Cohen Sunday

by Nathan Hamm on 10/9/2005 · 5 comments

Ariel Cohen writes in The Washington Times about what is at stake in Secretary of State Rice’s Central Asia trip. He identifies Kazakhstan as the potential key to US policy in the region.

Mr. Nazarbaev’s policies are leading to possibly doubling his country’s standard of living to the level of Central Europe, improving the rule of law and developing a civil society. It will take time — and money, he says — in a society predominantly nomadic 80 years ago but now developing a middle class.

With prosperity growing, Mr. Nazarbaev promised to make democratic reforms, starting with contested presidential elections in December in which he is running. He is introducing elections of regional governors, jury trials and e-government — a far cry from Uzbek and Turkmen oppression.

Miss Rice should encourage her Kazakh host to promote separation of power, transparency and political pluralism. But she needs to tread carefully: Kazakhstan has political options to the North and East — China and Russia covet its oil and huge expanses.

While there’s plenty of room to argue about how well Kazakhstan is doing on the political liberalization front, Cohen is right that that country is doing far better than its southern neighbors. And as its economy grows, insofar as any local state can be said to be or realistically aspiring to be the region’s leader, Kazakhstan’s lead on Uzbekistan will increase.

Meanwhile, an interview with Cohen mostly dealing with US policy in the South Caucasus appears in Caucaz. On the possibility of a US base in Azerbaijan, Cohen says the chances of it happening are tied to an ongoing foreign policy debate in the US.

Today, the priority for Washington is to determine if the US needs to carry out an active policy in Eurasia or if, on the other hand, they should limit their presence to the absolute minimum in order to focus on the Middle East, in particular Iraq, before worrying about Central Asia and Caucasus.

This debate is ongoing in Washington. Many experts have been discussing the subject and have recommended different approaches. However, for as long as this debate remains open and unresolved, I think that the probability of establishing an American military base in Azerbaijan is slim.

There are plenty of signs that the administration has not been particularly interested in having a very active Eurasia policy. And I’m not sure that I would interpret recent State Department statements to indicate that there is an interest now. But if the past few weeks are any sign, Congress is quite interested in having some sort of policy.

And finally, C.J. Chivers writes about Hizb ut-Tahrir. Central Asia of course figures prominently in the story, and Dr. Cohen warns that the group is dangerous and should be banned.

I have a couple problems with the Chivers story. First is one of what I like to call “throw-away lines” that most just speed through and agree with but that do not stand up to much scrutiny. And this one does not figure largely in the story, but it does reinforce a misperception about the appeal of Islamic radicalism in Central Asia.

In all, the party claims to have operations in more than 100 nations, and it has found fertile ground – and recruits – in the combination of endemic poverty and resurgent interest in Islam in Central Asia since the last years of the Soviet Union.

But, in the same story,

Sadykzhan Kamaluddin, a former mufti of Kyrgyzstan who now runs the International Center of Islamic Cooperation, in Osh, said a more effective approach was to leave Hizbut Tahrir to religious figures to confront.

Their message, he said, already marginalizes them, and they can best be defeated by teaching a broader and more tolerant version of Islam. “In all the states where Hizbut Tahrir gets very much attention from the political center, they grow,” he said.

Because if poverty and interest in Islam were all that was important, one might expect that HT would be doing best in Tajikistan and that it would be about as successful in Kyrgyzstan as Uzbekistan. (And going further, we might expect almost as much interest in Turkmenistan as in Kazakhstan).

The second is a nitpicky complaint about transliteration. There are, of course, different ways of transliterating cyrillic alphabets. I try to stay as phonetic as possible (though I may switch to the Library of Congress system to preserve my sanity as I now have to use it for research). Chivers is inconsistent. On the one hand, we have Dzhalilov, and on the other Zhumabayev. (There’s also Sadykzhan that I think is funny looking.) I don’t necessarily expect journalists to know that in Uzbek cyrillic Ж is an Uzbek latin J, and I don’t necessarily expect that the NYT is up on their Turkic names. But if you can’t get it right, there’s something to be said for dropping the pretension of doing it right and just using the humble J for English-using audiences.

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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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Laurence October 10, 2005 at 6:02 am

This line of Cohen’s op-ed bears mentioning, IMHO:

    Whatever she does, anchoring U.S. interests in Central Asia can only be a two-way street, in which America gives, not only takes, and listens, not only lectures.

Amanda October 11, 2005 at 5:57 am

“Miss Rice”? I was under the impression that once someone was a “Madame Secretary,” the proper term of address was “Ms”.

Phil October 11, 2005 at 9:37 am

I think the State Dept. protocol manual (among other sources) says that for unmarried women “Miss” is proper. I would argue that in the case of our current Secretary of State, “Secretary Rice” or “Dr. Rice” would be most appropriate. The Economist consistently uses “Ms Rice”.

In my personal opinion (and I have some backing on this), “Ms” should be reserved for cases where you don’t know the marital status, the woman is divorced, but has kept her husband’s name (Ms. Jane Public is no longer Mrs. John Q. Public), or the woman prefers it. Obviously, the person’s preference is paramount; that’s what being well-mannered is all about. (This has a limit; if you’re an American university student and wish to be addressed as “His Excellency Thomas Lord Fairfax, Baron Cameron”, that’s just too bad.) That said, it is not clear what Dr. Rice prefers.

Of course, newspapers tend to stick to Mr/Ms/Dr, whereas my rules are based more on how you’d address a wedding invitation or other formal correspondance.

grigory October 11, 2005 at 11:07 am
Kyrgyzstan Says U.S. Can Keep Using Its Air Base for Afghan War

Kyrgyzstan today assured the U.S. it can use a use a key air base on its territory as long as needed to support the war in Afghanistan.

“We support the presence of coalition forces in the Kyrgyz Republic until the mission of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan is completed,” read a joint statement signed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Kyrgyzstan’s newly elected president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Rice visited the former Soviet republic as part of a Central Asian tour aimed at boosting democratic reform, cooperating on counter-terrorism and bolstering U.S. influence in the energy-rich area where Russia and China are also vying for increased access.

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