Foreign Policy Blogs

"Three Cups of Tea" Story Bogus, Money Pilfered

There’s no dearth of coverage of well-known philanthropist, and professed education advocate Greg Mortenson’s alleged malfeasance with funding for his renowned Central Asia Institute.  The author of the popular volume, “Three Cups of Tea” and advisor to the U.S. military brass there has been accused of pilfering millions of dollars that he raised on the back of a promise to build schools for girls in Afghanistan, schools that the Taliban have always promised to destroy.

In a much discussed CBS 60 Minutes special investigative piece, Mortenson was accused of having fabricated much of the inspirational story that fed the appeal of his endeavor to pursue and extend the cause of girl’s early education in Afghanistan.  It was after all an appealing story, and indeed Mortenson has done good work in putting up numerous schools: his claim to have done right by young girls in the tribal regions is surely just.  Indeed, Mortenson has done good work in advising the military to look to more humanitarian social policies and avenues to win the hearts and minds of tribal Afghans.  I wrote about him about ten months ago and supported much of what he had to say.  Nevertheless, his fall from grace is grave, and in large measure, tragic.

Late last week, the PBS Newshour broadcast an investigative piece that contextualized for a lay audience the issue at large: how could the philanthropic community fall for Mr. Mortenson’s tale, an overly saccharine concoction even seen, touched and tasted from afar? How could the military find it fit to openly work with him when the dangers for such work were so cuttingly obvious? (An excellent New York Times piece by Elizabeth Bumiller from July 2010 lays out the ways Mr. Mortenson came to advise the U.S. military in Afghanistan; it does not flesh out the reasons why both Mortenson and military leaders chose to work together.)

This bears repeating: why did the U.S. military involve itself with an organization that promised to build schools for girls, doubling thereby the Taliban’s cause celebre to knock down any completed school building-in fact, to do worse? I doubt if there’ll be any explanations forthcoming from the military on this story, though its not hard to imagine that the U.S. military determined that there were some desirable, positive outcomes to align itself to what it perceived to a grass-roots organization popular with the tribal people of the border regions of Afghanistan.

However it cuts, please find the video for that Newshour segment below.  Please find the transcript to that segment and links to other associated stories here.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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