Dumb Things Written About Kyrgyzstan

by Joshua Foust on 3/29/2011 · 6 comments

What do you get when you combine a Wikipedia-type entry on a country no one knows about, along with incorrect facts you could easily Google in like fifteen minutes, and lots of preening about democracy? A Max Boot column! This time, after solving Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, he’s decided his junket to Kyrgyzstan taught him their democracy is “wobbly.”

There are, of course, substantial errors of fact in his piece. Kyrgyzstan’s GDP is $4.5 billion, not $12 billion. Most estimates of Kyrgyzstan’s per capita GDP are between $800 and $900, not $2200. Besides, using estimates of per capita GDP tell you very little about a country’s economic output or its prospects for the future. The structure and output of the economy matter more, as do the regulations and taxes that constrain or promote certain types of business activity.

But beyond basic stuff like easily-Googled data, Boot comments on Kyrgystan’s prospects for democracy and stability without mentioning the brutal, horrifying riots that happened last summer in Osh and Jalalabad. That is astounding, and should be to all of us (see Registan.net’s coverage of the riots here). It is something you can only do through sheer ignorance.

Most egregiously, by neglecting to mention the huge, very bloody elephant in the room, Max Boot blew a huge opportunity to drawn an appropriate analogy to the current riots buffeting the Middle East. In Kyrgyzstan, a mass uprising against a putative ally turned into a pogrom of Kyrgyz thugs ethnically cleansing Uzbeks from the western cities, forcing a massive refugee flight. Despite the obvious confluence of U.S. objectives there — and the role the alleged criminals who provide fuel to Manas at a 100% markup played in fomenting the riots — the U.S. chose not to respond, even by sending aid to the tens of thousands of displaced.

In fact, Kyrgyzstan was something of a preview for how the U.S. would respond to the uprisings within its allies: namely, that we will only intervene when we have nothing at stake. That strikes me as the real lesson (and a tragedy for how it demonstrates the hollowness of our power), not this “assessment” of the “wobbliness: of Kyrgyzstan’s government.

And, lastly, Max, miniskirts say nothing about the relative secularism of a society. Good grief you should be embarrassed. I hope the junket was nice.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Kzblog March 29, 2011 at 11:57 am

The miniskirts as indicator of secularism seems to be common. How many times have I read that in Afghanistan in the 60s women wore miniskirts? Wonder who started this meme.

Nick March 29, 2011 at 12:06 pm

‘Wonder who started this meme.’

Austin Powers.

Jangak March 29, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I don’t even know where to begin with this…

Rob March 30, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Don’t expect journalists with a broad focus to care enough to fact check about a country that is of little interest to most everyone right now.

Nathan March 30, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Rob, people who make decisions about the commitment of American blood and treasure listen to guys like Boot (who styles himself a military historian, not a journalist). His accuracy matters.

Mike April 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm

It is worth considering the risks the US would be taking by intervening in a country that Russia considers to be in its sphere of influence. There have been times in the last 10 years where Russians would jump at any opportunity to get the US out of Manas.

As far as miniskirts go, Kyrgyzstan is neither radical nor incredibly liberal in religious matters. The real problem that threatens the progress of the republic is, in my opinion, ever-rising nationalism.

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