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Or put it another way:  

Mr. Mortenson says that $243 million is needed to fund all higher education in Afghanistan this year. He suggests that America hold a press conference here in Kabul and put just 243 of our 100,000 soldiers (each costing $1 million per year) on planes home. Then the U.S. could take the savings and hand over a check to pay for Afghanistan’s universities.

Mr. Mortensen is Greg Mortensen, best known here for his book Three Cups of Tea, which is about his efforts to build schools in Afghanistan.  The figures are from Dr. Greg and Afghanistan, today's New York Times column by Pulitzer-Prize winner Nicholas Kristof.  

At at time when the Afghan government and the Taliban may be about to come to some kind of agreement, and even if they don't, there is wisdom to be learned from what Mortensen and others have been able to achieve in Taliban-controlled areas of a country in which we are still seen as occupiers.  

Which is why you should read the column.  

Perhaps you have not yet read the column.  You should.  Let me offer some more insights from it.

Mortensen and some of the other aid groups working in Afghanistan have learned the importance of working through locals so that their efforts not be seen as aspects of an occupation.  Those who have read either of his books (the 2nd is called Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan) know that Mortensen takes this seriously, and himself dresses like the Afghanis when he is wout in the countryside. He and his organization take the time to build relationships with the local elders, respecting the traditions and organization of the society.

Kristof begins by noting that one who visits the country outside the security bubble provided by the Americans will quickly realize that Obama's decision to triple the size of the American military force has largely resulted in more dead, both American and Afghan.  Kristof thinks we should pay more attention to the experience of Mortensen and those like him.

The conventional wisdom is that education and development are impossible in insecure parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban control. That view is wrong.

By working through the local communities, Mortensen has their support for his schools, literacy centers, and vocational training centers.  Without military protection (which the villagers do not want) they survive

because local people feel "ownership" rather than "occupation."

  Kristof tells of one school the Taliban wanted to shut down but when the villagers protested they backed off, because they are concerned with hearts and minds.  

"Aid can be done anywhere, including where Taliban are," Mr. Mortenson said. "But it’s imperative the elders are consulted, and that the development staff is all local, with no foreigners."

It is not just the elders.  There has been less objection to educating girls before puberty, yet Kristof tells us of a school with 320 girls, still expanding, with some already 16 or 17.  

It survives because it is run by the imam of the mosque, and he overcomes Taliban protests by framing it as a madrassa, not a school. That seems less alien to fundamentalists and gives them a face-saving excuse to look the other way.

In Uruzgan Province, Mr. Mortenson and Mr. Karimi are beginning to pay imams to hold classes for girls in their mosques. That puts a divine stamp on girls’ education.

Wakil Karimi leads the in-country team working on Mortensen's efforts.

I admit I was struck by what could be done for the cost of one soldier.  Each American soldier deployed to Afghanistan cost $1 million annually.  That is a huge amount of money in a nation whose countryside is still largely undeveloped.  A part of me wishes some of that money would be redirected at education in the United States -  that could pay salary and benefits for more than a dozen highly skilled and experienced teachers in an urban school, and even more in some rural schools.

Kristof has long made the case that empowering women is one way of avoiding the kind of violence that leads to dominance by groups like the Taliban.  He is also strongly in favor of a peace deal between Karzai and the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, which may be in the works -  when key Talibani leaders are being flown to meetings by the military, something is in the works.

Mortensen is not the only one doing this work.  Government schools get burned down because they are seen as alien, built by outsiders, and thus representative of occupation.  

In contrast, CARE runs 300 schools in Afghanistan and not one has been burned down, the aid organization says. The Afghan Institute of Learning, run by a redoubtable Afghan woman named Sakena Yacoobi, has supported more than 300 schools and none have been burned, the institute says. Another great aid organization, BRAC, runs schools, clinics and microfinance programs — and operates in every single province in Afghanistan.

Then there’s the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, which is based in New York and helps Afghan villagers improve agricultural yields in the most unstable parts of the country. Some Taliban commanders have even sent word inviting the group into their areas.

In reading this column I was somehow reminded of some footage from "The Killing Fields."  Dith Pran, played in an oscar-winning performance by Dr. Haing Ngor, is entrusted with the son of one of the Khmer Rouge leaders, who wants something different and better for his child.  Even in those dedicated to a revolutionary cause, parental instincts remain very much alive.  I remember in reading Mortensen's books of one scene where local Taliban decided to support a school because they wanted their daughters to be educated, at least in basic things.  

I believe in education.  It is important here, for all of our young people.  I look at the words of my current sig, from John Dewey, that what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community and extend that to the global community.  I then read the final paragraph of this column:  

Is this talk of schools and development naïve? Military power is essential, but it’s limited in what it can achieve. There’s abundant evidence that while bombs harden hearts, schooling, over time, can transform them. That’s just being pragmatic.

while bombs harden hearts, schooling, over time, can transform them

I hope key figures in this administration are paying attention.  For the sake of our young people, something about which I was reminded very recently when a former student deployed to Afghanistan for 6 months.  For the sake of the people of Afghanistan, of whom far too many are being killed and maimed, their communities destroyed by the violence that accompanies our military endeavors.  For the people of this nation, whose treasure is greatly needed to revive our economy and our hopes here at home.

Each month, Mr. Mortenson’s team gets another 50 requests from villages seeking their own schools. And for the cost of a single American soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, it’s possible to build 20 schools.

Ghere is also a far more basic reason.   Killing should never be our first recourse, but rather our last.  It is not only more practical and less expensive, it is a far more moral course of action.

Peace.

Originally posted to teacherken on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 02:56 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (23+ / 0-)

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 02:56:15 AM PDT

  •  How about putting the troops on planes home and (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave, radarlady, Salo, allenjo

    handing the money BACK to US taxpayers for schools here?  That way we can train our kids here, instead of training them "over there."

    It's a thought :)

    "They don't want to 'win' the war, they just want to have one." -- DelicateMonster

    by 8ackgr0und N015e on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 03:31:09 AM PDT

    •  I want us out (8+ / 0-)

      at the same time, especially given the destruction we have already caused, it is important that we be seen as doing something constructive, which efforts like those of Mortensen, CARE, etc are accomplishing.  

      1 soldier = 20 schools

      that is an shocking figure

      243 soldiers = entire higher education budget for the nation

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 03:33:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Heart of the Rockies

        Particularly given that our abrupt abandonment of Afghanistan after it had served our geopolitical purpose against the Soviets helped foster the movement we face today.

        We taught them how to bring down a superpower.  And in out hubris we thought that lesson could never be turned on us.

        Tropical weather info and discussion at Storm2k.org

        by jrooth on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 05:11:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  We didn't teach them how to bring down anyone (0+ / 0-)

          They've been doing it just fine for millenia.  Why do you think they call it "the graveyard of empires"?

          The greatest massacre of British soldiers in the history of the British empire happened in Afghanistan.

          The Lenin wasn't even a dirty thought in his father's mind when that happened.

          "They don't want to 'win' the war, they just want to have one." -- DelicateMonster

          by 8ackgr0und N015e on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 09:40:43 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm speaking of the particular tactic (0+ / 0-)

            of bringing down a superpower by inducing them to spend themselves to death.

            While logistics have played a huge role in past Afghan conflicts this tactic was a new wrinkle, one which al-Zawahiri and bin Laden quite correctly saw could be turned on us.

            Tropical weather info and discussion at Storm2k.org

            by jrooth on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 11:20:58 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's true, but AZ and BL are not Afghans. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              jrooth

              The Taliban, on the other hand, are and that is who we are fighting in Afghanistan.

              Your analysis is correct, though, that Al Qaeda's MO is to find failed states or hospitable regimes so they can set up shop and wreak havoc.  Sort of like a poor man's proxy war.

              "They don't want to 'win' the war, they just want to have one." -- DelicateMonster

              by 8ackgr0und N015e on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 02:21:51 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Would be interested in any reactions you have (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Heart of the Rockies, radarlady

    either to Kristof's column or to my diary

    I do appreciate even if you do nothing except read.

    Thanks for whatever you do.

    Peace.

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 03:31:30 AM PDT

  •  the cynic within says (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Salo, maryabein

    Deep Throat was fundamentally right, and his impromptu wisdom works for an array of political issues: follow the money

    we won't do such a simple thing as fund NGO education because there's no money in it

    and because culturally we seem incapable of making decisions which impact us after the week ends: see obesity, global warming, peak oil, funding education here and abroad, universal health care, etc., etc., etc.

    "Good Lord, how can the rich bear to die?" -- Nikos Kazantzakis

    by Shocko from Seattle on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 03:45:54 AM PDT

  •  I agree totally with the premise (3+ / 0-)

    that education pays far better dividends than bombs,
    both in  short and long runs.  To put that idea into
    practice requires a completely new mind set in this
    country which values education over might.  I don't
    see this happening any time soon; the more jittery
    this nation is (economic and political) the more
    reactionary and xenophobic it is.

  •  schools (0+ / 0-)

    OK, I like schools, too, and I read the Mortenson book.  But we are already building schools in Afghanistan, right?  Between the military and USAID we've probably built hundreds of schools, in addition to thousands of other small projects across the country.  What are you advocating exactly?  That we keep doing what we're doing but do more of it and spend more on it?  That we keep building schools but outsource operations to NGOs?

  •  and it may also be the case... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA

    .... that the presence of those American soldiers provides the backstop for progressive Afghanis who want girls in schools.  

    The test for this is whether there is or isn't a significant difference in the percentage of girls going to school, between parts of Afghanistan where there are American soldiers, and parts where there are not.  

    Female equality is the single most important determinant of Afghanistan's future.  

    •  Mortensen operates where US soldiers are not (0+ / 0-)

      he is in countryside, not metropolitan Kabul

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 03:56:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, and tomorrow or the day after... (0+ / 0-)

        ...he'll take a wrong turn (or just be sitting in his office) and he'll be kidnapped or killed.  That's what aid workers face in Afghanistan.  If you're going to invoke Mortensen's safety today as a case against US troops, are you ready to invoke whatever might happen tomorrow as a case for US troops?

        The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

        by Rich in PA on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 04:38:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  snipe all you want (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Heart of the Rockies

          Mortensen's track record has been impressive enough operating where US troops are not that many of the US Military commanders have talked to him and tried to learn from him.

          "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

          by teacherken on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 05:17:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  At some point the safety of AID workers (0+ / 0-)

          becomes irrelevant in the bigger picture.

          We should just do the right thing and leave.

        •  As I recall, (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          teacherken, newfie

          Mortensen has worked, and been successful, in Pakistan where there aren't and haven't been any American troops.

        •  Rich (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          teacherken

          I guess you haven't read his books.  He has been kidnapped.  And I believe he could always be kidnapped or killed.  He's been doing this work for quite sometime - well before 9-11 and has had remarkable success in returning the kindness he received way back when.  He works with locals (and advises the US on the same).  I don't think that his safety or more exact -concerns for his safety will diminish and I don't think it will stop his work.  Now I say his because he was and is the main catalyst that brought forces together but I would dare say that he would claim it isn't his work at all but that of the organization which is mainly local people.

          "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

          by newfie on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:41:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Initially I thought you meant schools here (0+ / 0-)

        Not there.

        Read My New Book: The Jolly campaigns and High Times of Banastre Tarlton Esq.

        by Salo on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 05:04:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  ! (0+ / 0-)

      Delusional.

      Read My New Book: The Jolly campaigns and High Times of Banastre Tarlton Esq.

      by Salo on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 05:01:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Because we all know that without US troops... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sky Net

    ...any schools built and operated with US funding would be respected by all parties to the Afghan civil war.  Because everyone loves education!

    The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

    by Rich in PA on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 04:40:21 AM PDT

    •  Well if I recall (0+ / 0-)

      most of the funds that are used by Mortensen come from the US. He does an awful lot of fundraising here.  But that is different than US Government spending.  And I think that would be a risk but that (possibly) if it were done correctly that risk would be mitigated. CAI's (Mortensen's group) has had great success integrating with the local community to aid them in building these schools regardless of where the funding comes from.

      "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

      by newfie on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:57:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yeah, until we are gone (0+ / 0-)

    It survives because it is run by the imam of the mosque, and he overcomes Taliban protests by framing it as a madrassa, not a school. That seems less alien to fundamentalists and gives them a face-saving excuse to look the other way.

    The Taliban's record with young girls and school is pretty grim.  Breaks my heart.  

    Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. - FDR

    by SpamNunn on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 04:45:08 AM PDT

    •  True, but ... (3+ / 0-)

      this particular proposal would still leave 99,757 of those 100,000 US troops in country.

      I think the bigger point is that we as a nation have no  sense of proportion and no understanding of relative return on the dollar, at least in any context involving "terrorism" or "defense."

      We spend approximately as much as the rest of the world combined on "defense" and it never even enters the political discourse whether that's sustainable and whether it really serves our national security interests.

      Tropical weather info and discussion at Storm2k.org

      by jrooth on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 05:07:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, I suspect that sending 243 troops home (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jrooth, Sky Net

        would have essentially no impact on the overall costs involved.

        The $1,000,000 per soldier estimate is a bit misleading because it includes the cost of the entire infrastructure involved, which includes a lot of upfront costs that don't change that much with moderate changes in troop numbers . . . .

        •  Right. (0+ / 0-)

          It would merely mean that the cost per soldier goes up a bit as well.  Not like we ship a soldier with a million dollar bundle.  But the larger point is that we are spending a whole bunch of dough which brings us very mixed and tenuous success whereas groups like CAI are making much more progress in terms of "winning".  And their terms for winning is education - the more educated the population- especially the women - the more stable and success the community is (gee remind me how the GOP is not like the Taliban).

          "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

          by newfie on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 08:00:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  See your commander in chief. (0+ / 0-)

    Read My New Book: The Jolly campaigns and High Times of Banastre Tarlton Esq.

    by Salo on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 04:59:19 AM PDT

  •  The numbers are wrong. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Naijamama, Sky Net

    Each U.S. soldier costs $250,000.  That includes his or her Veteran's benefits, health insurance, caring for the family, and equipping the soldier.

    More importantly:  The U.S. has built 680 schools in Afghanistan -- 680!! Mortensen is a hero, but the American taxpayer has done ten times what Mortensen has done in Afghanistan to build schools.  The U.S. has paid for 50 million textbooks.  Enrollment of girls has gone from zero to 2 million.  Enrollment of boys from 900,000 to 4 million.  And the U.S. has given 70,000 Afghan women small business grants.

    The premise of the diary -- that we are spending on war instead of on education -- is incorrect.  We are fighting a war in a way that has never been done before in the history of the world.  

    •  By remote control (3+ / 0-)

      We are fighting a war in a way that has never been done before in the history of the world.  

      Afghanistan - Come for the lithium and stay for the opium.

      by BOHICA on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 06:19:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Bad accounting (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Naijamama, Sky Net

      I agree with the sentiment that the wars and defense spending in general are a complete waste of resources, but the article cited by the diarist doesn't understand cost accounting.

      Basically if you take the cost of the entire operation and divide by the number of soldiers, you get a very big number -- let's say $1 million (or $250,000, doesn't matter).

      But removing a soldier doesn't reduce the costs by that much.  Much of the cost is overhead, which does not decrease with each soldier.  Also, as you point out, even if the soldier is brought home, he still has to be paid, equipped and provided with benefits.

      I'd actually be curious to know what the marginal cost per soldier in Afghanistan actually is.  Probably on the order of a few tens of thousands.

    •  If I remember correctly, (0+ / 0-)

      Mortensen has aided the US forces there in that initiative as well.  I'd be curious to see his take on this.  But you are right - the premise here does ignore the additional work that is being done modeling CAI (and other NGOs) efforts.

      "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

      by newfie on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 08:03:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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