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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

Book Review: Youngblood

(0) Comments | Posted January 25, 2016 | 10:56 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

(116) Comments | Posted January 18, 2016 | 9:04 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

(3) Comments | Posted January 8, 2016 | 12:03 PM

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 | 11:12 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 | 11:18 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 | 11:12 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 | 11:18 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 | 3:59 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 | 6:00 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 | 6:11 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 | 12:47 PM

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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My Dreams Seek Revenge: Visiting Hiroshima

(1) Comments | Posted August 11, 2015 | 12:35 AM

I've visited Hiroshima many times.

There is a Japanese jail not far from the Hiroshima Peace Park, and in my guise as a diplomat working in Japan, one of my jobs was to visit Americans in jail, typically young men and women who'd smoked a little weed in drug-conscious Japan....

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The Balance of Power in the Middle East Just Changed

(58) Comments | Posted July 28, 2015 | 12:35 PM

U.S.-Iranian Relations Emerge from a 30-Year Cold War
Cross-posted with

Don't sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran. What matters is that the calculus of power in the Middle East just changed in significant ways.

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Five Things That Won't Work in Iraq

(13) Comments | Posted June 25, 2015 | 11:48 AM

When at First You Don’t Succeed, Fail, Fail Again 

Cross-posted with

In one form or another, the U.S. has been at war with Iraq since 1990, including a sort-of invasion in 1991 and a full-scale one in 2003. During that quarter-century, Washington imposed several...

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Graduation Season: What Your Parents Were Thinking Last Week

(0) Comments | Posted May 26, 2015 | 11:25 AM

This time of year everybody talks about the ritual of college graduation. But no one seems to focus on the other college right of passage that's unfolding now, the move out of the dorm and back home for the summer.

Perhaps the dorm thing gets less attention because it happens...

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Review: Morris Berman's New Book on Japan, "Neurotic Beauty"

(0) Comments | Posted April 26, 2015 | 10:28 PM

Neurotic Beauty: An Outsider Looks At Japan is a fine addition to a long list of books that attempt to explain Japan, what one observer has called the "most foreign of foreign countries." Berman succeeds in his explanation mostly by...

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The Iranian Ascendancy

(15) Comments | Posted April 13, 2015 | 9:48 AM

Twelve Years Later, We Know the Winner in Iraq: Iran

Cross-posted with

The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its...

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Review: American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

(0) Comments | Posted February 24, 2015 | 2:02 PM

Chris Appy's American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity is a book-length essay on the Vietnam War and how it changed the way Americans think of ourselves and our foreign policy. This is required reading for anyone interested in foreign policy and America's place in the world,...

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War Porn

(15) Comments | Posted February 19, 2015 | 11:25 AM

Hollywood and War from World War II to American Sniper

Cross-posted with

In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you...

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Review: American Ambassadors, The Past, Present, and Future of America's Diplomats

(0) Comments | Posted February 18, 2015 | 3:31 PM

The micro-review of Dennis Jett's American Ambassadors: The Past, Present, and Future of America's Diplomats is this: Since 1960, 72 percent of America's ambassadors to Western Europe and the Caribbean have been political appointees, their primary if often only qualification...

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