Tipping over Three Cups of Tea

[amazon 0143038257 full] Ahead of Afghanistan’s potentially problematic parliamentary elections Saturday, the New York Times is running a rare criticism of Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. Dana Burde, a professor of education at NYU, writes, “While shiny new schools make for great photo ops, they are very expensive” and make “easy targets” for insurgents. It would be much better, Burde says, if we emphasized “community-based education,” rather than constructing school houses. That means using dual-purpose facilities (mosques, houses) and training teachers that already live in the village. Burde thinks Mortenson’s approach is not working (60 percent of Afghan children are still not in school) and we “need to support safer, cheaper and more effective” measures.

The Times also has a front-page article by three of their heavy hitters about the increasing influence General David Petraeus has with President Obama. Although the president was “once wary” of relying on the Iraq surge architect, the story claims, Gen. Petraeus’s offer of “very bankable results” in Afghanistan has changed Obama’s mind. The Times reporters also say Petraeus “has stepped into Gen. Colin L. Powell’s shoes as the face of the military.” The piece finishes up with some analysis by David Rothkopf, former Clinton administration official, and Council on Foreign Relations President Emeritus Leslie Gelb, warning Obama that if he and Petraeus “have a falling out,” the public-opinion “leverage lies with Petraeus.” And TNI blogger Paul Pillar thinks that the level and nature of Petraeus’s influence is harming civil-military relations.

Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius thinks Iran wants to join efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, which would present the administration “with an interesting diplomatic opportunity.” Ignatius writes that engaging Tehran on Afghanistan would be the best way of undermining “the Taliban’s morale.”