April 13, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Political turmoil in South Asia
Just as the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan (Obama's "surge"?) is getting underway, there are multiple disturbing developments that threaten to undermine the American strategic posture in South Asia, and by extension, the Middle East region. In Kyrgyzstan, a simmering protest movement suddenly exploded last week, forcing President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to flee and take refuge. A provisional government emerged to fill the void, led by Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister.
The reasons for this abrupt upheaval became a bit clearer yesterday. The Washington Post reported that the ouster of the president was orchestrated by Moscow in a most unseemly way. Russia has been seeking to evict U.S. armed forces from the former Soviet republic, and made a deal with the Kyrgyz government about a year ago. For a while, it looked as though the U.S. supply line into Afghanistan would be severely pinched, without access to the air base at Bishkek. But then:
Four months later, after Russia had made good on $415 million of its pledge, Bakiyev suddenly agreed to keep the air base open when Washington offered more than three times the original rent. Russian officials, including President Dmitry Medvedev, indicated at the time that they had blessed the decision, but it soon became clear that the Kremlin had been cheated -- and was furious.
Bakiyev came to power in 2005, as the head of a democratic reform movement such as the ones that were then flowering in Ukraine and parts of South Asia. Until last year, he successfully steered a middle course between the U.S.A. and Russia. The article goes on to describe a complex set of deals with various high Kyrgyz officials. It sounds like a fairly typical corrupt Third World regime. The upshot is, we will almost certainly have to pay a much greater price if we are to retain the use of that air base in Kyrgyzstan. Russia clearly aims to steadily ramp up the pressure on us, until the strategic cost-benefit equation puts our continued involvement in Afghanistan in doubt. President Obama's advisors must have told him so, which raises questions about the renewed START treaty that he just signed with Russian President Medvedev.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai seems to have gone nuts. He responded to recent charges by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that his government tolerates corruption by adopting a populist stance, wearing Afghan clothing and headgear more often, and denouncing the "foreign interference" in his country. Well, truth be told, we're the ones who put him into power in the first place. He has even gone so far as to threaten to break his alliance with NATO and join the Taliban insurgents! In the past, Karzai has displayed mediocre political skills, and this bit of posturing may fool some of his own countrymen, but it greatly diminishes his stature in the international context. I'm tempted to say that we should dare him to defect, and see how many others in his government are willing to go back to the bad old days. Of course, we would be in a better position if there weren't so many accidental killings of Afghan people by NATO forces. In any counterinsurgency war, there are bound to be a significant number of collateral deaths.
Tea party op-ed
My friend and colleague Matthew Poteat had a column about the tea party movement in today's News Leader. In response to those who invoke the Boston Tea Party to justify their rebellion against the Obama administration, he portrays the American Revolution as an incremental process that began as a reform movement. He has a point, but I wish he would take the Tea Partiers just a little bit more seriously. I know for a fact that many of them are intelligent, earnest, and have the best of intentions.
Is Somalia "libertarian"?
Not by any stretch of the imagination, but the absence of strong central authority gives left-wing polemicists an opportunity to equate barbaric, lawless anarchy with civilized, law-abiding freedom. If you can stomach the sarcasm, watch the youtube.com video that I encountered "thanks" to someone on Facebook.