Rwanda tribunal convicts former priest of genocide
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced former priest Emmanuel Rukundo to 25 years imprisonment Feb. 27 after convicting him of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Resisting Humanity's Downward Spiral
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced former priest Emmanuel Rukundo to 25 years imprisonment Feb. 27 after convicting him of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Security forces in Madagascar’s capital fired teargas to disperse looters after an anti-government protest. Civil unrest has left 125 dead since the protest campaign began in January.
Russia and Denmark met in Moscow to discuss rival claims to Arctic waters opened by the shrinking of the ice cap—with a estimated 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of undiscovered gas.
Electronic Journal & Daily Report OBAMA, KYRGYZSTAN AND THE GREAT GAME The Struggle for Central Asia After the Bush Dynasty by Sarkis Pogossian, World War 4 Report PRISONS BEYOND GUANTANAMO Thousands of “Enemy Combatants” Held in Global Gulag by Matt… Read moreIssue #155, March 2009
Dear World War 4 Report Readers:
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In the new issue, our writer Sarkis Pogossian dissects US-Russian intrigues over the post-Soviet states of Central Asia since 9-11, which have resulted in the US getting kicked out of its strategic air base in Kyrgyzstan. Matt Vogel of New York’s Catholic Worker newspaper brings an in-depth look at the secret prisons beyond Guantánamo that the CIA and Pentagon maintain for “enemy combatants.” With all eyes on Gitmo, the thousands who still languish in these prisons are forgotten. Since Catholic Worker has a small print run and no online presence, this important story reached very few people before we put it on the Web. The vital work of Frontera NorteSur news service, based in El Paso, similarly reaches too few readers. Their Yamilet Villa Arreola provides us with another critical and overlooked story—the “low-intensity war” in southwest Mexico‘s states of Michoacán and Guerrero, where narco-gang violence and state repression claim lives nearly daily. Our friends at the Venezuelan anarchist journal El Libertario report on the expropriation of indigenous land for mineral exploitation in the Sierra de Perijá, along the militarized Colombian border. And with disturbingly persuasive arguments, Ted Trainer of the Green movement journal Synthesis/Regeneration makes the case that ultimately renewable energy cannot sustain a consumer society.
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Low-Intensity War in Michoacán and Guerrero
from Frontera NorteSur
A glance at Mexico’s ongoing narco war reveals a low-intensity civil conflict that rises, subsides and then rears up again in various geographic locations. For example, the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo was torn by intense violence from 2003 to 2006 but is relatively quiet today in comparison with other places.
In 2009, one of the hottest zones is what might be termed the Southwestern Front covering the states of Michoacán and Guerrero, especially the Tierra Caliente and Costa Grande regions. Currently, three or four cartels are fighting for control of areas that encompass opium poppy production, cocaine shipment corridors, methamphetamine maquiladoras, and increasingly important local, retail drug markets. Almost daily, murders, kidnappings and shoot-outs disturb the peace of numerous towns.
On Feb. 28, the body of an official working for the municipal government of La Union, Guerrero, was found stuffed in the back of a stolen taxi. So-called “narco-messages” were spray-painted on the exterior of the vehicle and left inside the car.
A former member of the center-left PRD party, Rolando Landa Hernández had bolted the organization last fall to run on the ticket of the rival PRI party in the October 2008 local elections. Reported kidnapped days earlier, Landa was found tortured and shot to death on the outskirts of La Union. The “narco-messages” were purportedly directed against “Los Pelones,” or the reputed gunslingers of the Beltran-Leyva brothers, and conveyed death threats against eight individuals.
On Feb. 25, travelers on the Acapulco-Zihuatenejo highway got a first-hand taste of the narco war at the junction to San Miguelito, a village located about 15 minutes from Zihuatanejo. Approaching the turn-off, bus travelers saw a truck in flames as heavily-armed police scoured a mango orchard off the highway.
Only minutes before the arrival of the passenger bus, witnesses reported seeing three SUVs carrying a many as 20 armed men ambush a patrol of the Zihuatanejo municipal police. Two grenade explosions and heavy automatic arms fire rattled the late afternoon quiet of the rural area, according to eye-witness accounts. Halted by police for more than two hours, travelers in both directions watched as the bodies of four slain officers burned in the truck’s wreckage.
“It feels like this is a real bad television program. I’m sitting here watching this, which has never happened to me in my life before and it just seems so unreal,” said Gail Robertson, a Canadian national who was traveling to Zihuatanejo by bus. “People are very calm and collected and watching this horrible tragedy that just happened. There are four men dead and their widows are going to be knowing shortly that their husbands have just been shot to death,” Robertson told Frontera NorteSur. The tourist said the incident wouldn’t immediately change her plans to stay in Zihuatanejo for one month.
The slain officers were identified as Mateo Gutiérrez Vejar, Virginio Flores, Gregorio Villafuerte Hernández and Adrian Martínez Zarco. Like clockwork, the tabloid newspaper El Alarmante was back on the streets of Guerrero the next day. The sensationalistic publication featured gruesome images of the burned officers’ corpses. At presstime, no suspects in the San Miguelito attack had been reported arrested.
On the same day of the San Miguelito ambush, seven men were shot to death the Tierra Caliente region that straddles Guerrero and Michoacán.
The area between Zihuatanejo and the town of Petatlán about 30 minutes away was the scene of intense disputes between organized criminal gangs during 2006-07, but later calmed down to an extent. However, violence has been escalating since last spring, a period of time which coincides with the reported rupture within the Sinaloa cartel between Joaquin “El Chapo”
Guzmán and Arturo Beltran Leyva and his “pelones.” Policemen, many of whom are widely presumed to be on the take of one group or another, are frequently the target of attacks.
Last Dec. 23, Mexican soldiers arrested Zihuatanejo’s deputy police chief along with 22 other policemen and civilians at a cock fight in Zihuatanejo. The detainees were accused of providing protection to the Beltran Leyva group. Following a Christmas season break, Zihuatanejo heated up again in January after federal police and soldiers searched private businesses and confiscated property that included motor boats, a form of transportation popular with cocaine smugglers who use ocean routes. Since the late January raids, shoot-outs and murders have intensified in both Zihuatanejo and Petatlán.
On Feb. 21, a two-time municipal president of Petatlán was shot to death in broad daylight in front of scores of people. Only hours before his murder, former mayor Javier Rodríguez Aceves, who had represented both the PRI and PRD parties during his political career, had staged a press conference in Zihuatanejo in which he denounced the Mexican army for arresting his son, Ricardo Alejandro Rodríguez, for alleged involvement in the Beltran-Leyva crime underworld.
Also on the weekend of Feb. 21, two policemen and three civilians were injured after two grenades were tossed at the main Zihuatanejo police station. Two days later—the first Monday after the grenade attack—345 Zihuatanejo municipal police staged a 10-hour work stoppage for better protection, higher wages and improved working conditions. Days later, the police headquarters is sand-bagged and resembles a military outpost.
Although violence is on the upswing and many locals are unnerved, the narco-war has not significantly altered nightlife in the tourist destination of Zihuatanejo so far. Large numbers of people attend evening mass, turn out to nightclubs and restaurants, and show off at the Cultural Sundays program on the main beach.
A young man who returned to Mexico last year after working 10 years in the US construction industry, Rogelio Gabino lives near the scene of the San Miguelito ambush. Gabino said he and his neighbors were accustomed to the violence, but acknowledged residents were mulling over the idea of convening a meeting with authorities to demand better security.
“I think I hear so many incidents like [San Miguelito] in Mexico. I think it is part of this place. It is normal. You hear guns, people killed,” Gabino said. “But I kind of think about where I am living…”
As on the US-Mexico border, the narco-violence in Guerrero and Michoacán is providing a convenient cover for other types of crimes and human rights violations. On Feb. 13, Jean Paul Ibarra Ramírez, a photographer for El Correo newspaper, was shot to death in Iguala, Guerrero, in an incident that could involve a homicidal mixture of personal and professional motives. A reporter for the Diario 21 newspaper, Yenny Yulian Marchan Arroyo, was also seriously wounded in the shooting.
The international community was shocked by the February kidnapping and subsequent murder of two indigenous leaders, Raúl Lucas Lucía and Manuel Ponce Rosas, in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero. Less than two months before the twin assassinations, Homero Lorenzo, a former mayor of the town of Ayutla and a 2008 candidate for the Guerrero state legislature, was murdered in the same region where Lucas and Ponce were active.
Leaders of the Organization for the Future of the Mixtec People (OPFM), Lucas and Ponce were detained in Ayutla Feb. 13 by three men claiming to be police officers. Despite an urgent appeal from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to the Mexican government, Lucas and Ponce were later found dead with signs of torture on their bodies.
The OPFM and Lucas, in particular, have had a long-running series of conflicts with the Mexican government and army. In 1998, members of the OPFM were among the 11 people killed in El Charco, Guerrero, when Mexican soldiers opened fire on a school where indigenous farmers were meeting with rebels from the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI).
In 2006, Lucas filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) after he was detained and interrogated by the Mexican army. In 2007, the Mixtec activist was wounded in a shooting he barely survived. Alleging new abuses in the Mixtec region, Lucas filed more human rights complaints last year against the Mexican army. Now, Lucas himself is the subject of a post-mortem investigation by the CNDH.
The murders of Lucas and Ponce were condemned by the Mexico office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Guerrero state and federal lawmakers, and numerous human rights advocates in Mexico and abroad. Hipolito Lugo Cortes, investigator for the official Guerrero State Human Rights Commission, called the kidnap-murders “a crime
against humanity.” Supporters of the slain activists suspect government complicity in the crimes.
Spurred on the chaos of the narco war, Guerrero could be rapidly slipping back into the brutality, impunity and repression characteristic of the 1970s Dirty War when the Mexican state disappeared hundreds of suspected guerrillas and dissidents, observers warn. More than thirty years later, a deadly combination of political and criminal violence threatens to put a damper on any meaningful movements toward democratic governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
This story first appeared March 1 on Frontera NorteSur.
OBAMA’S BIGGEST FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGE: MEXICO?
by Bill Weinberg, AlterNet
World War 4 Report, March 2009
From our Daily Report:
Mexico: Zihuatanejo police chief busted for protecting Sinaloa Cartel
World War 4 Report, Dec. 26, 2008
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, March 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Bill Weinberg, AlterNet
A year-end report by the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command names two countries as likely candidates for a “rapid and sudden collapse”: Pakistan and Mexico.
The report, code-named JOE 2008 (for Joint Operating Environment), states: “In terms of worse-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico. The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state.”
Mexican officials were quick to deny the ominous claim. Exterior Secretary Patricia Espinosa told reporters that the fast-escalating violence mostly affects the narco gangs themselves, and “Mexico is not a failed state.” Enrique Hubbard Urrea, Mexico’s consul general in Dallas, actually boasted improvement, asserting that the government “has won” the war against the drug cartels in certain areas, such as Nuevo Laredo—one of the border cities that has been the scene of recent nightmarish violence.
But US political figures were also quick to react—using the Pentagon’s lurid findings to argue for increased military aid to Mexico. As President-elect Barack Obama met in Washington with Mexican President Felipe Calderón on Jan. 12, the former US drug czar, Gen. (ret.) Barry McCaffrey, just back from a meeting in Mexico of the International Forum of Intelligence and Security Specialists, an advisory body to Mexican federal law enforcement, told a Washington press conference: “Mexico is on the edge of the abyss—it could become a narco-state in the coming decade.” He praised Calderón, who he said has “launched a serious attempt to reclaim the rule of law from the chaos of the drug cartels.”
Also weighing in was Joel Kurtzman, senior fellow at the Milken Institute, who in a Wall Street Journal editorial, “Mexico’s Instability Is a Real Problem,” warned, “It may only be a matter of time before the drug war spills across the border and into the US.” He hailed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for his “plan to ‘surge’ civilian and possibly military law-enforcement personnel to the border should that be necessary…” He also lauded Calderón’s deployment of 45,000 military troops to fight the drug cartels—but raised the possibility of a tide of refugees flooding the US Southwest. “Unless the violence can be reversed, the US can anticipate that the flow across the border will continue.”
Former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich joined the chorus. On Jan. 11, the day before Calderón arrived in Washington, Gingrich told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”: “There is a war underway in Mexico. More people were killed in Mexico in 2008 than were killed in Iraq. It is grossly under-covered by the American media. It’s on our border. It has the potential to extend into our countryside… The illegal narcotics teams in Mexico are in a direct civil war with the government in which they are killing the police, killing judges, killing the army… I’m surprised that no one in the American system is looking at it very much. It’s a very serious problem.”
Gingrich doesn’t have his facts quite right. The Iraq Body Count website puts the number of civilian deaths alone in Iraq last year at a maximum of 9,028 (compared to 24,295 in 2007). The Mexican daily El Universal reports that according to its tally, there were 5,612 killings related to organized crime in Mexico last year—more than double the 2007 figure and the highest since it started keeping track four years ago.
Yet even if Gingrich is exaggerating and the Pentagon is paranoid, there is definitely cause for concern. The violence—at its worst in the border cities of Juárez and Tijuana—is reaching spectacular levels redolent of Colombia. In Juårez (and elsewhere across Mexico), severed heads are left outside police stations in chilling numbers; mutilated, decapitated corpses left outside schools and shopping centers—or hanging from overpasses as a warning to the populace. A man recently arrested in Tijuana—charmingly nicknamed the “Stew-maker”—confessed to disposing of hundreds of bodies by dissolving them in chemicals, for which he was paid $600 a week. A barrel with partially dissolved human remains was left outside a popular seafood restaurant. Bombs hurled into a crowd celebrating Mexico’s independence day in Michoacán Sept. 15 left seven dead.
The mysterious wave of femicide which has haunted Juárez for more than 15 years has spiraled hideously. Authorities report that 81 women were killed in the city last year, breaking all previous records—in fact, more than doubling the previous record of 2001, and bringing the total since 1993 to 508.
And the cartels’ agents have penetrated the highest levels of Mexican federal power. Several high-ranking Mexican law enforcement officials were detained last year in Operación Limpieza (“Operation House Cleaning”), aimed at weeding out officials suspected of collaborating with the warring drug lords.
Cartel hit-squads operate in the uniforms of Mexican federal police agents, and in towns such as Nuevo Laredo the local police became so thoroughly co-opted that the federal government dissolved their powers. It is questionable whether the Mexican bloodletting is really a war of the cartels against the state, or between cartels for control of the state.
State security forces are hardly less brutal than the drug gangs they battle (and overlap with). Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission issued several recommendations last year calling on the defense secretary to punish those responsible for torture and gratuitous killings. Up until now, those recommendations have been ignored.
US policy abets violence
Despite the blatant corruption, the US is pouring guns into Mexico—an illicit trade from north of the border arming the cartels (and their paramilitary units like the notorious “Zetas,” made up of military veterans) with assault rifles and rocket-launchers, while Washington is beefing up the Mexican army and federal police over the table. “Mexican law enforcement and soldiers face heavily armed drug gangs with high-powered military automatic weapons,” warned Gen. McCaffrey—oblivious to the incestuous inter-penetration of these seeming opponents.
McCaffrey, who was an architect of Plan Colombia ten years ago, is today a booster of its new Mexican counterpart—the $1.4 billion, multi-year Mérida Initiative. At his Washington press conference, he decried that this is “a drop in the bucket compared to what was spent in Iraq and Afghanistan… We cannot afford to have a narco-state as a neighbor.”
The first $400 million Mérida Initiative package was approved by Congress last June, and the first $197 million of mostly military aid sent south in December. Although it differs in not actually introducing US military advisors, the Mérida Initiative is clearly modeled on Plan Colombia, and is dubbed “Plan Mexico” by its critics.
It has moved apace with the Homeland Security Department’s ambitious plans to seal off the border. And indeed, Plan Colombia’s supposed success in bringing a tenuous “stability” to Colombia has done nothing to dethrone the nation from the dubious honor of both the hemisphere’s worst rights abuser and biggest humanitarian crisis—nearly 3 million internally displaced by political violence, with the rate of displacement growing since the intensive US military aid program began in 2000.
With all eyes on Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, this is the grim situation that President Obama inherits on the nation’s southern border. But he also faces an active resistance to the “Plan Mexico” model and concomitant border militarization—both sides of the line.
Obama, who was famously made an honorary member of Montana’s Crow Indian nation last year, received a letter just before he took office from women elders of the Lipan Apache, whose small South Texas reservation is to be bisected by Homeland Security’s border wall. The letter calls the land seizure “unlawful,” and urges Obama to call a halt to the wall. Texas ranchers also have litigation pending against the seizure of their lands for the wall.
Environmentalists are incensed at the border wall’s exemption from EPA regulations, and one—Judy Ackerman of El Paso—was arrested in December for blocking Homeland Security’s construction equipment in an act of civil disobedience.
Elvira Arellano, a deported Mexican woman who in 2006 took sanctuary for weeks in a church in Obama’s hometown of Chicago to highlight immigrants’ rights, held a press conference at the US embassy in Mexico City two days after he took office to ask the new president to call a halt to Homeland Security’s coast-to-coast immigration raids.
Arguably, NAFTA is to blame for what could be Mexico’s impending destabilization. The largest surge ever in both legal and unauthorized Mexican migration to the US began after the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. Sociologist James Russell finds that the percentage of all North America’s Mexican-origin persons living in the United States jumped from 13.6% to 20.5% between 1990 and 2005. Russell argues that “NAFTA allowed tariff-free imports to flood into Mexico, taking markets away from many Mexican peasants and manufacturers. With work no longer available, displaced peasants and workers joined in increasing numbers the migrant route north into the United States.”
The privatization of Mexico’s communal peasant lands—the ejidos—was another NAFTA-related measure that helped force hundreds of thousands from their traditional rural communities. In these same years, Mexico’s narco economy exploded, the trafficking of cocaine and growing of opium and marijuana filling the vacuum left by the evaporation of the market for domestic maize and beans. And when the oil shock prompted the diversion of US croplands from Mexico-bound corn to “biofuels,” a now-dependent Mexico experienced a “maize shock” in 2008—and food riots.
Even amidst the spiraling violence of the narco wars, nonviolent political resistance to policies of free trade and militarization persists in Mexico. As Obama was taking the oath of office, farmers in Chihuahua state, just across from Texas and New Mexico, blockaded roads and used farm equipment and animals to erect barricades at the entrances of Agriculture Secretariat offices to demand rises in the price of their maize and other (legal) crops. Days earlier, thousands of fishermen went on strike on Mexico’s Pacific coast to protest the rise in the price of diesel fuel. The Zapatistas and related peasant movements in Mexico’s south continue to occupy disputed lands and resist their privatization. On Jan. 9, some 4,000 marched in Jalisco to protest the police killing of a local youth. And in December, public-sector workers and students in Ciudad Juárez staged a 24-hour strike to protest the wave of narco-killings in the city.
Obama and de-NAFTAfication
Obama pledged on the campaign trail to consider a renegotiation of NAFTA. And in his third debate with John McCain, when asked about the pending free trade agreement with Colombia, he noted that in the Andean nation “labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions.” This won him public opprobrium from Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe, who was Bush’s closest ally in South America.
But despite criticisms, Obama supports the Mérida Initiative, and has spoken of extending it into a comprehensive hemispheric security bloc. Obama and his vice president Joe Biden are both supporters of continued military aid to Colombia, albeit with a greater emphasis on human rights conditions.
Apart from the security implications of its mere proximity to the US, Mexico is also second only to Saudi Arabia as a US oil supplier. Free trade politics helped create a social crisis there, and militarization in response to this crisis may only push it to the point of explosion. If Obama doesn’t rethink the Mérida Initiative as well as follow through on his campaign pledge to take another look at NAFTA, the prospects for escalation are frighteningly real.
The last direct US military intervention in Mexico was under Woodrow Wilson—a Democrat who won re-election in 1916 by pledging to keep the US out of World War I, just as Obama won the White House with pledges to get us out of Iraq. A resurgent American left putting Mexico and Latin America back on its agenda may help assure that this history does not repeat itself.
Bill Weinberg is author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso Books 2000) and editor of the online journal World War 4 Report
This story first appeared Feb. 19 on AlterNet.
NAFTA’S DANGEROUS SECURITY AGENDA
Hemispheric Militarization in “Free Trade” Guise
by Laura Carlsen, CIP Americas Program
World War 4 Report, March 2009
BORDER UNDER SIEGE
US Military Training and Texas Guns Fuel Mexico’s Narco Wars
by Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly
World War 4 Report, January 2009
From our Daily Report:
Mexico: bomb threats shut Ciudad Juárez airport
World War 4 Report, Feb. 26, 2009
NAFTA boosted Mexican immigration: study
World War 4 Report, Jan. 25, 2009
Mexico: human “stew-maker” busted, more severed heads appear
World War 4 Report, Jan. 25, 2009
Mexico reacts to ominous Pentagon report —as pundits plug military aid
World War 4 Report, Jan. 17, 2009
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, March 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution
The Struggle for Central Asia After the Bush Dynasty
by Sarkis Pogossian, World War 4 Report
In November 2001, as the US assembled a coalition to invade Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told UN General Assembly: “There must be no more Great Games with Afghan people as the pawns.”
Yet the intervening years have seen a revival of that long struggle that British imperialism’s poet-propagandist Rudyard Kipling termed the “Great Game.” The classic Great Game began before the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-42 and lasted through the Third Anglo-Afghan War of 1919, when Afghanistan finally evicted the British and retreated into isolation. Across these years, Britain attempted to establish Afghanistan as a buffer state to protect its possessions in the Indian subcontinent against Russian imperial designs from the north. In the new Great Game which began with the CIA-backed Mujahedeen insurgency against the Soviets in the 1980s, the US stepped into the shoes of the British. In the renewed focus on the region after 9-11, the British were again brought in as Washington’s junior partners in the imperial venture. And this time, under the designs of the “neo-conservatives,” the aim was not only to secure Afghanistan, but to roll back Russian influence across the post-Soviet states of Central Asia.
This new Great Game was—and remains—a three-way struggle between Anglo-American imperialism, Russia and political Islam. In the Mujahedeen war, the US used Islamist forces—only to be betrayed by them with 9-11. Under the neocons, the US has increasingly sought to groom a fourth element as proxy in the imperial chess game—indigenous pro-democracy forces. Legitimate aspirations for democratic reform under post-Soviet authoritarian regimes have been exploited for imperial “regime change” ambitions. Now, following the humbling of the neocon agenda—by the Iraq disaster, financial crash and electoral turn-around in Washington—US power in Central Asia is contracting to Moscow’s advantage. This opens a new phase in the struggle for the region, with its own dangers and opportunities.
Kyrgyzstan on the Chessboard Tells GI Joe Where to Go
With the Taliban insurgency fast gaining ground, US President Barack Obama has authorized 17,000 more troops to reinforce international forces in Afghanistan. At the same time, US options to provision its forces in Afghanistan are ominously contracting. The main land route into landlocked Afghanistan—the Khyber Pass—transverses Pakistan’s lawless Tribal Areas, where Pakistani Taliban forces have repeatedly attacked NATO supply convoys. Pakistan’s other land crossing through the southwest province of Baluchistan, is also threatened by a growing regional insurgency. Even central Pakistan is not safe. The government of central Punjab province recently cancelled a private deal for a new NATO supply terminal due to security concerns.
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is back in the Arabian Sea to carry out air-strikes in Afghanistan, for first time since March 2002—seaborne forces being easier to provision.
All of this has made the northern route through the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union much more critical. The last remaining US military presence in this region is in Kyrgyzstan. Since 2001, the US military has moved Afghanistan-bound supplies through its Manas air base, which the US built at the international airport near Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. And now it is about to be lost.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed an order Feb. 20 to evict the US from the Manas base, home to tanker planes that refuel military aircraft over Afghanistan and a key transit point for troops and supplies going into and out of Afghanistan. The order gave the US just 180 days to pull out.
Bakiyev had complained that Washington was not paying enough rent for the base. And during a recent trip to Moscow, he announced plans to close it—after Russia pledged to give Kyrgyzstan some $2 billion in loans and aid.
Both Russian and Kyrgyz officials deny the moves were linked. And Russia actually took measures to offset the loss of the US base. In the days after Bakiyev’s announcement, US and Russian officials met in Moscow for two days of talks on Afghanistan. Moscow agreed to let the US send Afghanistan-bound non-lethal material by rail through Russian territory, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested Russia could eventually agree to allow weapons shipments. Uzbekistan also reached an agreement with NATO allowing the alliance to send non-military supplies through the Central Asian nation en route to Afghanistan. This new northern transit route would also require approval from Kazakhstan.
But this arduous land route will have hard time picking up the slack from the loss of Manas. About 15,000 people and 500 tons of cargo transit through Manas each month. The base permanently houses about 1,000 troops, most of them from the US, but also from France and Spain.
The US initially treated Bakiyev’s announcement as a ploy to wrest more money from Washington. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington was ready to pay more for Manas—but not beyond a “reasonable” amount. The US has paid $17.4 million a year to use the strategic air base.
But Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted 79-1 to close Manas, and Bakiyev signed off on the closure the following day. The moves was a harsh reversal after nearly eight years of intricate political maneuvering to establish a permanent US military presence in post-Soviet Central Asia.
Post-Soviet Dominos Fall: Neocons on a Roll
The US began establishing a strong military presence in Kyrgyzstan in the immediate aftermath of 9-11. A US-Kyrgyzstan agreement, signed late in 2001, allowed the Pentagon extensive use of Manas, the country’s only international airport. US troops began building a 37-acre base there to accommodate thousands of soldiers. Under the deal, US military personnel were immune from prosecution by the Kyrgyz authorities. A Pentagon representative announced that the deployment “will be long-term, rather than temporary.”
Many local politicians and journalists were critical of US motives. Kyrgyz legislative assembly member Adakham Madumarov said the US sought to use Kyrgyzstan as a base to pull Central Asia away from Moscow. He also warned that Kyrgyzstan could become embroiled in the region’s turmoil: “We could become a main target for terrorists. The US presence is a strategic handicap for Kyrgyzstan.” The Islamic organization Khizb-ut-Takhrir, whose cells had recently proliferated in Kyrgyzstan, called for “the overthrow of leaders who have turned Kyrgyzstan into a humiliated colony.”
Local media also reported an exodus of ethnic Russians from Kyrgyzstan. Despite living in Kyrgyzstan for generations, many repatriated to Russia, evidently fearing a surgence of anti-Russian Kyrgyz nationalism, encouraged by Washington.
These fears were exacerbated by the November 2003 “Rose Revolution” that ousted Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze and brought to power the pro-West Mikhail Saakashvili. Almost exactly a year later, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine brought the pro-West Viktor Yushchenko to power, after his electoral victory over Moscow-friendly candidate Viktor Yanukovych was apparently stolen by fraud. These “color revolutions” were on the model of the 2000 revolution that brought down Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia: a civil upsurge from below, using tactics of nonviolent direct action, and a genuine grassroots component—but also varying degrees of assistance from the US State Department, Western non-governmental organizations and (probably) the CIA.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Askar Akayev tried to walk an equidistant line between Washington and Moscow, with both supporting his authoritarian regime. Russia had troops at the Kyrgyz military base in Kant, some 20 kilometers north of the capital, while the US built up its forces at Manas.
But fears that Kyrgyzstan would be the next domino in the wave of pro-West revolutions sweeping the former Soviet republics were released in March 2005, when an uprising broke out. On March 20, protesters rallying against President Akayev burned down police headquarters in the southern city of Jalal-Abad, in response to a pre-dawn action by special police units who briefly took back control of a regional administration office that had been occupied by opposition activists since early March. A crowd of some 20,000 soon retook the building and then marched on the police headquarters, freeing protesters detained there and setting it on fire. Protesters also occupied the airport and used trucks to dump soil and gravel on its runway, in an effort to prevent the government from flying in security reinforcements from Bishkek.
Akayev, president since 1990, had pledged to step down later that year as required by the constitution, but opponents feared he planed to remain in power by amending the constitution. The opposition claimed that many of their candidates were cheated of victory in recent parliamentary elections that gave Akayev overwhelming control of the legislature.
Strikes and protests spread to a second southern city of Osh, and by March 23, Kyrgyzstan was divided—the Akayev government in control in the northern capital, Bishkek, but with the south in the hands of opposition protesters, the regional governor forced to step down.
The Akayev government fell March 24. Angry protests broke out in Bishkek, and crowds repeatedly attempted to storm the White House, the central government building. Foreign press accounts reported protesters hanging banners from the building’s second-story windows, and tossing government documents out to the cheering crowd below in the blood-splattered square.
President Akayev disappeared from view. In an emergency session, parliament appointed opposition lawmaker Ishenbai Kadyrbekov as interim president to rule until new elections were held. The country’s supreme court also annulled the results of the recent contested parliamentary elections that sparked the protests. Former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev, now a leader of the protests, pledged that new elections would be held soon. He also pledged to halt widespread looting which broke out in the capital.
Almost immediately, it seems, Kadyrbekov was shunted aside, and Bakiyev himself was named interim president. International press accounts did not elaborate on how this quick transition took place, but went on portraying a victory for democracy over despotism. “Freedom has finally come to us,” Bakiyev told the crowds upon emerging from the parliament building after his appointment.
The ascendance of Bakiyev as voice of the opposition was telling. Bakiyev was Akayev’s prime minister when the US negotiated the Manas deal. He was also the architect of an unpopular austerity regime designed to close the country’s foreign debt. He was forced to step down after government troops opened fire on opposition protesters in March 2002, leaving five dead. Bakiyev took the hit for the massacre, and afterwards (ironically) joined the opposition, becoming leader of the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan.
Another opposition leader freed from prison by the protesters was Felix Kulov, a former vice president who played a leading role in establishing Kyrgyzstan’s currency after independence from the USSR in 1991 but was jailed by Akayev on questionable embezzlement charges in 2001. He was quickly named interim security chief.
The US response was guarded. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking in Guatemala, said he did not believe the troop presence in Kyrgyzstan would be affected by the protests. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the change in Kyrgyzstan could lead to greater democracy, but also hedged her bets: “It doesn’t happen on day one. This is a process that’s just beginning. We know where we want to go.”
Tulip Revolution “Made in USA”?
Despite these cautious statements, speculation about a US hand in what was by then being dubbed Kyrgyzstan’s “Tulip Revolution” was vindicated by a March 30 New York Times story, “US Helped to Prepare the Way for Kyrgyzstan’s Uprising.” The US apparently sunk $12 million into “democracy programs” in Kyrgyzstan in 2004 (under the 1992 Freedom Support Act, designed to hasten democratic transition in the post-Soviet republics). Various western European countries had similar programs, and the US State Department also encouraged private groups like Freedom House in efforts to assist the independent press in Kyrgyzstan. The opposition newspaper MSN (for My Capital News), which ran exposés on the Akayev family’s personal profligance (palatial homes, etc.), was a recipient of funds from both the State Department and Freedom House, which also provided a printing press. When the regime cut off electricity to MSN’s offices, Freedom House delivered emergency generators provided by the US Embassy.
More evidence of a US hand in the murky revolution emerged in the form of a “secret report” purportedly written by US Ambassador Stephen M. Young, which appeared on the website of Kabar, the Kyrgyz National News Agency—then still in the hands of Akayev loyalists. It is conceivable that the letter was forged.
Spelling his name without the customary Y, the letter stated that “Akaev, being a protegee of Russia, is guided by Moscow.” It also stated that China’s strategic interest in Kyrgyzstan was a threat to US interests in the region: “As regards China, the prospect of Central Asia development puts Beijing into dependence on the Kyrghyz hydro-electric resources and electric power potential… This reason should be taken into consideration when shaping a policy towards Beijing and its presence in the region… Our military presence in Kyrgyzstan ‘is annoying’ Beijing, and the temporary status of the air force base at Manas airport in Bishkek gives grounds to China to hope for would-be withdrawal of the US troops from Kyrgyzstan.”
The letter’s final paragraphs were explicit in spelling out an agenda for destabilization:
It is worthwhile compromising Akaev personally by disseminating data in the opposition mass media on his wife’s involvement in financial frauds and bribery…
We also recommend spreading rumors about her probable plans to run for the presidency, etc. All these measures will help us form an image of an absolutely incapacitated president.
It is essential to increase the amount of financial support up to $30 mm to promising opposition parties at the preliminary stage of the parliamentary and presidential elections and allocate additional funds to NGOs including the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, Freedom house, Internews Network and Eurasia Foundation…
To minimize Russian influence on the course of elections we ought to urge opposition parties to make appeals to the Russian government concerning non-interference in internal affairs of the KR [Kyrgyz Republic].
Taking into account arrangements of the Department of State Plan for the period of 2005-2006 to intensify our influence in Central Asia, particularly in Kyrgyzstan, we view the country as the base to advance with the process of democratization in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and limit Chinese and Russian capabilities in the area. Setting up democratic legitimate opposition in the parliament of Kyrgyzstan is extremely important. To reach the target we should attract groups of independent observers from western humanitarian organizations, OSCE, and people from Kyrgyz offices of the UN Program of Development. That is necessary: to get control of the election process and eliminate any possible financing of the pro-presidential majority in the parliament.
Stephen M. Young
The U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyz Republic
Interim President Bakiyev responded that the Tulip Revolution had received no foreign aid, and was “made in Kyrgyzstan.”
The “Tulip Revolution” was soon starting to look considerably less than velvet. For several days after the power transfer, two rival parliaments both met in the same building, both claiming legitimacy. On the 28th, newly-appointed security chief Felix Kulov threatened to have the “old” parliamentarians arrested if they did not step down in favor of the newly-elected parliament. He backed down from this when reminded by a lawmaker that it was the “old” parliament which had ordered him released from prison. But this demand was brought about the next day, when the “old” parliament agreed to step down in a deal brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The new government, not surprisingly, assured the Pentagon that its troops would be able to remain in the country.
Almost immediately there was a sense of “meet the new boss.” The speaker of the lower house of the “old” parliament was Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, who was named in now-forgotten initial press reports as being appointed interim president after Akayev fled. The process by which he was apparently shunted aside by Bakiyev went completely unexamined in international reportage. Also grossly under-reported were charges by protesters of betrayal by Bakiyev and Kulov for throwing their support behind the very “new” parliament whose apparently fraudulent election had sparked the protests in the first place. The Tulip Revolution seemed to have run into a rather abrupt Thermidor.
The country remained divided, with ousted president Akayev in hiding but refusing to step down, and some protests and even road blockades reported in his support. Looting and sporadic gunfire continued, with armed bands roaming the streets of Bishkek. Most ominously, ethnic Russians were said to be forming “ad hoc militias” to protect their neighborhoods.
Akayev, in hiding, released a statement via Internet rejecting the power transfer as “an unconstitutional coup d’etat.” He added: “Rumors of my resignation are deliberate, malicious lies.”
In early April, with a modicum of order returning to Bishkek, Akayev emerged in Moscow, and formally resigned—after having pledged from hiding that he wouldn’t. Akayev—an ethnic Kyrgyz trained in Russia as a nuclear technician—said he would accept exile in Russia: “If Kyrgyzstan reinstates constitutional order, and offers life guarantees and at least the smallest possible respect of human rights, my family and I shall certainly come back. If not, I have made my choice in Russia’s favor. Russia has always been my second motherland…” Russia denied reports that it had been preparing military intervention to prop up Akayev.
Regional leaders clearly feared a “domino effect” in the wake of the Tulip Revolution—such as Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev, who also sought a precarious path equidistant from Moscow and Washington. “It is impossible to call what happened a revolution,” Nazarbaev said as Akayev was destabilized, describing it instead as “banditry and looting.” During the power transfer in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, authorities in the Kazakh capital Astana quickly removed rows of artificial tulips which had been decorating the main streets for a public holiday.
On July 10, presidential elections were held in Kyrgyztsan, and acting president Bakiyev won by a landslide.
Uzbekistan: the Next Domino
As the Tulip Revolution was consolidating in Kyrgyztsan, the wave of post-Soviet unrest next hit neighboring Uzbekistan—also ruled by an authoritarian despot who deftly played both sides in the Moscow-Washington rivalry over the region. President Islam Karimov, who had reigned since before independence in 1991, also agreed to open Uzbekistan’s airfields to US forces in the aftermath of 9-11—most significantly, the Soviet-era Karshi-Khanabad military base in the south of the country, known as K2.
As in Kyrgyzstan, this sparked fears of a terrorist backlash. The jihadist organizations Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had already established a foothold in the country—providing the pretext for grisly repressive measures by the Karimov regime against all opposition.
In May 2005, an unprecedented wave of protests broke out in Uzbekistan. Every day for the past four months, protesters in the eastern city of Andijan had gathered outside a courthouse where 23 local businessmen were on trial, accused of membership in an Islamist group called Akramiya, said to be linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir and the IMU. The defendants and their relatives strongly denied the charge. The daily protests swelled to 3,000, including former employees thrown out of work when their bosses were arrested. An ongoing protest encampment was also established in the capital, Tashkent, by an extended family whose farm had been seized by the government; the camp was violently broken by the police. Protesters were beaten and hauled off in buses as police tore down their bivouacs. In March—just as the Tulip Revolution was toppling the Kyrgyz regime—500 angry farmers had taken over a Tashkent police station and burned two police cars in a similar protest over land seizures. And in November 2004, economic problems sparked unrest in a number of cities across the country. Karimov was clearly worried that Uzbeksitan could follow Kyrgyzstan as the next Central Asian domino.
Just as the protests were mounting in May, Karimov announced that Uzbekistan was withdrawing from the GUUAM group (for Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova), a regional pro-West alliance of ex-Soviet states. (With Uzbekistan’s withdrawal, the name reverted to GUAM, as it was known before that country joined in 1999.) At the GUUAM summit in Chisinau, Moldova, where the announcement was made, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili made a call for “a third wave of revolutions” in the post-Soviet sphere. The first wave presumably refers to the 1991 revolutions against the Soviet system; the second wave was the “tulip,” “orange” and “rose” revolutions in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Georgia which further decoupled those countries from Moscow’s orbit.
Days after the announcement, Andijan exploded into violence as thousands poured into the streets to oppose the regime. The protests were apparently put down with a general massacre. A May 15 AP report claimed some 500 bodies had been laid out in a school in Andijan for identification by relatives, “corroborating witness accounts of hundreds killed” when soldiers opened fire on street protests. Medical authorities also reported some 2,000 wounded in local hospitals.
The claims were quickly denied by the regime. “Not a single civilian was killed by government forces there,” Prosecutor General Rashid Kadyrov said. According to him, the overall death toll was 169 people, including 32 soldiers. Kadyrov claimed reports of 500 or even 700 dead were “deliberate attempts to deceive the international community.” He assailed the protesters as “terrorists,” “criminals” and “extremists.”
The US was initially non-committal. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: “We are deeply disturbed by the reports that the Uzbek authorities fired on demonstrators… We certainly condemn the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians and deeply regret any loss of life.” Secretary of State Rice said, “They really need political reform and we’ve been saying that to the Uzbeks for some time.”
She predictably failed to mention that the US had been saying this while massively underwriting the brutal Karimov regime. Indeed, after 9-11, Uzbekistan became one of several authoritarian countries where the CIA “renditioned” al-Qaeda suspects—in the full knowledge that they would be tortured. UK ambassador Craig Murray was forced out after protesting the CIA “rendition” of terror suspects to Uzbek authorities. During 2003 and early 2004, Murray told reporters, “CIA flights flew to Tashkent often, usually twice a week.”
The US had only started to hold up millions of dollars in aid to Uzbekistan the previous year, with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell saying Tashkent had failed to live up to its commitment to “substantial and continuing progress” on democratization.
Karimov of course wasted no time in imputing a foreign hand behind the protest movement. “The coincidence of everything that happened on the streets of Andijan…indicate that everything was calculated and planned beforehand,” he told the press.
In any case, through his brutal methods, Karimov had ridden out the storm. There would be no “color revolution” in Uzbekistan.
Ivan Check-Mates GI Joe
In the aftermath of the crisis—as the US, EU and NATO pressured for an open investigation of the apparent Andijan massacre—Uzbekistan tilted to Moscow in no uncertain terms.
Russia immediately increased its support for Karimov’s embattled government, announcing in July that it would soon conduct joint military exercises with Uzbekistan—the first since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The announcement by Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s defense minister, was broadcast in Moscow after a meeting there with Karimov. Significantly, Russia also agreed to deploy military units in Uzbekistan if the Central Asian nation faced destabilization.
Karimov’s visit was semi-official and Russian President Vladimir Putin received him at his residence outside Moscow rather than in the Kremlin. But Russia’s press reported that Karimov and Ivanov did sign a secret document on military cooperation. Wrote Russia’s official news agency RIA Novosti: “According to some sources, Tashkent is ready to revise [the] Uzbek-US agreement on using the Khanabad military base. Uzbekistan has therefore decided to modify its foreign-policy vector and to shift its gaze in the direction of Russia. Uzbekistan may well become Russia’s main Central Asian ally.”
The same month as the Moscow visit, Karimov predictably announced that he was giving the US six months to leave the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base—for which the US had just pledged a $23 million payment. To the discomfiture of many on Washington’s Capitol Hill, the payment went ahead despite the looming deadline.
Also that same month, the regional grouping known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, issued a statement that called on the US to establish a timetable for withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan and elsewhere in Central Asia. Led by Russia and China, the grouping also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan—and is seen as a rival to the US-backed GUAM.
The July 5 SCO statement read: “We support and will support the international coalition, which is carrying out an anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, and we have taken note of the progress made in the effort to stabilise the situation.” But this was immediately followed by lines which explicitly challenge Washington: “As the active military phase in the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan is nearing completion, the SCO would like the coalition’s members to decide on the deadline for the use of the temporary infrastructure and for their military contingents’ presence in those countries.”
In October, Putin and Karimov formalized their new security arrangement with a “Treaty on Allied Relations,” which the two leaders signed in a Kremlin ceremony. The pact called on Russia and Uzbekistan to provide military aid to each other in the event of “aggression,” and gave both countries “the right to use military installations” on each other’s territory.
The following month, Uzbekistan’s supreme court found 15 defendants guilty of “terrorism” and sentenced them to up to 20 years for their role in the May violence in Andijan—after what was decried as a “show trial” by international human rights organizations.
During the trial in September, one defendant testified that the protest movement had been underwritten by the US. Defendant Tavakkal Hojiev told the court that he heard from Qobil Parpiev, who had been identified by Uzbek authorities as one of the masterminds behind the violence, that the US Embassy provided funds for the Andijan uprising. Queried by a lawyer for additional details, Hojiev said: “A big sum went for weapons and cars. They held a demonstration in front of the court in Andijon. There were a lot of expenses for food and clothes for the people who showed up there over the course of three months…. It was clear to everyone that the funds came from the foreign ringleaders.” AP quoted Hojiev as saying, “I was told that our people received money from the American Embassy.” The news agency reported that a US Embassy official who attended the trial, Alexander Schrank, would not comment on the allegations.
The claim may or may not have been true. But Islam Karimov, theretofore attempting to play both sides in the Great Game between Moscow and Washington, had finally and decisively thrown in his lot with the former.
GI Joe Plays Kyrgyz Pawn
Just as Karimov was signing his new pact with Moscow in November, Condoleezza Rice was meeting with Kyrgyzstan’s President Bakiyev in Bishkek—where they negotiated a deal granting the US military long-term access to the Manas air base.
Kyrgyzstan had earlier that year been urging the US to set a timetable for its withdrawal, and the negotiations were said to be “very tough.” Kyrgyzstan demanded that annual payments be jacked up to $50 million. Additionally, the new government charged that some of the money was embezzled by the son of the ousted president Akayev. Bakiev wanted some $80 million in compensation.
With Uzbekistan lost to the Pentagon and Moscow’s influence in the region growing, Washington was willing to bargain. At the end of July, just after the SCO had issued its statement calling for a US withdrawal timetable from Central Asia, Donald Rumsfeld toured the region for a diplomatic counter-attack—and Kyrgyzstan, at least, began equivocating on demanding a timetable for withdrawal. Rumsfeld visited the US troops at Manas.
The abysmal human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan also provided Washington with leverage. Just before Secretary Rice’s visit to Bishkek, Bakiyev defended his use of force to put down unrest in the country’s prisons, which cost four lives on Nov. 1. “Police did the right thing when they demanded that suspects and other inmates leave the prison for interrogations,” said Bakiev. He said the inmates “refused to come out. [Law-enforcement officers] approached them to meet and they [the convicts] started shooting. Should they have been presented bagels in response?”
As negotiations over Manas wore on, the Kyrgyz government, itself put in power by a putatively US-sponsored revolution, seemed increasingly paranoid that Washington was brewing another one. In April 2006, Bakiyev claimed “foreign forces” were trying to create unrest in the country. So recently a revolutionary leader himself, Bakiyev now warned: “Some politicians see democracy as lawlessness and anarchy.” Human rights organizations were again reporting harassment and physical attacks on opposition activists in Kyrgyztsan. In July, Bishkek expelled two US diplomats for allegedly interfering in Kyrgyzstan’s internal affairs and having inappropriate contacts with local non-governmental organizations.
In November, a new wave of unrest broke out, with riot police intervening in Bishkek street clashes between supporters and opponents of Bakiyev. The violence—which saw police using tear gas and firing “warning shots” over the crowds—followed daily protests by opposition supporters calling for the president to resign. On the night of the worst violence, Nov. 7, opposition MPs held an emergency session in parliament to try to pass a new constitution to curb the president’s powers. The government called the move an “open attempt at seizing power.”
Bakiyev rode out the crisis. The following three years saw neither significant unrest, nor progress in talks with the US over back pay for the Manas air base. Too late, the new Obama administration offered to pay more for the base. Despite the Tulip Revolution, Kyrgyztsan, like Uzbekistan three years earlier, was swinging back towards the Russian camp—or, at least, an equidistant course like that of the ousted Akayev.
Neocon Dreams: Humbled at Last?
Central Asia is on the outer periphery of the vast region referred to by the neocons as the “Greater Middle East,” where, in their hubristic vision, virtually all regimes were ripe for destabilization and replacement by pro-Western technocrats. Under George Bush, there was a shift in Washington from a policy of “sharing” Central Asia with Moscow to one of decoupling the ex-Soviet republics from Moscow’s orbit altogether. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and Georgia’s Rose Revolution fueled confidence in such an agenda. But, like so much of the neocon project, it ultimately backfired. In Kyrgyzstan it has merely driven Karimov (like Akayev before him) back towards the open arms of Moscow.
The claims of Central Asia’s ruling strongmen that the opposition to their regimes is only a creation of US imperialism is, of course, cynical propaganda. But actual US intrigues make it more potent propaganda. US influence certainly played a role in Bakiyev consolidating power and outmaneuvering his rivals—and probably in the protest movements that later emerged to his rule. Washington is happy to overlook rights abuses in regimes it can play ball with, and equally happy to exploit such abuses in order to domesticate or destabilize regimes that turn recalcitrant.
Many of Obama’s closest foreign policy advisers are holdovers from the Carter days, well before the neocon revolution. Among those frequently mentioned when Obama was on the campaign trail was Zbigniew Brzezinski, although as president Obama has downplayed the role he played. The original ideological whiz-kid of the Trilateral Commission and Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Brzezinski represents the “pragmatist” wing of the ruling elites. In contrast to the neocons with their “regime change” fantasies, the pragmatists believe in accommodating authoritarian regimes when possible. But they can be just as hawkish as their neocon rivals. Brzezinski was the voice of Cold War realpolitik in the Carter administration—who, after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, got the ball rolling towards the Reagan-era policies of nuclear first-strike capability and aid to the Afghan mujahedeen.
In his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski famously wrote, “The prize is global primacy, and the playing field is Eurasia.” A more honest formulation than Jack Straw’s glib pronouncement during the 2001 Afghanistan invasion that Great Game was over.
If the neocons exploited pro-democracy forces in Central Asia only to betray them, those forces will face new challenges in the era of Obama. Even as US influence contracts in the post-Soviet sphere in reaction against eight years of neocon designs, the escalation in Afghanistan is certain to heighten the contradictions across the vast Central Asian region. With luck, the indigenous pro-democracy forces will be able to decouple their own struggles and aspirations from those of the military empires that for nearly two centuries have made Central Asia their chessboard.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization
GUUAM (archived site)
“Reports: Uzbekistan, NATO reach Afghanistan deal,” AP, Feb. 27, 2009
“US ready to pay more for Kyrgyz base, within limits: Gates,” AFP, Feb. 19, 2009
“Kyrgyzstan: Tracking Russia’s Assistance Package to Bishkek,” EurasiaNet, Feb. 18, 2009
“Russia, US discuss Afghan transit,” AFP, Feb. 11, 2009
“Clashes erupt in Kyrgyz capital,” BBC News, Nov. 7, 2006
“Kyrgyzstan Seeks $50 Million For US Use of Air Base,” BBC News, Jan. 17, 2006
“United States Cuts Off Aid to Uzbekistan,” EurasiaNet, July 14, 2004
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World War 4 Report, February 2009
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World War 4 Report, August 2006
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World War 4 Report, March 2005
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World War 4 Report, January 2005
From our Daily Report:
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Reprinting permissible with attribution
After Obama took office, the Washington Post announced: “Bush’s ‘War’ On Terror Comes to a Sudden End.” Does this mean World War 4 Report has outlived its mission?