To say that the memoir "Three Cups of Tea" is the basis of the bitter pill that is American counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan is a falsehood and gross exaggeration -- like much of the book itself, as it turns out. But it is a fact that the 2006 mega-seller, "required" reading for the U.S. military in Afghanistan (not to mention a large chunk of the nation's schoolchildren and college students), has washed that strategy down, swirled it around and given its key tenets a weird charisma in the person of author Greg Mortenson.
What -- since "60 Minutes" unmasked Mortenson and his book as a colossal fraud -- now?
I don't mean what about the Montana Attorney General's office inquiry into Mortenson's Central Asian Institute (CAI), the tax-exempt charity he founded 15 years ago to build schools in AfPak, and which, according to Gordon Wiltsie, a former CAI board member who served as board treasurer, "Greg regards ... as his personal ATM."
Or the thumping, 75-page smackdown "Three Cups of Deceit" (wherein Wiltsie's statement appears) that author-turned-whistleblower Jon Krakauer posted online to elaborate on the fabrications and Mortenson's shocking financial practices.
Or the fact that Viking, publisher of the 5 million copies of "Three Cups of Tea" in print, announced that charges against its golden goose are being "reviewed."
Or even all the schoolchildren across the country who in 2009 donated $1.7 million to Mortenson's program Pennies for Peace (P4P). That same year, Krakauer writes, CAI's outlay for the things P4P is supposed to pay for -- teachers salaries, school supplies, etc. -- came to $612,000. "By comparison," he writes, "CAI spent more than $1 million to promote (Mortenson's books) and another $1.4 million to fly Mortenson around in chartered jets. Donors unknowingly picked up the tab."
In a much larger sense, so did we all. That's because Mortenson is not just another flim-flam artist who turned a good yarn into fool's gold (and no book royalties for CAI, by the way, Krakauer reports). He's also a Gandhi-like guru to the Pentagon who preaches to top brass that "extremism" can be defeated by "education." Mortenson's Big Idea is teaching hearts and minds, and it slides neatly into any Pentagon PowerPoint on "population-centric COIN."