Hey! Randy

Nemesis Visits the Americans in Iraq

Posted by heyrandy on November 5, 2011

We Meant Well, Peter Van Buren, 2011

Why is getting in so easy, but getting out is difficult? The military did a superb job of ousting The Evil One, but the peace is killing us. Van Buren gives us an account of the year he spent in Iraq as a State Department Field Service Officer (FSO). His job was to help rebuild Iraq. His job was to do the impossible with all the resources American money could buy. American money bought a lot of resources, but the effects were not what was planned.

Van Buren was given virtually no training on what to do, how to do it, or who to do it with. This is the way things are in American dominated Iraq. Just throw lots of money and people at an ill understood problem and all will be well in the end. The end being the end of your year-long tour .

The author’s experience was one of careerism, rivalry with the US Army, inept contractors, and Iraqis who have learned to say the right things to get American money. There was no accountability. Projects were driven by the politically correct fad of the moment. No one ever considered the history, culture, or the religious differences of the area. The prevailing thought was to take what might work in America and transplanted it in Iraq. The effect was just a waste of money. Billions were lost. No one cared.

Van Buren immediately upon arrival in Iraq discovered that cost was never considered. He was asked to approve projects where no one had tried to get a lower price. His subordinates told him that competitive bidding was not done by his predecessors.

Image was everything. Get photographs of the head of some project cutting the ribbon on the newly built building so the people upstairs (and back home) can see how much progress is being made. The lack of electricity, clean water, or garbage removal were not concerns. They did not show in the photograph.

Van Buren says that the closest they came to a successful project was their attempt at 4H. While the alliteration is lost in the translation to Arabic, the underlying principles were kept. He says the reasons this program did so well were they did not need approval from the embassy, the army was not involved, they spent no money, and they turned the whole thing over to the Iraqis as soon as it was started. This is not a formula for career advancement.

No one wanted to go to Iraq. But you had to go for the sake of your career. You were typically assigned for a year. Everyone had their exit date marked on their calendars. Get you Iraqi ticket punched and get out. As long as you were there and spent money you were set.

I read this book and experienced laughing, crying, and screaming– all at the same time. You will too.


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