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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

Hearts, Minds and Dead Sunnis in Iraq

(0) Comments | Posted September 16, 2014 | 6:12 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 | 7:55 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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Obama Should Go to Tehran

(1) Comments | Posted September 12, 2014 | 1:35 PM

President Obama left out the most important word of all in his speech outlining a strategy for Iraq: Iran. For if Iran is the 500 pound gorilla in the room with Iraq, it is the 800 pound monster in the Middle East. No real stability can be achieved without Iran....

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Book Review: Agent Storm, My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA

(0) Comments | Posted September 11, 2014 | 6:25 PM

Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA is a worthy read; if it was fiction it might be called "a good yarn." The book is instead straight-up non-fiction, making it all the more interesting as a...

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Iraq: How Many Turning Points and Milestones Until We Win?

(0) Comments | Posted September 9, 2014 | 9:01 AM

Secretary of State John Kerry said on September 8 that the formation of a new Iraqi government was "a major milestone" for the country.

Kerry told reporters at the State Department that the government formed on Monday in Baghdad had "the potential to unite all of Iraq's diverse communities...

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Arguments Against Raising Minimum Wage Don't Hold upp

(66) Comments | Posted August 27, 2014 | 1:17 PM

The arguments against raising the minimum wage don't hold up to facts.

Aren't most people who work for minimum wage teens?

No-- 88 percent are adults, with more than a third over age 40. These workers earn half of their families' incomes. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage...

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Monsters at the End of a War

(0) Comments | Posted August 16, 2014 | 9:23 AM

August 15 was the end of World War II in Asia, 69 years ago, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I could not find a single reference to the bombings, or to the end of the war itself, anywhere in the American media. Even the Yazidis in...

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Why Airstrikes in Iraq Are a Mistake

(1) Comments | Posted August 8, 2014 | 6:06 PM

As America goes back to war in Iraq with airstrikes, here's what to know and do instead:

-- This is a slippery slope if those words have any meaning left. Airstrikes are in part to protect American advisors sent earlier to Erbil to support Kurds there because Iraqi central government...

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Poverty Is Profitable: 1 out of 3 US Consumers in Debt Collection

(1) Comments | Posted July 29, 2014 | 3:03 PM

A new report by the Urban Institute and Encore Capital Group's Consumer Credit Research Institute shows 77 million Americans -- 35 percent of those with files at a major credit bureau -- have a debt in collection.

Nevada has the worst record, with 47 percent of consumers with a...

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Dead Is Dead: Drone-Killing the Fifth Amendment

(2) Comments | Posted July 24, 2014 | 9:52 AM

Cross-posted with

You can't get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: "No person shall be... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." In 2011, the White House ordered...

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John Kerry Accidentally Sanctions Self

(0) Comments | Posted July 23, 2014 | 12:14 AM

"I'm still not sure exactly what happened," said gaffe-prone, beleaguered Secretary of State John Kerry, "but I'm told I agreed to sanctions on myself."

In an exclusive, Kerry explained his mistake.

"So there we were in the Middle East. I travel almost constantly, and at my age, even...

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Parallel Construction: Unconstitutional NSA Searches Deny Due Process

(0) Comments | Posted July 21, 2014 | 2:05 PM

The NSA sits at the nexus of violations of both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments with a legal dodge called Parallel Construction.

Parallel Construction is a technique used by law enforcement to hide the fact that evidence in a criminal case originated with the NSA. In its simplest form,...

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Iraq: What They Died For

(0) Comments | Posted July 3, 2014 | 6:40 PM

Over this July 4th weekend, and as I see the images of Iraq's unfolding civil war, sometimes I think I even recognize a place I had been, having spent a year in the midst of America's Occupation there, 2009-2010.

I was a State Department civilian, embedded with an Army...

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Shredding the Fourth Amendment in Post-Constitutional America

(18) Comments | Posted June 26, 2014 | 9:32 AM

Four Ways It No Longer Applies 

Cross-posted with

Here’s a bit of history from another America: The Bill of Rights was designed to protect the people from their government. If the First Amendment’s right to speak out publicly was the people's wall of security, then the...

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10 Reasons Airstrikes in Iraq Are a Terrible Idea

(9) Comments | Posted June 22, 2014 | 9:30 PM

The smell of blood is once again in the air in Washington -- this week for airstrikes and other forms of violent intervention in Iraq. (Reference: Many of the same people -- McCain and Graham in particular -- were only recently calling for airstrikes or other military action in the...

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Stung: Government Disappears Stingray Spying Records

(0) Comments | Posted June 19, 2014 | 9:02 AM

We've heard variations on the phrase "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" from the government for quite some time. It appears this may be true, at least if you are the government.

In the case of Stingray, a cell phone spying device used against Americans,...

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Why America Can Never Win in Iraq

(0) Comments | Posted June 16, 2014 | 4:29 PM

I think of it now, all the time.

Sometimes I think I even recognize a place on TV I had been, having spent a year in the midst of America's occupation in Iraq, 2009 to 2010. I was a State Department civilian, embedded in turn with two Army brigades...

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Government Demands Whistleblower Organization's Encrypted Files

(0) Comments | Posted June 16, 2014 | 12:15 PM

For those people who still do not believe we have crossed a terrible line into a Post-Constitutional state, here's another chance to repent before we all go to hell.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) in-house watchdog has demanded that the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) turn over all...

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What We've Lost Since 9/11

(1) Comments | Posted June 15, 2014 | 9:32 PM

Taking Down the First Amendment in Post-Constitutional America

Cross-posted with

America has entered its third great era: the post-constitutional one. In the first, in the colonial years, a unitary executive, the King of England, ruled without checks and balances, allowing no freedom of speech,...

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Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Just Told Us How to Close Gitmo (But Obama Won't Do It)

(0) Comments | Posted June 4, 2014 | 11:14 AM

Every media person knows to ensure maximum coverage for a story you put it out at the beginning of the week, a Monday. That gives pundits five days on the job to comment and amplify it. Conversely, if you are compelled to release information that you'd like to not get...

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