The Two Toms Talk About The Only Way To Talk About Greg Mortenson

by Joshua Foust on 4/18/2011 · 4 comments

Good morning! I’m Tom, and I’m here to talk about a few of my favorite things that are opening windows to exciting brain-ideas! And who am I talking at today?
Good morning, Tom! I’m also Tom, and I have a lot of things in my inbox we should power through. What’s up?
Well, Tom, I was driving my Mercedes-Benz CL600 from my Bethesda mansion, to the New York Times Offices, and I thought, “I’m sure I have some thoughts on this Greg Mortenson business, don’t I?”
I’m glad you brought that up, Tom. See, a reader emailed me today that he feels very outraged over the revelations that Mortenson probably fabricated most of his life story. And this reader reminded me that General Petraeus even boiled down his book into three easily digestible bullet points.
That’s a really good point, Tom. I’ll tell you what, they sure don’t make scandals like they used to make Intel microprocessors in India. I’m betcha ol’ Dave is shaking his fists at the sheer exuberance of the infamy here.
I think you’re right Tom. You know why I know you’re right? Because I’m right. And because I won a Pulitzer.
That’s great Tom, congratulations! I’ve won three. But you know what else sets us apart? People obsess over our facial hair, the way Frank Gaffney obsesses over brown people!
That’s true, too, Tom. But you know what gets my goat even more than our awesomeness? A Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy—they sail out warships, Tom—wrote an email to me expressing his concern about how this will affect Dave’s future career prospects.
Oooh, an excellent question Tom. I was just imagining the chorus of “ah hahs” that would accompany my next sentence. The real scandal of the Central Asia Institute keeping sloppy records is that Stanley McChrystal might not get to use Mortenson’s books as an example of his leadership.
Ah hah, Tom. Ah hah, indeed.
See, Tom, the real scandal of Mortenson’s possible fall from grace isn’t the sadness of the thousands of empty schools he inspired the U.S. government to build, or the millions of people who’ve had another hero taken away by the harsh tsunami of reality-talk, or even the knowledge that I knowingly endorse autocracies because they’re just better at stuff. No, the real tragedy is how embarrassed the military must be.
I fear you might be right, Tom. A Colonel in the U.S. Army—they fight our counterinsurgencies, Tom—wrote me an email saying that he’s sad he now has no reason to be nice to Afghans. In fact, he’s considering following the example the Army has been promoting the last few months and just burning villages to the ground—because of Greg Mortenson, and probably Michelle Obama.
What a tragedy, Tom. What a malarkey of tragic horses.
That’s not all, Tom. My Best Defense Failed NGO Correspondent just wrote in that apparently CBS’ tactic of ambushing Mortenson at a book signing was a cheap shot, and that most of the financial problems in his organization are probably due to inexperience rather than malice.
I don’t know about that, Tom. If he made up his life story, and he’s living off his charity’s largess, then surely there is an important story in here about globalization?
And leadership. I read a lot of books, Tom. A lot. I can tell the difference between a good leader—Vietnam was filled with them!—and a bad leader. Like Gian Gentile. Who, despite being fulsomely praised in my book Fiasco, is mocked pretty harshly in my sequel, The Gamble. Greg Mortenson needs a Stanley McChrystal in his life.
Tom, a taxi driver just reminded me that Stan McChrystal needed a Greg Mortenson in his life, too. To learn how to love again. I made a note of that, as the driver sounded like a modern person, who perhaps read a newspaper like the New York Times.
Perhaps, Tom, the way Stanley McChrystal—he was a general, Tom—left the war in Afghanistan is a strange, Ranger-shaped mirror for how Greg Mortenson will leave the charity industry.
Excuse me, gentlemen.
Wasn’t Stanley McChrystal also involved in torture? And is he maybe the secret father of Trig Palin?
There’s plenty of blame to go around, Drew. You’ve endorsed the Pet Shop Boys repeatedly, without a shred of Victorian contrition.
Quite! But alas, I think it important to note that we are often swayed by the most imperfect of men. Take me, for example. As a prominent gay conservative, I spend my days talking about things people care about. But I’m not perfect!
Good point, Drew, you’re very imperfect. So we can equate Stan McChrystal’s involvement in the systemic torture of prisoners at Camp Nama with Greg Mortenson’s fabrication of a hike in the mountains and sloppy record-keeping at his charity?
I do, Tom. And you know me—I never blow things out of proportion or invent scandal. If Greg Mortenson’s poor records and fabricated life story weren’t as equal or more important than the many horrible mistakes the U.S. military has made, why would 60 Minutes devote as much airtime to it as the Haditha massacre?
An interesting question, Drew. I just got an email from a GS-15—he works in the government, Drew—saying that the amount of money the Central Asia Institute may have wasted since 1996 is less than the cost of a single JSF engine the military doesn’t even want but Congress is forcing them to buy!
Wow! You have the second best readers in the universe, Tom.
And you have the third best, Tom!
And everyone knows I’m the best. At everything.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Briandot April 18, 2011 at 10:24 am

You’ve been reading the Onion too much. 🙂

(Or Friedman’s column, which might be the same thing…?)

Shannon April 18, 2011 at 11:13 am


Dan April 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I’m thinking about making this required reading for one of my classes.

Nathan April 18, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Goodbye “All Central Asia, All The Time;” hello “A Malarkey of Tragic Horses!”

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