A new American horror story

     I’m not referring to the new series on FX, but to an incredible firsthand account of American construction efforts in Iraq that you can hear on today’s Fresh Air.

    Picture your tax dollars being used on ridiculous projects like the construction of a chicken-processing plant that never processes chickens, because nobody ever researched whether there was market for the birds or a reasonable source of live poultry.

    Picture millions going into that plant, which remains idle  – unless journalists visit, in which case a couple dozen chickens are bought in nearby markets and the machines are fired up for a demonstration.

    That’s just one of the comically-sad stories told by Peter Van Buren, a veteran foreign service officer who joined a surge of civilian personnel headed to Iraq in 2009. This was at a time when, at least according to one narrative, American policy-makers had learned their lessons and were pursuing a more enlightened approach in the country.

    The military was engaging the civilian population, and civilians and contractors were there to help rebuild the country and win hearts and minds.

    Van Buren’s stories of handing out American cash in pointless exercises designed by clueless bureaucrats are remarkable to hear. His book is called We Meant Well – How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds off the Irqai People.

    We contacted the State Department, and a spokesman declined to comment on the account, except to say that the views in Van Buren’s book are his and “do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of State.”

    Gotcha.

    The spokesman also declined to comment on Van Buren’s statement in our interview that he’s now under investigation by security officials at the State Department, because a site linked on his website links a Wikileaks document.

    You can hear the show at 3 and 7 pm. On WHYY (91FM). If you’re listening outside the Philly area, find a station here. And of course, you can always learn more, download, a podcast or listen at the Fresh Air website.

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