We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Kondratiev (once a JAG Corps Lieutenant Commander) got a rare opportunity this week to attend a “Current Strategy Forum” which is periodically put on by the U. S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. It was a fabulous event, featuring Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, subtitled One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time. Other keynote speakers were Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University; Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, Raymond Mabus, Secretary of the Navy; Anne-Marie Slaughter, Esq., Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State; and General James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Panel discussion members included Stephen Walt, Harvard University; G. John Ikenberry, Princeton University; Mitchell Reiss, The College of William and Mary; Donald Kagan, Yale University; Eliot Cohen, Johns Hopkins University; Daniel Byman, Georgetown University; Michael Doran, New York University; Thomas Fingar, Stanford University; Shibley Telhami, University of Maryland; Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution; Thomas G. Mahnken, Johns Hopkins University; and Patrick M. Cronin, National Defense University. The conference was a spectacular demonstration of the talent the U.S. Government can bring to bear at this time, regardless of the party in power.
Focusing on the Greg Mortenson talk, NBC newscaster Tom Brokaw calls Mortenson "one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, who is really changing the world." In a 1993 climb of Pakistan's treacherous K2, the world's second highest mountain, Greg stopped 500 yards from the summit and had a sense of failure. On returning to a village below, he was struck by the desperate, unfulfilled desire of the inhabitants for education, and made a rash promise to somehow return to build a school.
Since 1993, Mortenson has dedicated his life as a humanitarian devoted to promote education, especially for girls, in remote, volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and as of 2007, Mortenson had established 58 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 24,000 children, including 14,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before.
His efforts (and the efforts of others like Educate Girls Globally) have been generally received well by the Afghans and the Pakistanis. Although the MSM doesn’t have time or space to report it, in year 2000, 800,000 Afghani children attended school. In 2008, 8,600,000 were attending school, and of these, 2,300,000 are girls.
It has not been easy. In 1996, he survived an eight day armed kidnapping in the Northwest Frontier Province tribal areas of western Pakistan, and escaped a 2003 firefight with feuding Afghan warlords by hiding for eight hours under putrid animal hides in a truck going to a leather-tanning factory. He has overcome two fatwehs from Islamic mullahs, one of which banished him from the country for teaching girls. He appealed to the top cleric, agreeing to leave if that was the decision, and after several weeks received a letter in a gift box which described his work as blessed by Allah.
Mortenson is a living hero to rural communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he has gained the trust of Islamic leaders, military commanders and tribal chiefs from his tireless effort to champion education, especially for girls.
His cross-cultural expertise has brought him to speak on U.S. Capital Hill, national think tanks, the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, the U.S. State Department, libraries, outdoor groups, universities, schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, business and civic groups, women's organizations and many more.
As General Conway said, he, Admiral Mike Mullen (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs), and others in high places all read Three Cups of Tea (which has been on the NY Times best-seller list for 123 weeks) on their wives’ recommendations, but this essay comes from the discovery that they are all taking it very, very seriously!
It was the view of Professor Michael Doran, another speaker with broad State Department experience, that the State Department is an entity which exists to “negotiate behind closed doors with duly appointed representatives of recognized governments”. As an organization whose mission is “process”, success or failure are not important considerations – they are just a part of the process.
However, for the military on the ground in the Middle East, success is enormously important - in fact, an issue of life or death, and failure is unacceptable. It always takes several years of war for the American military and its political bosses to sort out the warriors from the politicians, and now it is done. To the U.S. government, Greg has advised listening, listening long and listening genuinely.
Admiral Mullen, General Stanley McCrystal, General Conway and one other top guy (I missed his name) have visited Afghanistan 32 times in the last year. On Adm. Mullen’s last trip he gave a slightly offended Karzai an hour or less and then spent twelve hours meeting local imams and elders, drinking tea and listening to them, and they said some things that were not very polite, but he listened. And then he flew to the tribal areas of Pakistan and drank tea listened to another group of leaders for another twelve hours.
Speaker after speaker among the academics agreed that it was only the U.S. military which had the intellectual ability, the motivation, the tools, the cultural sensitivity and the presence to relate to the people of diverse cultures around the world. They are not perfect, but they are the best the United States has to offer.
Incidentally, Greg is from Montana, of Norwegian Lutheran extraction, and will not accept a penny from the U.S. government. He has a new book coming, fans, about his recent experiences, which will be titled Stones into Schools. On his way to K2, he was not sensitive to the misery in the villages, and had he succeeded in reaching the summit, he might never have been.
During the Q&A following Slaughter's presentation a member of the audience sited a talk given at Rutgers. I found and read the posting from 2004. The guy bested Slaughter by 5 years, even without Twitter, too bad no one was listening in the audience. Here is the post. They should put this guy in charge of foggy bottom.