Books I'd like to read: We Meant Well-How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

"Everyone in Iraq was there on a series of one-year tours, myself included," he says. "Everyone was told that they needed to create accomplishments, that we needed to document our success, that we had to produce a steady stream of photos of accomplishments, and pictures of smiling Iraqis and metrics and charts. It was impossible, under these circumstances, to do anything long term ... We rarely thought past next week's situation update. The embassy would rarely engage with us on a project that wasn't flashy enough to involve photographs or bringing a journalist out to shoot a video that looked good. The willingness to do long-term work ... never existed in our world."
These words by a US Foreign Service employee for 23 years sound so disturbingly similar to many other stories from Afghanistan and Iraq that I was first tempted to shrug my shoulders and just get on with my life. But my desire to read, review and most likely recommend another interesting first-hand aidworker account of 'development in difficult environments' is probably stronger. In the meantime, the short article The Greedy Battle For Iraq's 'Hearts And Minds' which links to an interesting radio programme in which Van Buren's new book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People also discussed sounds like an interesting read to complement the British story from Basra Caroline Jaine told in her book which I reviewed recently.

HT: Carol Gallo.


  1. In fact, Carol Gallo has now a longer post on this online which I encourage you to read as well:
    “Everything We Did, We Did For Us”: Diplomacy and Humanitarian Aid

  2. That's definitely on my list of must-reads. With about 20 other books, but still. I'm hoping to get to it soon.


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