My contribution to the American Security Project/ Atlantic 20-year retrospective on U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union is up, and it focuses on — what else? — Central Asia. An excerpt:
The terror attacks of September 11 and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan seemed at first to cement the rise of America in Central Asia. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld negotiated the use of military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, even while the State Department grew less and less comfortable with human rights abuses in those countries. By the time the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, American policy in the area seemed set on autopilot, dominant and victorious.
Then, something changed. In March of 2005, the “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan unseated Askar Akayev, who had ruled the country since 1990, throwing the U.S. into panic that it might lose access to the airbase at Manas. Also that year, in May, Uzbek security forces massacred hundreds of protesters in the city of Andijon, and in the ensuing outcry the U.S. lost access to the Uzbek airbase it relied on to supply the troops in Afghanistan. While the Americans later managed to secure expanded access to Manas, it came at an increasingly high cost.
The mid-2000s also saw Russia emerge from its slumber. Under Presidents Vladimir Putin and then Dmitri Medvedev, Russia slowly revived its campaign for influence in the region, gaining concessions from the Central Asian rulers and sometimes challenging the U.S. for access and resources. As of 2011, Russia and the U.S. could best be called frenemies in Central Asia, with Russia chafing at the continued American presence even while its officials worry about the consequences of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This is less policy analysis than history but I think it tells a pretty interesting story.