Day By Day

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Rummy gets a reprieve in Uzbekistan

After 9/11 and during the Afghan invasion the US rapidly expanded its influence and military presence in Central Asia, a fact that was viewed with suspicion by Russia and China, both of which have designs on controlling the region. Then, as democratic revolutionary movements swept through several former Soviet republics suspicions and outright accusations emerged that the US was fomenting liberation movements in order to further imperial designs in the region. These accusations reached a peak this spring when US authorities condemned Uzbek President Islam Karimov for his brutal suppression of democratic protesters.

Now a backlash has set in. China and Russia have put aside their considerable differences to issue a common demand that the US pull out of Central Asia. They have pressured national regimes in the region to make similar demands. Among those demands was that the US abandon the military base it had established in Uzbekistan in 2001.

Under its new interim President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan is trying desperately to maintain some independence of action and to establish a democratic state. Bakiyev has declared his fealty to Russia, but is also dealing with the US, which through its military presence pumps tens of millions of dollars into the nation's economy. It's a classic case of a poor, weak country playing off great powers one against another.

This week Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld personally traveled to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to resolve the matter of American military presence there. Not surprisingly the result was ambiguous enough to at least partially satisfy all the contending interests. Rumsfeld achieved an understanding that the US will continue to operate a base [and continue to pay landing fees] for an indefinite period of time, until the political and military situation in Afghanistan stabilizes. This is understood in the US to represent a long-term presence. Meanwhile, for the Russian audience, Kyrgyz authorities have stressed that the arrangement will last only so long as there is turmoil in Afghanistan, which the Russians interpret as a short-term commitments. So a crisis has been forestalled, American planes will continue to fly, Russian and Chinese fears have been to some extent placated, and money will continue to flow into Kyrgyzstan's treasury.

Not bad, but there is no long-term settlement; just a reprieve.

Get used to this sort of thing.

Bases like the one established in Kyrgyzstan ["lilypads" in Pentagon parlance] are central to America's new military doctrine which emphasizes rapid deployment of specialized forces on a global scale. As the lilypads proliferate, so too will the irritants to regional powers and opportunities for local regimes to milk the confrontations for political and economic benefits.

Read about it here. has a useful overview on the situation here. It notes that complaints against US "imperialism" and "colonialism" have become common in the press of both nations.

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