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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 second book 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

Poof! It's Forgotten

(8) Comments | Posted May 16, 2016 | 10:43 AM

Five Ways the Newest Story in Iraq and Syria is... That There Is No New Story Cross-posted with

One of the most popular apps these days is Snapchat. It allows the sender to set a timer for any photo dispatched via...

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Could This Be Donald Trump's Vice Presidential Pick?

(3) Comments | Posted May 2, 2016 | 12:58 PM

Meet Joni Ernst. Could she be Donald Trump's choice for Vice President?

The main attributes of a vice president are to balance the ticket, help raise money and then step back for four/eight years until it is her turn to run. You want someone good, but not too good,...

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My Earthquake, My Soul, in Japan

(0) Comments | Posted May 2, 2016 | 10:50 AM

My heart goes out to everyone in Japan and in Ecuador affected by the recent series of terrible earthquakes. I was once where you are. My story isn't meant to trivialize or generalize anyone else's; it's just mine.

It is the sound I remember as much as the shaking --...

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Bruce Springsteen and 'Thunder Road' Through the Years

(0) Comments | Posted April 25, 2016 | 7:46 AM

One of the things that defines great art is not only that it hangs around for a long time, that people still want to see a play hundreds of years after it was first performed or read a book that was written thousands of years ago, but that that art...

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Film Review: National Bird Looks Deeply in the Drone War's Abyss

(0) Comments | Posted April 19, 2016 | 4:55 PM

It is terrifying even in the quiet moments; it is most terrifying in the quietest moments.

National Bird, a new documentary by filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck, co-produced with Errol Morris and Wim Wenders, is a deep, multilayered, look into America's drone wars, a tactic which became a strategy which became...

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Why Don't the Candidates Talk About Afghanistan?

(1) Comments | Posted April 11, 2016 | 3:24 PM

Heading into its sixteenth year, with no endpoint in sight, America's longest war is its least talked about.

Afghanistan has not come up in any Republican or Democratic debate, except perhaps as one of a list of countries where Islamic State must be destroyed (left out is the reality...

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Understanding the Trump and Sanders Economies

(1) Comments | Posted March 30, 2016 | 11:31 AM

Economist Paul Krugman, and the economist he discusses in an important interview, Thomas Piketty, paid attention in math class, and the other classes, too. That's why they understand this stuff and I am still trying to suss out why no matter how many hours I stay on the job...

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Back to the Future

(0) Comments | Posted March 17, 2016 | 11:42 AM

Five Questions That Weren't Asked During the 2012 Presidential Debates and Are Unlikely to Be Asked in 2016
Cross-posted with

The nuances of foreign policy do not feature heavily in the ongoing presidential campaign. Every candidate intends to “destroy” the Islamic State; each...

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You Can't Earn a Living on the Minimum Wage

(146) Comments | Posted February 16, 2016 | 9:11 AM

Nickel and Dimed in 2016

Cross-posted with

When presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks about income inequality, and when other candidates speak about the minimum wage and food stamps, what are they really talking about?

Whether they know it or not, it’s something like this.

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Book Review: Youngblood

(0) Comments | Posted January 25, 2016 | 9:56 AM

Youngblood, a new novel by Matt Gallagher set in the late stages of the Iraq War, is a powerful fiction debut from an author already known for his nonfiction portrayal of that conflict in Kaboom: Embracing...

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You Won't Like It, But Here's the Answer to ISIS

(259) Comments | Posted January 18, 2016 | 8:04 AM

Giving Advice to a Presidential Candidate Who Wants to "Do Something"

Cross-posted with

How can we stop the Islamic State?

Imagine yourself shaken awake, rushed off to a strategy meeting with your presidential candidate of choice, and told: "Come up with...

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Ted Cruz Is a Natural-Born Citizen

(10) Comments | Posted January 8, 2016 | 11:03 AM

Ted Cruz is a natural-born citizen and he can be president. There is no ambiguity, no legal question. It is very clear.

Clear of course to nearly everyone but Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, and a somnolent American media who would rather have this faux-controversy than simply say to...

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Washington to Whomever: Please Fight the Islamic State for Us

(2) Comments | Posted December 10, 2015 | 10:12 AM

Why the Gulf States, the Kurds, the Turks, the Sunnis, and the Shia Won’t Fight America’s War

Cross-posted with

In the many strategies proposed to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by presidential candidates, policymakers, and media pundits alike across the American political spectrum, one common...

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Review: Randy Brown's 'Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire'

(0) Comments | Posted November 30, 2015 | 10:18 AM

One of the unique things surrounding America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the extraordinary number of books written by servicemen and women.

Unlike in previous wars, the best telling of the soldiers' stories has come from the soldiers themselves, and not from traditional journalists. Many of these books...

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Nach den Anschlägen: Ihr wollt das nicht lesen

(5) Comments | Posted November 19, 2015 | 10:12 AM


Ihr wollt das nicht lesen und es macht mir keine Freude, es zu schreiben. Niemand will es jetzt hören. Aber ich glaube, es muss gesagt werden.

Ich schließe mich der Welt an, die um die Toten in Paris trauert. Ich trauere noch...

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What If They Gave a War and Everyone Came?

(8) Comments | Posted October 22, 2015 | 10:18 AM

What Could Possibly Go Wrong (October 2015 Edition)

Cross-posted with

What if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq in 2003? How would things be different in the Middle East today? Was Iraq, in the words of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the "worst foreign policy...

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Review: Old Silk Road

(0) Comments | Posted October 15, 2015 | 2:59 PM

Brandon Caro's debut novel, Old Silk Road, is an important, tough read, both for the dirt-under-its-nails portrayal of soldiers, and for a complex plot that rewards a reader with insights into America's longest war, in Afghanistan.

But be careful....

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Why the War on Terror is Failing

(0) Comments | Posted August 31, 2015 | 5:00 PM

A well-done article in the New York Times reminds us that four years after the United States assassinated American citizen and Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (and his teenage son) in a drone strike, his influence on jihadists is greater than ever.

At the same time, the UK's Guardian...

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Carter and Clinton: A Tale of Two Presidents

(0) Comments | Posted August 14, 2015 | 5:11 PM

With the sad news that Jimmy Carter has cancer, it is time to take a look at what Carter, and another former president, chose to do with their lives after leaving the White House.

Seen the latest front-page Carter Center scandal? Hear about the six figure fees...

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A Practical Solution to College Costs

(3) Comments | Posted August 13, 2015 | 11:47 AM

A better educated workforce is needed to compete more effectively. A high school education is no longer sufficient in a post-industrial society. But can enough people afford that?

Yes, but they need to work for it, in a different way than you think: balance the minimum wage against tuition...

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