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Peter Van Buren
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, a sarcastic, funny, sad, angry book about his work for the Department of State as the leader of two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in rural Iraq, 2009-2010. His blog at continues the story, with daily humor and commentary about Iraq, the Middle East and national security.

Peter's next book, coming April 2014, is called Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. The book looks deeply into America's soul, focusing on the decline of the middle class, the rise of the working poor, the death of industrialization and the loss of community. One person described it as "a good story, with a conscience."

Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq leading two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Following his book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), published in 2011, the Department of State began termination proceedings against him, reassigning him to a make-work position and stripping him of his security clearance and diplomatic credentials. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, Van Buren will instead retire from the State Department with his full benefits of service in September.

Peter’s commentary has been featured on TomDispatch, The New York Times, Salon, NPR, al Jazzeera, Huffington Post, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, Mother Jones, Michael, Le Monde, The Guardian (UK), Daily Kos, Middle East Online, Guernica and others.

Entries by Peter Van Buren

Questions From Ferguson

(4) Comments | Posted November 25, 2014 | 1:20 PM

I woke up this morning with the worst kind of hangover: anger, confusion, wondering what happened. Without a drop of alcohol to explain how I felt. So here are some of the questions I have about Michael Brown, Darren Wilson and Ferguson.

Why was the announcement made as it was?

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Voiceprints: Time to Be Afraid Again

(0) Comments | Posted November 17, 2014 | 8:02 AM

The end of privacy in the United States was brought about as much by technology as intention. Those who claim there is little new here -- the government read the mail of and wiretapped the calls and conversations of Americans under COINTELPRO from 1956 to at least 1971, for...

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Casinos Fail Old Industrial Towns

(1) Comments | Posted November 14, 2014 | 12:31 PM

It wasn't just a business, it was a way of life-- what residents of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania referred to simply as "The Steel"-- a mill once America's second largest steel producer with 31,500 souls working in a single facility.

The Mill

The mill made the steel for the Empire State...

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What Could Possibly Go Right?

(6) Comments | Posted November 10, 2014 | 8:46 AM

Four Months into Iraq War 3.0, the Cracks Are Showing -- on the Battlefield and at the Pentagon

Cross-posted with

Karl von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military thinker, is best known for his aphorism “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.”...

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Iraq's Sunnis Won't Fight ISIS for U.S.

(57) Comments | Posted November 3, 2014 | 3:16 PM

Iraq's Sunnis won't fight ISIS for the U.S. says NIQASH, a non-profit media organization operating out of Berlin. Without Sunni support, America's war in Iraq cannot succeed. Here's why.

Negotiations Fail

According to NIQASH, a source at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad said there have...

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Movie Review: "Braddock America"

(0) Comments | Posted November 3, 2014 | 8:03 AM

If I'd made a documentary film about the scars left on America through industrialization, instead of writing Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent about it, what I would have likely ended up with is "Braddock,...

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Bad News: Appointment of Shia Militiaman to Iraqi Cabinet

(0) Comments | Posted October 30, 2014 | 11:25 AM

A key part of America's strategy in Iraq is the creation of an "inclusive" government in Baghdad, one that will pull together the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. This has been a persistent American myth since the 2003 invasion, one that is impossible realize and thus a single point of failure...

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Movie Review: 'CitizenFour', Snowden for Lovers and Haters

(1) Comments | Posted October 28, 2014 | 4:14 PM

Two kinds of people are interested in Laura Pointras' new documentary, CitizenFour, about Edward Snowden's early contacts with journalists Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and herself. Let's have a review of the film for each group, the Haters and Everyone Else.

But First, a Quick Recap

Snowden worked deep inside...

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Is Forced Quarantine for Ebola Legal?

(2) Comments | Posted October 28, 2014 | 3:52 PM

New York and New Jersey this week instituted mandatory confinement for certain Ebola workers. Connecticut already has such a policy in place, and Illinois appears on the verge of implementing its own version.

Is it legal for a state (or the federal) government to detain and quarantine you against...

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Local Law Enforcement Chipping Away at the Fourth Amendment

(23) Comments | Posted October 24, 2014 | 4:34 PM

The Bill of Rights was designed to protect the People from their government. That's quite literally becoming history today as new challenges, now from local law enforcement, chip away at the Fourth Amendment's protections of privacy. New laws and devices spread spying on Americans to the local level.

A Brief...

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7 Worst-Case-Szenarios im Krieg gegen ISIS

(8) Comments | Posted October 18, 2014 | 1:08 PM

Was kann schon schiefgehen?

Dieser Blog erschien auch auf

Kennen Sie diese Art von Witz? Sie beschreiben etwas, das ganz offensichtlich in einem Desaster enden wird - ein Freund durchquert das Death Valley und hat so gut wie kein Benzin mehr im Tank -...

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Seven Worst-Case Scenarios in the Battle With the Islamic State

(7) Comments | Posted October 16, 2014 | 10:36 AM

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Cross-posted with

You know the joke? You describe something obviously heading for disaster -- a friend crossing Death Valley with next to no gas in his car -- and then add, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Such is the...

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Can the US Seize Would-Be Jihadis' Passports?

(0) Comments | Posted October 14, 2014 | 1:27 PM

Can the U.S. government seize the passports of American citizens who it believes may travel abroad to join ISIS or other terror groups? Yep. The process is almost no-cost to the government, it's extra-judicial, it can be made secret, and it requires a lengthy court process to even try to...

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First World, Third World: A Travel Essay

(0) Comments | Posted October 6, 2014 | 12:33 PM

You travel a bit, and you wonder what happened.

Streets, laid out in the 19th century, are jammed with traffic that was never anticipated. Not just more cars; Americans traveled on foot or by horse the last time these were thought through. After moving two miles in 45...

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Posse Comitatus and the Fourth Amendment

(0) Comments | Posted September 26, 2014 | 7:26 PM

Back in pre-Constitution America, the British army would burst into the homes and businesses of American colonists.

The searches would often be destructive, and intended so. Some of the time the point was to seize incriminating "revolutionary" materials, many times the point was simply to harass and threaten people...

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Watch Lists and the First and Fourth Amendments

(1) Comments | Posted September 25, 2014 | 7:02 PM

If you don't know Ray McGovern yet, you probably should.

You see, Ray just beat down, in court, Hillary Clinton, the State Department, and a small part of Post-Constitutional America.

Who Is This Guy?

McGovern is a changed man. He started out in the Army, then he worked for...

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E.O. 12333: End-Running the Fourth Amendment

(120) Comments | Posted September 23, 2014 | 3:33 PM

Historians of the Constitutional Era of the United States (1789-2001, RIP) will recall the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, the one that used to protect Americans against unreasonable and unwarranted searches.

The Supreme Court had generally held that searches required a warrant. That warrant could be issued only...

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Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition

(6) Comments | Posted September 23, 2014 | 10:29 AM

Fighting in Iraq Until Hell Freezes Over

Cross-posted with

I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I...

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Hearts, Minds and Dead Sunnis in Iraq

(0) Comments | Posted September 16, 2014 | 7:12 PM

A critical part of America's plan to resolve all issues left unresolved after nine years of war and occupation is to divide the indigenous Sunnis from the "foreign" Sunnis, i.e., ISIS, and "unite" Iraq.

As counter-insurgency theory teaches, bad guys can only thrive when they have local support, what...

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Obama Has No ISIS Strategy

(0) Comments | Posted September 16, 2014 | 8:55 AM

Obama said a week ago he did not have a strategy to combat ISIS, and that now he does. He was right the first time.

Oh, History

The United States ignored ISIS for months. Then out of nowhere a complex situation morphed into a struggle to save the Yazidis from...

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