In Slate…

by Nathan Hamm on 3/24/2005 · 4 comments

Neat. We made Slate today. The post regarding Matthew Yglesias’s comments at TAPPED was featured.

Unfortunately, Bidisha Banerjee at Slate focuses on the role of the Bush administration. What I’d rather people take away from that post isn’t that I disagree with Matthew, but that it’s so hard to pin down how the US has helped prepare the ground in Kyrgyzstan (and I think that we have and that it started prior to Bush) that it’s mostly not worth talking about.

I don’t think Bush supporters should hold up Kyrgyzstan as “a victory that Bush hath wrought” and I don’t think his detractors should make the point that the administration deserves no credit by waving a caricature version of US Central Asia policy. Frankly, the all or nothing sparring on both sides has become so tiresome that I can’t wait to get to the comics and tech sections of my bloglines account every morning.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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John-Paul Pagano March 24, 2005 at 10:59 pm

Today’s teetering and toppling dominos are such a far cry from the doomsaying predictions of the Air America crowd that it’s tough not to get excited. This is especially true for those of us who supported the War on Terror mainly because of its potential to spread democracy.

That said, of course democratic forces existed in places like Lebanon, Kyrgyztan, and even Palestine, before Bush and 9/11. And without timing and the will and mettle of the Kyrgyzstani people, the Tulip Revolution would not be possible. If facts on the ground would not permit it — you won’t see North Koreans occupying government buildings in Pyongyang any time soon — there would be no movement toward democracy. Bush is not the author of Kyrgyztani progress — the “victor” — in that sense.

But in another way, I think Bush can indeed claim victory in Kyrgyzstan. This is not because he invented democracy, or because the Kyrgyzstanis are primitive and couldn’t achieve it without Western help, but rather because his foreign policy has galvanized democratic, and spooked despotic, forces there and beyond. For nearly three years, people the world over haven’t tired of observing how precedentially dangerous Bush and the Neocons(TM) are. Well, they were right, although the (admittedly preliminary) results, too often to their chagrin, are a lot different from what they expected.

Josh March 25, 2005 at 7:53 am

Some of us fully supported the War on Terror as well. We were just unsure that Iraq had anything to do with the war on Terror and were concerned anout some of the exaggerations used to sell the war. And the exact impact (both positive and negative) from Iraq is still very much up in the air.

As far as Palestine goes, it has had elections many times before. Until the death of Arafat, what it didn’ have was a good solid democratic leader.

As for despots being spooked, Musharaff doesn’t look too spooked, and even Mubarak doesn’t look spooked either.

Many of us also supported the idea of democracy. The dispute was whether the war in Iraq was necessariy a good way of spreading democracy out of the barrel of a gun. And it is certain that the neocons bollicked many things up. Certainly the democratic movements in the former Soviet Republic countries seemed to have been little impacted by the war in Iraq but by domestic considerations.

The flip side is that Bush’s pressure on Russia in the Ukraine and here has definitely helped to stay Russia’s hand, so it has helped these countries to some extent.

Jon Juzlak March 25, 2005 at 10:59 am

Well, I see the WSJ’s editorial page has already taken a fair chunk of credit on Bush’s behalf. They point to the vast influence of the Afghanistan elections in Kyrgyzstan (is that really true ? ), but they are gracious enough to concede that Kiev may have been nearly as influential.

Nathan March 25, 2005 at 11:03 am

Afghanistan? Bunk. Do you have a link for that?

Ukraine and Georgia are much more important.

By the way, I should add that I most definitely do think that the Bush administration deserves some credit. It’s in a pretty abstract and disconnected way though. Changing the terms of the discussion around the world and putting autocrats on notice that our friendship isn’t unconditional and eternal has been important. Also, brokering the resignation of Shevardnadze helped prove that people could topple the corrupt in the former Soviet Union. This has been inspirational and becomes moreso each time it’s replicated.

So, credit, but in a way that it’s not worth laying blame or credit for everything at Bush’s feet.

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