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Tales Of Iraq's Reconstruction, La Salle Students Get An Insider's View

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – La Salle University students, this week, heard a scathing account of America's counter-insurgency effort in Iraq, from a former State Department officer who wrote about his year in the program.

The speaker's darkly funny account could have been disheartening but the students found it a valuable lesson.

Peter Van Buren (photo) can sound like a cynic, with his tales of billions spent in Iraq on projects such as sheep for widows and art shows that provided little more than photo ops for U.S. officials, but the reason he gave at LaSalle for writing and speaking about his experience is decidedly idealistic.

As Van Buren says, "You all have the chance to not do this again."

He has suffered for his candor. It cost him his job after the State Department conducted a campaign to discredit him. But Van Buren got his message across to the students.

"Hopefully, looking at what happened in the past, we can do things right and figure out how to connect with the people better." He adds, "We won't make the same mistakes. We see what we do wrong and we make sure not to do it again. We need to make sure that history does not repeat itself."

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