into a memoir that points out the "Dilbert zone" policies of the State Department in Iraq. With over 20 years battling "Iron Rice Bowl" bureaucrats both inside the foreign service and out, it's not hard to see why the tone of the book sounds so cynical. With Van Buren's sharp court jester wit, the State Department should be grateful that they have one of their own who is willing to speak truth to power. The throne to the Secretary of State is for the most part unaccountable to the American public that it is supposed to serve. Challenge the State Department on their policies, and their bureaucrats very quickly find ways to stonewall and escape scrutiny. Too many people inside the State Department are willing to look the other way knowing that the consequences are practically non-existent. There are of course some very good people who work for the Department but the politics that govern the pecking order makes it very difficult for people to do the right thing. Cross the wrong person and they can make things very difficult for you. With so much at stake personally, most people just decide to abandon their sense of integrity, which unfortunately leads to a deterioration of organizational values that inevitably permeates the organization's culture. Changing the culture of an organization like the State Department is next to impossible. Change, if it comes at all, happens very slowly. What ends up happening, however, is that the more they try to change things, the more they revert to the way things originally were.

Van Buren himself is far from perfect but his book does illustrate the dysfunction that is the reality of America's premier foreign service conglomerate. It is plagued by sclerotic thinking and territorial egotism which will only be corrected if enough people insist on upholding the values that the State Department claims it wants to promote to the world. Among these are integrity, ethics and fairness. Van Buren said in an interview with "Publisher's Weekly" ([...]) that the State Department is like a Mafia family because it does not like to air its dirty laundry in public, even though it is a public entity. It should probably take a minute to review its own propaganda playbook so that it can practice what it propagandizes to the world's masses. Otherwise the subtitle of Van Buren's book "How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People" surely makes the point.
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