Welcome Peter Van Buren, and Host Marcy Wheeler (Emptywheel.net)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

Host, Marcy Wheeler:

You can summarize the story of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People with his assessment of the scams Iraqis pulled off with reconstruction dollars: “It wasn’t so much we were conned, it was as if we demanded to be cheated and would not take no for an answer.” The book describes what he saw of the various reconstruction efforts in Iraq, particularly his experience serving on a State Department Provisional Reconstruction Team in 2009.

While the book catalogs the great variety of stupid projects we funded—including a chapter of the greatest hits—it’s also a book about the power structure of our imperial project in Iraq. Van Buren offers this taxonomy of the “tribes” in his Forward Operating Base in Iraq, from the soldiers driven to enlist for financial reasons, the three different shades of KBR contractors distinguished by their tasks and the size of their biceps, the Iraqi-Americans from Detroit hired though an Alaskan pass-through, and the Ugandans guarding the base, probably working for slave wages. And all that’s before you get to the Embassy, with its impossible green lawn and complete isolation from the rest of Iraq.

Van Buren juxtaposes this taxonomy with the description of a scam a local sheik dreamt up, which not only would have gotten him a free flock of sheep, but would have set up a bunch of widows in hock to him.

Next up was a meeting to discuss the purchase of pregnant sheep for a small number of local widows. For $25,000 we’d buy the widows pregnant lambs to raise. They’d sell the offspring. It seemed like a good idea, helping widows, so I asked the team how they had determined the cost of a pregnant ewe. My colleagues had asked one local sheik for a price. I asked why they hadn’t sought several prices to compare; they said that would have been inconvenient. They implored me to sign off on the idea “to make things easier.” …

I asked how many lambs a ewe could be expected to produce in a year, … what the going price was for a lamb, and what a decent income for a widow was in Iraq. No one knew the answers. How would the widows be selected? The sheik selling us the animals would select the recipients from his extended family. He would also teach the widows about sheep raising but would take from them the first healthy lamb in return. How would the widows get by if they would not be able to keep the firstborn lamb? Not our problem.

Finally, Van Buren contrasts his fight not to fund such stupidity with the question Americans increasingly ask: if our government is demanding we spend money on Iraqis, why can’t we spend money on Americans?

We’d be watching the news from home about foreclosures, and I’d be reading e-mails from my sister about school cutbacks, while signing off on tens of thousands of dollars for stuff in Iraq. At one point we were tasked to give out micro-grants, $5,000 in actual cash handed to an Iraqi to “open a business,” no strings attached. If he took the money and in front of us spent it on dope and pinball, it was no matter. We wondered among ourselves whether we shouldn’t be running a PRT in Detroit or New Orleans instead of Baghdad.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but conclude our empire in Iraq is just a perverse mirror image of our increasing governance failures in the US. As Van Buren points out, the same folks who here might push to control women’s wombs and lives in the US were demanding we turn a bunch of Iraqi women into small business owners (though predictably shut down a woman’s social work and medical center). The same people refusing to invest in infrastructure here are measuring performance in Iraq by how much money gets spent and what kind of PR pictures result.

It’s a depressing story—though written in sardonic, readable prose. But it has started to get Van Buren in trouble. Just this past week the State Department suspended his clearance, effectively punishing him without giving him a means to appeal the punishment. His crimes? Linking to a WikiLeaks cable describing Joe Lieberman and John McCain sucking up to Moammar Qaddafi on his blog, refusing to answer some questions about his associations, and not withdrawing the book’s print run to redact some details in a chapter describing a CIA party in an old Saddam palace outside the new gigantic Embassy. (Note, Van Buren uses the WikiLeaks revelation about the Frago permitting Americans to ignore Iraqi-on-Iraqi abuse to supplement his discussion of a Sunni Sheikh’s description of his torture in the lead-up to elections, but he sources it to the Guardian.)

In short, between the details of the caste system built into our “democratic” empire and the Iraqi tribal system our lavish spending has only made more corrupt, descriptions of our attempt to solve a huge problem by blindly throwing money at it, and the now-typical response to exposure of such things–punishing the whistleblower rather than the incompetence, the book captures the corruption at the core of the late American Empire in a remarkably good read.

182 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People”

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Peter here!

BevW October 22nd, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Peter, Welcome to the Lake.

Marcy, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 1:59 pm

My pleasure.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Welcome, Peter. Thanks for joining us.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Thank you.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:01 pm

You spend a lot of time in your book talking about what’s broken, but just the last chapter talking abotu what we could do better (aside from fostering 4H clubs–I loved that story).

Any thoughts on this, now that State and its 5000 mercs will have the lead?

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:03 pm

In the early days of the occupation, projects were scaled huge— repair the national electrical grid, rebuild the water system. These proved hard to manage and hard to implement, so everything shifted to small-scale beekeeping and local arts initiatives. Some things can only be done nationally, or at least must be organized nationally, such as providing essential services. Local projects can reach people directly and address spot problems, but cannot be expected to interlock on a large scale without broad oversight and coordination. Essential services are a network and need to be worked on that scale.

Many Iraqis rely on militias to fill the services void. Stories circulate of neighborhood militiamen commandeering power plants and private generators, turning the militants into local heroes. In some poor areas, Iranian charities are a primary source of propane, food and other services that people expect the government to provide. Services are critical to a successful counterinsurgency; in 2010 Iraq , the provision of essential services became the daily indicator for most people of the legitimacy of their government.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Also, I wanted to mention your preface, describing a truckload of “American classics”–basically Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer translated into Arabic, which was so unwanted it couldn’t be sold on the black market and thus was probably scrapped.

You mention the British Empire a number of times in your book, and (as someone w/a PhD in post-colonial CompLit) I was wondering if you had the British example, where they “civilized the natives” by teaching them British literature, in mind?

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:05 pm
In response to Peter Van Buren @ 7

It seems to me most policy makers in DC don’t understand, much less care about, civil society. Is that fair?

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Why is the U.S. embassy in Baghdad so big. How many people are employed there. What are their nationalities. What do they do. How big is the security force. What are their nationalities. Who runs them. How big is the contract. How are they overseen.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:06 pm
In response to Peter Van Buren @ 7

And to what degree were we reinforcing warlordism bc the Sheiks really know how to manipulate this system, and therefore they (as in Afghanistan, from the reports) get to decide how to use the money to shore up their power?

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:07 pm

What happened to that 19-volume “rebuild Iraq” project written by DoS and a zillion think tankers long before the invasion.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:07 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 9

I’d agree. The work we did, we did for us, not the Iraqis. Most projects were to satisfy our needs for photo ops, not to create real change.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:08 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 12

You can still find the unclassified portions online, but it otherwise was never used. The Bush people ignored it, and by 2007, when State was handed the reconstruction job, the earlier study was so out of date and overtaken by events that it was useless. By then, you could not put the toothpaste back INTO the tube.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Peter, Marcy, good evening, thank both of you for joining us.


emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:09 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 10

So while we’re waiting for folks, I wanted to elaborate with a point that Peter has mentioned elsewhere, but that doesn’t show up in the book.

He was at two FOBs, one in the desert, one in a Shiite slum in Baghdad. The former is the same desert FOB that Bradley Manning was at, at the same time.

So among other things, the book describes just how desolate it was out there, particularly for those whose jobs kept them on-base most of the time.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Were you satisfied with the photo ops you got?

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 11

Regularly. When we destroyed civil government in Iraq with the debaathication in ’03, we did not replace it at the local levels. We never held local elections, creating a power vacuum. That vacuum was filled by tribal leaders, local warlords or thugs in the Tony Soprano mode. We worked with them because there was no one else and we were under pressure to spend money.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:11 pm

In your acknowledgments, you basically thank Powell and Condi in a “thanks for nothing” fashion. What happened under them that made things worse? Or was it just the way other people in the Bush Admin manipulated the role of state? (I read Cheney’s autobiographical novel and I was surprised by how much he tried to take credit, and only belatedly and churlishly offered Jim Baker any credit, for the coalition in the first Iraq War. So it seems he’s been working to diminish State forever.)

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:11 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 17

Well, if pretty pictures were the goal, I guess so. You can see some photos on my site at http://www.wemeantwell.com Check the tabs on the top of the page

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:12 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 16

Raising a whole raft of other Qs. Why were U.S.ians on FOBs. What did they know about the country. Did they speak the language. If not, how did they hire & vet translators. How old were they. What were their technical skills.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:13 pm

One of the more striking lines in the book was this one:

The sheiks were easy to deal with as they wanted our money, understood authority and violence, and could in the short term get things done.

October 22nd, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I have not read your book and I have no intention of doing so. When you start with an outright falsehood there is no point in proceeding.

I am simply going to repeat what I said elsewhere on this site when this event was announced:

We Meant Well:

As an Iraki living in Irak allow me to assure you that that is a lie.
You and your colleagues were just another form of occupier your efforts were just another weapon deployed to try to plant the American boot on my peoples’ necks.

Mohammed Ibn Laith

PS: You failed.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:14 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 19

My thanks were obviously sarcastic. Powell, who certainly knew better, committed State to the reconstruction task and Rice, who likely was too smitten with George W to know much, kept pouring State resources down the hole. Both people helped cripple the Department by over-committing resources to one place, Iraq, and ignoring any number of pressing issues (pick one: China, Darfur, NKorea, etc)

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 21

People on teh FOBs, at least, would go off base. But yeah, per the book, almost no one spoke Arabic, a lot of contractors got hired into these positions and that included all manner of unqualified person.

One of the more interesting chapters is about a “Dairy Carey”–a woman who actually had Ag expertise from working in USDA, who was considered difficult but who actually did some good.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:16 pm

The title is ironic, a sad joke about a terrible tragedy. I have excerpts on my web site and on Google. Read one or two and see if the book is any good before you condemn it. My goal is to tell people what happened in Iraq, what was done in their name. I most definitively am not defending our actions. The opposite in most cases.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:16 pm

The prevailing hypothesis I heard for why no local elections is that PTB wanted Chalabi to control the country from the center. Any comments?

Also, got an email from NYT reporter (back in the days when some actually responded to some email) in response to my suggestion that they use food ration cards in lieu of voter IDs (reporters excuse for why local elections were not possible, but of course exactly what they did use when national elections finally happened). Made me laugh at how transparent the whole USG lies were.

By way of background, I could barely find Iraq on a map in summer 02.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:17 pm

To be fair to him, he does refer to Americans as occupiers throughout, and describes how badly it works out for Iraqis.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 2:18 pm

By “us”, Peter, whom do you have in mind?

As well, and I hope this is not too foreign to the purpose of your book, however, have you any thoughts as to how, rather specifically, the USA might somehow pay back the Iraki people for having killed more than a million human beings and made refugees of some five million other Iraki human beings – all, mind you, done in response to what might charitably be termed, “a lie”?

If, as had become clear, the Irakis were not involved with 911, then how may we Americans rebuild not merely our “credibility” but also OUR humanity and sanity … assuming the recent “war” in Irak, was some abberation and not what we and the world might expect from American Presidents, as is said, “looking forward”?


Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:18 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 27

Perhaps at the upper levels there was such a nefarious intent (ask Cheney when he does his book chat with you!) but at my level it was more likely laziness, ignorance or just plain not really caring. So many bad things happened that way. I read my share of conspiracy theories about the Govt and think in most cases we aren’t that smart.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:20 pm


The best description I have heard of U.S. imperialist warz comes directly from neocon lips: You’ve got to take some shitty little country and slam it up against a wall to let everyone know who’s boss. Or words to that effect.

I’m sorry it was your country. Apologies from me mean nothing, but I am profoundly ashamed of the country I live in.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:21 pm

If NSA is doing their job at all, Cheney will know well enough NOT to show up on a book salon with me.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 29

“Us” was me, my colleagues, the Embassy, the Army. We spent money on things we were interested in, or which were easy to do, or which We thought might help, intead of studying and learning Iraqi needs.

I can’t think of any way to turn back time and make things better in Iraq. Can you? I feel it will remain a scar on America’s history and will negatively influence the world and the Mid East for a long, long time. Like I said above, you can’t get the toothpaste back into the tube.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 32

C’mon, try for Rumsfeld. I have a few questions for him.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:23 pm


As I suggested when I used the word “taxonomy,” one of the things that was interesting for someone who has not been to Iraq is your depiction of our own military culture. It seemed like you had the distance to be able to see it but were there long enough to begin to understand it.

But I’m wondering what kind of response you’ve had from soldiers who served. You capture well how shitty their life is. But were they comfortable with, for example, the “Soldier Talk” chapter?

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:24 pm

As for what can be done and local govt, let me throw out this section, that was dropped from a chapter in the book:

“We will eat each other after the Americans leave. This is chaos, not democracy,” one Iraqi told us.

No counterinsurgency struggle succeeded without a decent government for the people to support once their hearts and minds had been captured. No counterinsurgency can succeed when the government is run by puppets, corrupt incompetents or kleptomaniacs. This applies nationally and locally; people’s strongest allegiance may be to an important governor or regional leader.

The US never compelled the Iraqis to hold local elections, and stood by passively as national elections in March failed to produce a government. “As in Vietnam ,” wrote political scientist Larry Diamond, “there was always an illusion in Iraq of an imminent turning point, an unwillingness to grasp the depth of popular dissatisfaction and an inability to construct a political process that put forward effective and legitimate political leaders from within the country.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Mohammed, I echo eCAHN’s feelings and shame for having done your people a profound wrong … I do wonder if the “higher-up” in American governmnet feel any sense of the shame that should be appropriate and sitting on the conscience of every single American?

It is, always, an honor and a privilege to find your words here.


eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:26 pm

laziness, ignorance or just plain not really caring.

3d level guy who was in U.S. embassy in Greece (forgot his name but read his book last year), who earned his 15 min of fame by resigning over Iraq invasion & then publicizing his resignation letter to Colin Powell, made the point that promotion in a bureaucracy stemmed from picking the winner above you & riding on his coattails. Has nothing to do with trying to advance a good “policy.” How does the portion of your answer that I quoted tie into that, or is something else going on.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:26 pm

And as you pointed out, the US money taught the localities not to bother lobbying the central Iraqi govt, because they could just get money from the US.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 35

Mostly positive reactions. An Army civil affairs unit actually paid for me to fly to California to speak with them. I just accepted air fare and later, beer. They were engaged, mostly in agreement.

As for the more personal stuff, like the Soldier Talk chapter, I felt quite awkward. I was a guest and an ease dropper. By virtue of being embedded, I saw and heard things you usually had to be a soldier to see and hear. I write in that chapter that sometimes it was too much, I did not want to know that much about peoples’ lives, but it was almost thrust upon us. We had no choice but to live closely.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I have lots of Qs for both of them, which is why they won’t show up. Ask anyone here the list of Qs I asked Wesley Clark, John Dean.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:28 pm

For those who have not read the book, I changed all names and obscured locations and times to protect the soldiers’ privacy. No one was “outed” or embarrassed or made fun of.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 38

The “winner” in Iraq was to follow orders, which meant spending money. The bosses didn’t seem to care what we spent money on, as long as we could show “progress”, write up nice reports and send in photos. so whether it was sheep, a water plant, cooking classes or fertilizer, it was all good.

Money was the metric; more cash = more progress

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:33 pm

That hones in on my central burning Q. The U.S. has failed in every effort at ‘national building’ it has ever tried. What is it about the culture of this country that makes it think it can ever succeed? What did you learn inside the DoS & embedded with the military about the mindset that establishes such misplaced hubris? History began yesterday?

October 22nd, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 28

Of his own free will he took part in the barbarism that was your country’s war of hate, revenge, and attempted subjugation by occupation against my people. His efforts were just another weapon in that war. As far as I am concerned he is is just revolting a war criminal as the Americans who slaughtered my family including my Grandfather who was shot down in front of my eyes, both my parents, and 9 years old. younger brother Ali who was shot to death in my arms as I ran with him trying to get him to a hospital.

Don’t talk to me American about fairness. Van Buren is just another American occupier who took part in the American barbarism against my people. He connived at and supported an illegal war and illegal occupation in which your country committed one monstrous war crime after another. He is at the very least an accomplice to those crimes. There was nothing “fair” about the crimes Van Buren helped your government commit.

I fund and help run several orphanages as do those with whom I am associated. Often, very often, the children there ask us “Why did the Americans do this to us”? – We tell them the truth “Because they were Americans and because they wanted to”.

Mohammed IBn Laith

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Smacking forehead. Of course. So obvious.

Had a boss once who was famous for saying: What gets measured gets done.

Meant two ways. The obvious one. Second: be careful what you measure.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Thank you for your reply, Peter.

Do you not imagine that there is anything that we can and should do, some act, some sacrifice, some “payment”, even an apology that we should honestly make to the people of Irak…. before we may even pretend to “move on”?

What, precisely, do you imagine that “we” (in this no longer civil society, which is, itself, largely under assault from the elite, as recent events must make plain) and the governmental elite have LEARNED from our “adventure” in Irak?

How might we accomplish that “mission” … actually learning something from the killing and destruction … which was done in the name of “the people”?

How do you walk away from this experience, without being profoundly changed, if not shaken to the very depths of your being?

I do not wish to make that seem too personal, Peter, however, war is a very personal thing in it human consequence … how do we approach the reasonable hatred which we have created in the hearts and minds of others?


emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 44

That’s sort of what I was getting at when I said it was a perverse mirror–the “reconstruction” in Iraq really crystallized what American elites currently believes makes society work. And the first thing is that money makes society work, and if that doesn’t work, then more money will. Add in weird formulations like the way to foster more freedom among women is not control over their own bodies, but instead small businesses (more money!).

And while a lot of this in Iraq was clearly due to logistics–the year long deployments–I think a lot of this was also American short term thinking, more interested in building a water/sewer treatment plant than paying salaries and upkeep for people to run it.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I don’t think I convince you here of my intentions, but I still do ask that you read one or more of the excerpts from my book and then decide. You would be offended if, without knowing you, I included you in some statement as in “All Iraqis are …” Please offer me the same courtesy.

BevW October 22nd, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Peter, What were the real barriers to getting the utilities repaired? (water, electricity?)

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 44

I am actually working on an extended essay piece on why nation building DID work in post-war Europe and Japan, and to a lesser extent in Korea. It is a long argument and not for this format, but it involves both external (things about the target country we cannot change) and internal (things we did that we can change).

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to BevW @ 50

“Any road will get you there if you don’t know where you’re going” applies. Have some kind of plan, some broad strategy, to connect local work with national strategy. Do not turn dozens of entities loose with millions of dollars and hope something falls together (a thousand monkeys typing randomly might produce some Shakespeare). Do not have one ePRT doing agriculture work because they happen to have someone from USDA while another puts on plays and sponsors art shows because they happen to have an artsy contractor on staff. Have a plan and staff to the plan, not the other way around. Exercise discipline so money and time are not wasted on frivolous projects. A proper reconstruction needs more practical endeavors than feel-good photo-ops, so build the water and sewer plants before giving pastry lessons. Solve real problems. Coordinate closely activities among different brigades and adjacent ePRTs. Often each entity would be working fully independently and have no connection with what its neighbors were doing. Often each entity would want no connection to what its neighbors were doing.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I agree with your take about why we did it and how wrong it was. (I’d add we did it because our elites mistakenly believe we will never pay any consequences for it.)

I do wonder, though, how we get Americans to understand what we did, how badly we damaged your country. There are people who are chronicling that for Americans in a way that is accessible who were not themselves part of the occupation. But not many.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 48

All very, very true.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 48

And the first thing is that money makes society work, and if that doesn’t work, then more money will.

Like the drunk at the party who thinks that if she says it one more time, and a little bit louder, they will surely understand.

Ive been that drunk at the party.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 53

Well, that is what I tried to do in my book. I did not write a scholarly or comprehensive history of reconstruction. For those who have read it, the book is funny, ironic sad funny, but accessible and a quick read. I wanted to write something very accessible, and folks who do want the details can drill into the sources at the end. Most sources are online for this war, and are very easy to get at for those interested.

I want my book to be a gateway drug to that stuff.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:43 pm

But I’m not sure we have the people to staff to the plan, even beyond you get to the linguistic stuff.

I was in grad school in the late 90s, and had several friends who studied Arabic. I was shocked that there was as much support for me studying a Cold War language as they got for studying Arabic, when it was clear Arabic is such a more urgent need.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Oh, I have a short A for those: the countries in question rebuilt their own govts. The U.S. came in with a little bit of financial aid, stayed out of locals’ ways, and then took total credit.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 2:45 pm

“Money was the metric …”

(Is that not the essential “metric” of the American elite, the ruling classes, generally?)

How do you compare that “largess” which you experienced in Irak, with the situation in America today, austerity, privation, essentially a depression, do you not imagine that the “honest” cost of that war, of any war, is borne by “the people”, both those who are being “ministered to” and those in what is now, applallingly, another result of 911, referred to as the “Homeland”.

Do you not perceive a broader “agenda” the militarization of society, all the “better” to pursue endless war?

And, on balance, Peter, did we “win” this war or did we lose ourselves and our capacity to reason?


Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:45 pm

The USG language scholarships still include Russian, but most of the others are for languages of countries we are currently bombing. Arabic is on top of the list now.

Teddy Partridge October 22nd, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Do you know anyone connected with the enterprise who feels shame?

Do you feel shame?

October 22nd, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Of your own free will you committed yourself to aiding barbarism and monstrously vicious criminality. Nobody forced you, you volunteered.

And you have not troubled yourself to even attempt to see matters from my perspective. I am an Iraki and I am a Muslim. As well as our belief in the one true God we Muslims share with the Jews an orthopraxic view of life and the world that our Creator has made for us. I am not interested in your motives I am interested in what you did.

What you did is at the very least connive in barbarism, by your actions you have forfeited the right to be treated with anything other than contempt.

Mohammed Ibn Laith

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 58

yes and no. It was a lot about setting priorities, and using the money to push the right things forward first. Germany and Japan were also well educated, prosperous societies before the war, so there was clear memory and a base to build on. Iraq had suffered greatly under Saddam, and also under 20 years of sanctions and war even before we got there in 2003 to really crush things.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Yeah–but I’m talking in the period before we had begun bombing, in the 1990s. It just seemed unbelievable to me there were as many funded positions in each Eastern European country as there were in most of the Arabic-speaking region.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Shame of a sort, but more regret, more bitterness, more anger I think. As far as I know, nothing I did myself harmed anyone overtly, though perhaps via neglect of more important things. I did start with good intentions, part of the “we meant well” thing, but fell victim for a time to the weight of my own orders, then victim to laziness, then to apathy. By the end I had disengaged and become a chronicler of what was happening even when, maybe, in a very small way, I could have tried more to change things.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:49 pm

The last I heard W chime in on this issue is that he thought Iraqis should be grateful to U.S. Vomititious.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 64

Indeed. One of so many reasons we are in the mess we are in now. You can’t do much good if you cannot even talk to each other.

Tammany Tiger October 22nd, 2011 at 2:50 pm

One topic not yet mentioned is Iraq’s oil reserves. I’ve read several books in which the author argues that the real reason for the war was to install a government that would open the oil fields to foreign companies, which would get the lion’s share of the resulting profits. What are the chances of that happening, given the current state of affairs in that country?

Note: I’m not a “drill, baby, drill” advocate by any means, but the “what happens to all that oil?” question is still very relevant.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:51 pm

As for Korea, it took 3 decades before it became a democracy, and prolly would have been one a lot sooner if it hadn’t been for U.S. interference.

October 22nd, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 59

America lost its war. Against my people but don’t take my word for it ask Colonel Lang:

The fact is that the Iraqi resistance and politicians won. The various insurgents and terrorist groups fought us to a standstill. The “Surge?” What crap! The Sons of Iraq ended the insurgency. They will be back in opposition to the Shia run government of Iraq. The Iraqis won politically as well. Proof? They have now shown us the door.

Source: Sic Semper Tyrannis : PX closes at Camp Victory

Mohammed Ibn Laith

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 2:54 pm


Can you tell us what you think will happen at State, with regards to your clearance, etc.?

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I agree with Col Lang. The demons the US let loose– Sunni-Shia, Arab-Kurd, unresolved oil revenues, border disputes– as well as the poverty and destruction we left behind, will have to resolve themselves, and I fear it will be through violence. It is a terrible legacy.

RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 2:55 pm

As part of the “when will we ever learn theme”, I would like to know, if you have an opinion, what prevented the American people from questioning, protesting, etc. the whole enterprise? From the beginning, there was no cogent case presented for going to war/invading Iraq, as I recall. What made us so passive and unquestioning, especially in view that the Pres. was a known drunk/idiot? What made the US public go along?

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 2:56 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 68

I would add Greg Palast’s point that a large amount of the oil agenda is about control, not drilling. Oil corps make a lot higher profits by keeping oil off the market, thru higher prices, than they do by drilling for it & selling it.

Palast advances that the Sunni triangle in Iraq has an oil field that rivals Ghawar in size, and has been redlined since the Brits were there in the 1920s specifically to make sure it is NOT developed.

Don’t know the truth of that, only that it makes a great deal of sense.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 71

My guess at this point is that State and I will continue our push-pull. They would like me out today, my plan is to retire in Sept 2012. So we agree on the goal (!) of me leaving, we just disagree on the timing. Care to place an over-under bet on the exact date?

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Do you think that it was proper, to attack Irak, in the first place, Peter? You speak about the need to be able to taslk to each other, I do not recall much serious talk or discussion before that war was launched. Opposition was shouted down by that most infamous of argument ad bacculum, (argument with a stick) “You are either with us or against us!”

“Talk” on the “everywhere battlefied” seems rather “cheap” to me, what does an occupier, an invader properly have to talk about? Respect? Shared values?

I’m trying to understand, Peter, why you are not suggesting that “war” might not be, generally, the best “means” of initiating “helping” someone if that is REALLY the “intent”.


Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to RevBev @ 73

Sad to say, the people almost always go along. Look back at pretty much any of America’s many, many wars and you will find them wildly supported, at least at first. You can still get into a fight at most bars over whether Vietnam was a righteous war. We are too willing to go along, Dem and Repub and we never, ever seem to learn.

BTW, Obama sent troops to Uganda this week, another new war. And no one seems to care.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Well, you’ve suggested that they won’t withdraw it because you can appeal it (do you know of the suit by Mahmoud Hegab, who lost his security clearance because his wife is involved in Arab politics/faith)?

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 76

Not sure if I follow your question but:

It was wrong to go to invade Iraq.

As a diplomat, war is almost never a good thing. Self-defense is important, but should be moderated to deal with the threat. Right now no nation has the military that Japan and Germany had in the 1940′s.

If we want to held rebuild someplace, destroying what’s there first is a poor start.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Antiwar protests in advance of Iraq invasion were HUGE both in U.S. & around the world. Record setting. As in Greece today, PTB paid no attention to 99%ers.

October 22nd, 2011 at 3:02 pm

“It is a terrible legacy.”

It is the legacy that your government wanted and that you helped them “bequeath” to my people. Your government cynically, viciously, with malice, and with deliberation set out to destroy every single social institution in my country. And you helped.

In western countrys there is I believe a proverb about good intentions.

Mohammed Ibn Laith

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 78

I do not think I will get my clearance back. State ‘suspended’ it, meaning I have no right of appeal while they investigate whatever. My lawyer tells me such investigations continue forever, or at least until you retire or resign.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to RevBev @ 73

I’ve literally got people on both sides of the spectrum telling me I should stop writing posts pointing out holes in the Scary Iran Plot, because there’s a “plan” that will be good, so it doesn’t matter if it’s all based on a bunch of propaganda. They’re still insisting on “trust me.”

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 80

protests yes. Influence on the powerbrokers, no. America re-elected George W at one of the worst periods of the whole Iraq war.

perris October 22nd, 2011 at 3:05 pm

it’s hard for me to believe that the administration meant well. it seems like every single thing that they did was meant to fail with deliberation , even your description of events demonstrated they were looking for failure

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I am convinced that “we”, Americans, lost much more than a war, Mohammed, we rained death upon your people and destroying the Rule of Law, and, quite possibly, civil society in America, that a few could treat all of us like playthings …

You, and your people have a measure of yourselves, were “we” honest, then we would realize that our lack of shame and humility is also a “measure” … and it is not merely the elites who shall, someday, face consequence … it will be the people of my nation, especially those who “believe” that they are “good”, who will face judgment … for crimes against humanity.


Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:05 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 83

I believe at the moment the US and/or Israel think they can attack Iran without igniting a larger war in the Gulf, they will. It seems almost inevitable.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to perris @ 85

Again, the title was both ironic and to illustrate my own initial ignorance. I too do not believe George W had any good intentions.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 83

Keep writing your posts, Marcy, please.

(I do, sincerely and selfishly, hope you have more “votes” in favor than against …)


emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:08 pm
In response to perris @ 85

I think their failures–which are legion–are just the exposure that their ideology is just that, nothing more than ideology with little relation to reality.

We destroyed Iraq, failed to protect Katrina, and ruined the economy all because we operated on certain assumptions (throw money) that failed.

But that’s separate from the question of whether we meant well. I don’t think we did, mind you. But even if we had meant well we would have failed to deliver on what we meant to do.

RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Is there anything we can say or do that would offer some comfort for the terrible tragedy? What we did to your country and cities, people and families…it is all completely abhorrent, and many people here know that…..In you view is there anything to be done?

I know this is not the same. But these 10 years have been horrible for our country as well…families, suicides, all the things you’ve heard. Yes, many of us are very very sorry, sad, angry….In your outlook, is there anything that would help?

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:09 pm

One could argue about whether U.S. elected W both times but that a diff topic….

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:10 pm

The absurdity is people are telling me their “plan” is actually a “plan” to avoid war. And I honestly think some of these people believe that.

Too much trust in the Israelis, the Saudis, and our own elite brokering deals with them.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:10 pm

The questions about the title, “we meant well” are very interesting. It was always my original title, but the publisher had many doubts, wondering if it might be misunderstood by people as the book SUPPORTING what happened in Iraq.

We compromised with the subtitle.

A discarded subtitle was “lessons for Afghanistan from the failed reconstruction of Iraq”

What do you think?

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:10 pm

How wise do you imagine such an attack to be, Peter, realistically?

This “war” would escalate very quickly to the “nuclear option”, if the words a certain Democratic Senate candidate is alledged to have said, represent current “belief”.

What else is “on the table”?


Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 93

I suggest the only reason we have not had (open) war between Iran and the US, or Iran and Israel is what stopped the US and Russia from blowing each other up– a certainty that the conflict will/would enlarge beyond control. It is almost like we are back in the 1960′s Cold War again

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:13 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 95

I am just spitballing it here, but I could imagine a scenario where internal strife in Iran (real or manufactured) paralyzes the govt or creates such chaos that a military strike from outside could happen without a huge response. But even that is very scary.

Teddy Partridge October 22nd, 2011 at 3:14 pm

What about your peers? Despite the overlings’ unhappiness, have you heard from anyone who worked with you? Have any of them an opinion of your book?

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:16 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 93

It is impossible to trust the “judgment” of the elite, in virtually any “sphere”. However, the US elites clearly want war with Iran and I am hard-pressed to think that reason will “out”, EW.


emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Dunno. I think it telling that Gates left when Obama went into Libya against Gates’ judgment. I think much of the military has been screaming that an Iran attack will end up not only decimating the military but turn Americans around the world into sitting ducks.

Mind you, now we’ve got Petraeus (is he General Anxiety?) at CIA and the ever-helpful Panetta at DOD. So it’ll be easier now.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:17 pm

It will be billed as an humanitarian intervention to save 10 peeps by bombing hundreds of thousands into obliteration.

tw3k October 22nd, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Greetings All, Just jumping in here while not having read the thread.

Peter, I’ve recently been following your blog. I’ve noticed you’ve been speaking up about Pvt. Bradley Manning.

So, among the other issues you bring to light, thanks for bringing details to attention.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Quite a few, in private, are supportive. And I continue to receive emails and comments on my blog at http://www.wemeantwell.com from others who worked in Iraq that echo my sentiments and add evidence to the pile of failures.

Sadly, a do find too many colleagues at State who, while they may agree, are either afraid to speak up or think that being right, and writing a book about it, are different things. State has a “tradition” of not liking dissent and only hearing criticism very quietly and very much only inside the family.

RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 100

What a pair…with Pet. wanting to be a WAR president. Gag.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to tw3k @ 102

As I point out upthread, one of the two FOBs Peter was stationed at was the same Bradley was at–FOB Hammer. They were there at the same time (though I gather Peter never met Bradley).

Siun October 22nd, 2011 at 3:19 pm

I’ m about halfway through Peter’s book and certainly it’s well crafted but I really find the sarcasm troubling in many ways. Now, not having finished, I am not sure how he sees the full experience but a lot of the tales seem to be “we were idiots and the Iraqis were …” with corrupt, inept, and similar adjectives inserted. The tone instead strikes me as so embedded in that military sardonic mode of SOP all fucked up that ends up minimizing responsibility – and condescending to the Iraqis.There seems little grasp of how decimating people’s families, homes, lives cannot be fixed by these programs even if they had been well run or well conceived … War crimes aren’t fixed or absolved by building better PRT

RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Any sounds from Hillary?

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to tw3k @ 102

While I personally have mixed feelings about Bradley’s alleged actions, I a) generally believe a lot of the info he released needs to be seen and b) absolutely believe he is entitled to a trial and chance to defend himself. He has been in jail over 500 days– we did away with sh*t like that with the Magna Carta, never mind the Constitution.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Why do you imagine, that what you and I consider “scary”, apparently NEVER seems to cross elite consciousness as being sufficiently so to actually consider some other “method” of resolving “difference”, than organized mayhem?

Part of it is, as EW has said, that those elite can imagine no consequence for themselves, personally, on any level, ever.

Further eveidence of widespread sociopathic “sensibility” among the elite, it would certainly seem …


Teddy Partridge October 22nd, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I think the idea that the USA can learn from its Irak mistakes and apply them to another nation-building exercise is absurd. There will always be well-meaning neo-liberals marching fresh-facedly behind the troops engaged by the neo-cons, proposing solutions/photo-ops just like the ones you developed.

Trying this again in the graveyard of Empires would be the height of folly, which is why, I suppose, the USA is doing exactly that.

But I’m quite sure the exact wrong lessons will be taken from your book, if any are, by your functional replacements in the Afghan theatre. It’s how the USA rolls.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:22 pm
In response to RevBev @ 107

She’s too busy doing a vulgar victory dance on Qaddafi’s grave, I’m sure.

Teddy Partridge October 22nd, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Except, of course, that the target nation (in this case, Iran) doesn’t have the nuclear capability to destroy us 20 times over. But, yeah, otherwise just the same.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to Siun @ 106

I get what you are saying, and admit some truth there. However, do read the book to the end, as I try and explain my regrets, my bitterness, my feeling that I should have done something more without really knowing what that was.

it is easy to say “resign.” That works to an extent, but for what it is worth I have spent my life doing this work, have a family to support and, other than making some folks feel better, know my resignation will not affect the greater picture at all.

So I wrote the book to tell the story. Count it as a failure on my part,but I am not the story, the answer or the future.

As lame as it sounds, that’s for YOU.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to RevBev @ 107

She send her regards. We’ve got a love-hate thing going.

Seriously: No, not an official word from State good ro bad other than pulling my security clearance. The shoe WILL drop, but has not yet done so.

October 22nd, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to RevBev @ 91

Go home and stay there. Maybe your country was a force for good. Once. Maybe. But that was at least a generation ago. What your country is now is not a force for good it is a force for evil.

If you want to help make amends the best way to do that is to stay out of of the way of my people as we try to alleviate, not even repair just alleviate, the evil done by your country to us and throughout the middle east.

As to how things are or will be in America. Almost exactly 5 years ago shortly before he was murdered my father may his memory be blessed wrote this:

“You should remember something else. A people and their army who behave like this abroad invariably bring this criminal and brutish behaviour home and turn it against their own people. It is not only revolutions that eat their own.”

Mohammed Ibn Laith

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to Siun @ 106

As I’m sure you know, there’s a reason why snafu & fubar are used so often in the U.S. military. IOW, there’s a long tradition of treating how bad teh U.S. military [or insert your fave branch of USG here] with sarcasm, instead of confronting the issues seriously.

I attribute the lack of serious conversation to hubris of empire. The stronger the U.S. grew relative to other powers, the greater lowered willingness for introspection and genuine questioning.

Not to mention the entire history of the country from Pilgrims forward as being god’s chosen people.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Don’t need to destroy the US mainland. But nuke Israel, nuke Saudi and if possible throw a random nuke into Europe and you’ve done a lot of damage the US will never recover from.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I imagine that you, like many of us, will not enjoy the neo-feudal days ahead for the “Homeland”? If the Constitution is “quaint”, then you may consider the Magna Carta to be a part of the “nuance” which is simply not “done” any more … Rule of Law? Due process?


eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Iran has no nukes & no plans to ever have them.

Teddy Partridge October 22nd, 2011 at 3:29 pm

You, and your blessed father, are profound, sir.
Profound from lessons the rest of us may never learn, but profound indeed.

What is so sad, to me, is to think of from how many countries that post could have been written about my country.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:29 pm

As I’ve suggested, I think the stupid reconstruction we tried in your country is ideologically the same as the disaster they did to our economy.

So they’ve already done it economically. The violence will come later. Right now, the cops beat OWS protesters learned their violence in VietNam. But I’m sure the elites will mobilize a lot of unemployed, PTSD suffering soldiers at some point.

Teddy Partridge October 22nd, 2011 at 3:29 pm

With what nukes, Ayatollah?

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:30 pm

A people and their army who behave like this abroad invariably bring this criminal and brutish behaviour home and turn it against their own people.

Scott Horton, who does good radio interviews on antiwar.com, is constantly reminding listeners of that.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 119

Gonna disagree. if Iran wants to stay a major Gulf power, it has to find a away to keep the US and Israel at bay, and nukes are the only foll-proof way to do that. Look at Libya– gave up its WMD ambitions and a few years later the West pounded it and danced on Qaddafi’s body.

Sad to say, there is a reason why nobody talks of attacking NKorea.

Teddy Partridge October 22nd, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 121

If not for XE, a lot of them would already be unemployed.

Siun October 22nd, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Peter … I appreciate your response. None of us did enough to stop the crimes. And I will definitely read to the end … You know how to engage a reader.

That said, I think one of our biggest dangers is our liberal sarcasm that too often lets us look away or look down and so miss our shared humanity and responsibilities to each other.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:32 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 123

I enjoy Scott’s interviews as well, and have done two with him. He asks good questions and is never afraid to lay out his argument.

In fact, it was Antiwar.com that broke the story on me having my security clearance revoked. They beat Wired.com and others.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Are you saying that Iran has nuclear waepons and the means to “deliver” them?

If so, then what evidence have you?

Otherwise, I imagine that words very, very close to what you have just said will be used to justify an attack on Iran, Peter.

Would that suprise you?

On edit. Just read your response to eCAHN @ 124 … we force any who would defend themselves to arm themselves … appropriately.

Is not the primary failure and terrorism, therefore, our own?


Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to Siun @ 126

Understood. I wanted to write an accessible book, so that the story reached a larger audience who would not normally read a book about “politics.” That required some decisions/compromises that something more scholarly or polemic would not have had to make. We’ll see how that works out, but it was a choice to do it that way for sure.

BevW October 22nd, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Peter, What are your thoughts on the announcement yesterday that the war in Iraq is “over” and all troops are coming home? What do you see as the future for Iraq in the next five years?

NBC news on tv right now – asking Was it worth it?

RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I guess we agree more that you realize….Many of us are terribly, terribly sorry…And as far as our own….My only grandchild is 10 years old…..a legacy of shame and war are is his childhood. I am not suggesting equivalence…but a very dangerous outlook. We really do not know our country any more.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I don’t even think most of them can get a job at Xe. They’re working night time security jobs for shit wages.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:35 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 128

No, no, that Iran must acquire the nukes to scare off the US and Israel. They already have decent medium range missiles. They need to keep the world guessing as to how far along they are in development and what damage they could cause along the way. A cheap dirty bomb is well within their capability now, and could cause much damage.

Otherwise, why hasnt ISareal struck? They did not hesitate in Iraq and Syria.

I don’t think any of this is good, but I do believe it will happen.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:36 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 128

Oh, now they’re working the terrorism angle. You know. Scary Iran Plot, where at the very least the US invented all the most spectacular details, if not the plot in general.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:37 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 132

the State Dept is hiring 5100 mercs to protect the Embassy in baghdad, plus more for Afghanistan. Jobs a’ plenty!

October 22nd, 2011 at 3:38 pm

There is a part of me – a part that I am ashamed of, that would like to see your country make war on Iran. If you think what the Iraki resistance did was bad you have no idea of what the Iranians will do. They hate your country even more than we do and that is difficult. Moreover they have have had time to prepare which we did not.

I don’t have any problems with the idea of Iran possessing nuclear weapons. If that is what keeps your country from behaving towards them in the despicable way it behaves elsewhere then that is a good thing.

Mohammed Ibn Laith

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Yeah but–and this is one of the reasons I took to that taxonomy you did–I don’t think most of the kids who went to Iraq to pay the bills are going to qualify for those jobs.

State wants the dudes on ‘roids.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:40 pm

If you did not see what I added @128, Peter, then please take a look.

“We” are driving the primary violence and forcing others to arm for the “inevitable” …

“We” are terrorizing the world.

How long may that go on?

Only so long as everyone else is afraid of us … or “sucking up”, in hopes we will spare them the “Rods od Gawd”.

I predict a CONSEQUENCE for America … someday … and it will be memorable …


eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:43 pm

If you like Scott Horton so much, then surely you know that Iran has no nukes. He’s done exhaustive reporting on that.

October 22nd, 2011 at 3:44 pm

One thing that I had to learn very quickly was logistics and the centrality of logistics to being effective. These mercenaries do not have what American soldiers call “a long tail”. There are a lot of people in Irak who are very eager for these mercenaries to start something. I think it will be quite difficult to restrain these people even without the provocations that your country’s mercenaries are almost guaranteed to commit.

Mohammed Ibn Laith

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:44 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 134

If that plot is believed, EW, then the reason and conscience of the American people, have not only fled, they’ve permanently taken up residence
in some eleventy ‘leventh dimension … never to return, ’till the chickens come home to roost … with a genuine vengence.


Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Again, I have no joy in these predictions, I take no pleasure in guessing what horrors will happen, but I do see these things are real possibilities. They scare the hell out of me.

America’s history is long and bloody, but for awhile at least we seemed to stick to one fight at a time (Korea, then Vietnam War, for example). Since 9/11, America has seemingly lost its mind and now two Presidents have picked fights and unleashed full war almost casually, not really even bothering to try and justify things, just blah blah 9/11, blah blah terrorism. We have become too casual about this even given our bloody past.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:45 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 137

The nasty part of me wants the U.S. to make war on Iran too. Looking for SOMETHING to teach teh U.S. a lesson, and don’t think it could possibly be short of total disaster for U.S. that could do it.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 139

I like Scott a lot, but we do not always agree.

I don’t think Iran as a functioning nuke today, but I do think they would like one and will try to build or acquire some.

I’ll shoot Scott an email and suggest he put me on his show again to talk this one out.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:48 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 137

Hillary’s army.

Either dudes on ‘roids or cheap dudes from poor countries. Why I asked at the beginning what countries the people are from who are working at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I see this very same future, Mohammed … those without “long tails” are foolish to start something that will finish them, yet hubris does cloud both conscience and reason, which are always in meager “supply” among those of a mercenary mind.


emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:48 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 143

I think the US will learn the lesson when it passes by and quickly falls off of that tipping point where it’s might leads others to do what it says. That’s not far off, given how much we’re doing to piss people off.

There’s a lot that will follow from that, starting w/the revocation of SOFAs that give us immunity. Even things like refusing to respect IP will be devastating for the US, given that the only things we make any more rely on it.

RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 3:49 pm

It seems we agree…So who can put on the brakes? Where are the adults and the peacemakers?

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 145

The current Embassy exterior guards in Iraq (on the wall facing out) are contractors for an American firm (maybe Dynacorp?) and are almost all recruited from Peru.

The US military ext guards work for some other contractor and are all from Uganda.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to RevBev @ 148

I wish it was simple enough that I could begin to throw out an answer to discuss.

My own kids are growing up decent people. I’ll count that as something positive, but it obviously isn’t much.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I understand your logic & used to think that way myself. But the Grand Ayatollah has issued a fatwa that nuclear bombs are unIslamic. And Iran has repeatedly offered the U.S. everything it wants in terms of enriching uranium to make medical isotopes & the U.S. has turned it down at every stage. Latest interview Scott did with Flynt Leverett details how O just lied to Lula & Erdogan, they went into negotiations with Iran seriously, and when the deal was reached on U.S. terms, O just flipped Iran, Brazil & Turkey the bird. Doesn’t sound like a country trying to get nukes to me.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:53 pm

OK, so a last technical question, as we’re winding down. In your book you said USAID didn’t report through State. Then who do they report through?

BevW October 22nd, 2011 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Peter, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and your time in Iraq.

Marcy, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Peter’s website and book

Marcy’s website – Emptywheel.net

Thanks all, Have a great evening.

Sunday – Joseph McCartin / Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America

If you want to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 147

It took Roman empire 200 years after dictatorship before the enemies it made turned on it. U.S. is trying harder, but still could be a long time.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:54 pm

That’s what I expected. Cheapies armed to the teeth. What could possibly go wrong.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:54 pm

USAID reported to USAID. While they are nominally attached to State, they operate independently, have their own budget and their own chain of command. I work in State’s HR now, and we do not recruit, hire or fire anyone in USAID.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Huh. Interesting. Thanks.

October 22nd, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 146

The “mercenary mind” as you put it is only a variant of the imperialist mind. America and Americans are just the latest in a long line of European imperialists your vaunted differences to the Spanish, Portugese, British, German, Belgium, French …. empires are not even skin deep. All of those empires employed mercenaries too.

Mohammed Ibn Laith

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 155

Well, that way State won’t get stuck like they did with Raymond Davis when something goes wrong.

Peter’s description of how the Ugandans, especially, get treated as our guards is pretty saddening.

Peter Van Buren October 22nd, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Thank you to everyone! I hope you enjoy the book. For those who want to comment further, I have comments available for every post I make on my blog at http://www.wemeantwell.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @wemeantwell I am on Facebook as well, but that is mostly just reprints from the blog.

Thanks again, and good night!


DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 147

Very interesting times will, sooner rather than later, be upon us.

Frankly, EW, I cannot think of a more-deserved fate …


“We” have shaped, most lovingly, most ardently, the contours of that fate … from the clay of possibility … we have fashioned … our end …
our finish.


eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Indian army of sepoys was hundreds of thousands strong with a thin veneer of Brits as occifers.

emptywheel October 22nd, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Thanks Peter!

October 22nd, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 162

And where is the empire they served now? :-)

Mohammed Ibn Laith

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Agreed, Mohammed. “We” are now chief among the destroyers of worlds …

And the world will rise up to protect itself from our depredations, from the death which “we” are become …


eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 4:01 pm

U.S. entered WWI & WWII in large part to pick up pieces of Ottoman & European empires as the warz made them fall apart. Got over 700 bases in other countries that U.S. ADMITS to. Who knows how many more actually exist.

On edit: U.S. empire HAD to do something once it conquered N. America & stole half of Mexico. (Tried to invade Canada while still colonies but had to abandon that part of the imperial project.) So the Pacific was made into a U.S. pond.

Carter Doctrine added the Middle East to the U.S. empire in an official military manner, though of course, U.S. interjections there, by being Israeli puppet among other actions (pic of FDR holding Saud’s hand somewhere), long predate Carter.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Thank you, Peter, and EW, for a most interesting and informative Book Salon.

And thank you, Bev, as always.

Thank you, all.


RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 4:02 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 161

Maybe a new part of the OWS agenda should be along the lines of impeaching war-mongering Presidents….And push back against the MIC….Many would be ready.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 4:08 pm
In response to RevBev @ 168

I agree, RevBev.

As well, we must question the fundamental legitimacy of this government, and then consider what participatory form of democracy may best serve our needs and serve to rebuild civil society …


eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 4:08 pm
In response to RevBev @ 168

I know there have been endless arguments about whether OWS should have articulated goals or not. I’m on the NOT side, and what you type is one of the reason. The whole system is so f’d up, so many reasons, it’s too soon to focus on particular ones.

The antiwar sentiment in the U.S. is incredibly widespread. Problem is PTB have made the warz as close to invisible as can be, so while people hate them, they are not the day to day irritants like no jobs.

October 22nd, 2011 at 4:09 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 166

Within my lifetime – the house of Saud will fall also within my lifetime the westerners will be driven from this region. This will be good for us but also for you.

Mohammed Ibn Laith

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I hope you are right on the former, and I agree completely on the latter.

As for within lifetimes, I guess I’m a bit older than you (67) so I expect U.S. will get continually worse during the remainder of mine. I wish you the best on what will happen during the remainder of yours. I’ve had more than my share of blessings and you more than your share of woes. Time to switch it around.

You should have seen the U.S. headlines today about Prince Sultan’s death: Great friend of U.S. blah blah blah. Irony died in U.S. media a LONG time ago.

RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 4:17 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 170

The wars are not invisible to people like Mohammed and thousands like him let alone the many PTSD veterans who are coming home as wrecks and suicides. Day to day irritants do not counter balance the horrible immmoral, murderous mess we have created.

eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 4:25 pm
In response to RevBev @ 173

Agree completely.

My “invisible” statement was directed toward how the warz are made to disappear from media U.S.ians typically visit. And thus to the issue of how difficult it is to gin up widespread antipathy toward warz into something much more powerful.

I was glad Mohammed participated in book salon. Badly needed an Iraqi POV.

Listened to a panel on Pakistan on book-TV earlier today, live from Austin book fair. One of the audience Qs was: Where are the Pakistanis who should be on the panel (was 3 Americans). Heh. Best Q of all.

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 4:28 pm
In response to RevBev @ 173

Even our language, RevBev, denies that there are any “wars” just “actions” and the dead never count and they are not counted … and the living? They do not matter to the calculations of the elite …

The least of our crimes is lying to ourselves, and to each other, the semantic evasion of the total banality of our evil, is wrapped around us like oblivion, itself …


eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 4:32 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 175

Did my little launch-a-discussion thingie about deaths in Libya over at antiwar.com. Interestingly, they get very little discussion in Horton’s interviews, even though they are usually very high quality. But this one was one of the longer ones.

Oh dear, I just noticed that replies now must be clicked on to be seen so if you go there, please click on the “replies” button for the first comment. You’ll be amused.

RevBev October 22nd, 2011 at 4:33 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 175

Yep…and the peacemakers must not let that happen. I started to write earlier..just an aside…I am certainly old enough to remember Clean for Gene. There has to be a starting point….

DWBartoo October 22nd, 2011 at 4:33 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 176

Will do, and thanks, eCAHN, as always, for your pithy questions and stellar commentary.


eCAHNomics October 22nd, 2011 at 4:37 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 178

Thought Van Buren was surprised at how much push back he got for his snarky title. And proud of pushers-back.

Teddy Partridge October 22nd, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Thanks to all; great Book Salon.

Phoenix Woman October 22nd, 2011 at 6:12 pm

RE: Empires — As was the Mamluk Sultantate, the Mongol empire, the Ottoman empire, the Chinese empire, the Tibetan empire (which at its height nearly was as strong as China’s empire at its strongest) and so forth. The growth of empires has been a part of human history even before there was the written word. Only within the last millenium have democratic trends grown to be more than just the stray musings of a few ancient Greek philosophers.

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