'We Meant Well' author Peter Van Buren to visit Penn State

Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren, author of a critical account of his experience assisting in Iraq reconstruction, will speak at Penn State's School of International Affairs at 11:15 a.m. on April 26, in room 116 of the Lewis Katz Building on the University Park campus. The public is welcome. Van Buren will present “Post-Conflict Nation Building: Why It Isn’t Easy” and be available to sign copies of the book after the presentation.

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People chronicles the year Van Buren spent in Iraq from 2009 to 2010, assigned to reconstruction efforts. In the book he details instances of inefficient planning and waste, largely due to lack of infrastructure and poor understanding of local culture.

“We saw the problems. We couldn't help but see the problems. And instead of spending the money to bring clean water to children, we spent the money on Arabic language translations of American novels. When we really decided to spend some money, we spent it on a giant Potemkin chicken factory that serves no one. So the harm was what we didn't do more than what we did do,” Van Buren told NPR's Scott Simon in an interview last year. 

Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for more than 23 years. Prior to publishing his book, he received several awards, including a Meritorious Honor Award for helping Americans after the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe and a Superior Honor Award for assisting an American rape victim in Japan. His previous assignments were in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong.

This event will be webcast live and simulcast to room 106, Lewis Katz Hall in Carlisle, Pa.

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Last Updated April 23, 2012