Foot In Mouth

by Joshua Foust on 12/22/2011 · 21 comments

I appreciate how much lead time you need for a published piece. Sometimes the timing is the worst it could possibly be, however. Poor, poor Martha Brill Olcott:

On December 16, Kazakhstan celebrated the anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union. In just 20 years, the Central Asian giant has made a smooth transition from a former Soviet republic to a middle income country. A top ten oil producer, and rich in other natural resources, Kazakhstan has attracted billions in foreign investment and advanced a foreign policy that makes it a vital bridge between Europe and Asia.

While sometimes frustrating Kazakhstan’s pro-democracy activists, under the leadership of its four-term president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has seen no major strife, despite its ethnic and religious diversity.

Maybe she’ll issue an update later.

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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 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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Sarah Kendzior December 22, 2011 at 11:52 am

Josh, you forgot the best line: “Given its 20-year track record in successfully dealing with the unexpected, one can be optimistic that Kazakhstan’s leaders will find ways to manage any of the geopolitical, political, economic and social challenges that they may need to confront.”

Why yes, they certainly will!

Joshua Foust December 22, 2011 at 11:54 am

There are so many gems in Olcott’s boot licking. I just couldn’t decide which one to choose!

David December 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I particularly liked: ‘over the past decade Kazakhstan has sought to emulate many of the best practices of resource rich states.’ Norway, indeed…

I wish Carnegie would simply give up commenting on Central Asia. It’s not so long ago they had Gulnora Karimov writing an op-ed on Uzbek foreign policy…

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Maybe you’ll issue an update, too, Joshua?

Because here’s what you said in the Atlantic:

“While the situation in Kazakhstan continues to seethe — hospitals are still treating wounded suffering from gunshot wounds and the streets of Zhanaozen are dotted with burned-out buildings — it is important to keep in mind what Kazakhstan is not. Kazakhstan is dealing with localized unrest. It is not dealing with an Arab Spring-style movement or even a revitalized global terrorist movement.:

Could you explain the difference between “localized unrest” and “no major strife”?

I’m having a hard time understanding.

Joshua Foust December 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Oh hai Catherine!

So let’s put on our honesty caps for a moment and think through some very basic concepts. An act of unrest can be significant enough to concern the national leadership and require executive-level intervention, as Zhanaozen did, while also being localized and posing no real threat of globalized terror or even a nation-wide Arab-Spring type movement.

In fact, you’d see a largely similar argument in Nate Schenkkan’s post, where he both argues that Zhanaozen is a big deal and important, but also that it does not pose a direct Arab Spring-like threat to the regime.

These are not difficult concepts for an educated person to hold in one’s head at the same time, nor is it hard to differentiate trying to understand the political and social context of the riots and Olcott’s shameless regime boosterism.

I hope that helps you understand the difference between these two very different yet nevertheless concomitant phenomena.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I understood them before you did, Joshua, because you minimized the events — deliberately and snarkily — on your Atlantic piece, and I wrote a lengthy response there saying in fact they were more serious. While the official death count is only a dozen, Novaya Gazeta and other Russian media have reported as many as 70. To be sure, Russian media can sometimes want to show Central Asian countries up badly, and can falsify numbers like this, but Kazakhstan is arguably Russia’s chief ally in the CIS these days and it doesn’t seem likely there would be deliberate manipulation. Obviously it’s a number that bears checking, but it indicates that the official version needs checking, too.

Jacob Zenn didn’t say Kazakhstan was a “center of globalized terror” — you ascribed that to him, even though we could all click and read his piece and see he didn’t say that, and he even came to comment on your Atlantic piece and say he didn’t say that. He didn’t say any “Arab Spring” was coming, either.

As for Martha Brill Olcott, she didn’t talk about Arab Springs or global centers of terrorism, but merely gave a 20 year overview of Kazakhstan that said there was no major unrest. There wasn’t. It’s a local labour dispute as you told us, remember?

I’m not defending Olcott’s anodyne and state-centric report. I myself often don’t agree with her on what she writes about , which is a certain kind of think-tank establishment sort of piece. As others have pointed out, there is enough other boilerplate in her piece that could be scrutinized — like the bit about that inter-generational conflict in values that will go ever-so-gently into a transition — without having to make up stuff.

What I’m pointing out is that you yourself are inconsistent and yet lob attacks on others over the question of the significance of unrest.

In fact, what Nate did was argue against your dismissal of this event by claiming it was a localized labour dispute and also claiming terrorist attacks were not really significant and isolated. He debunked your “anti-anti” predictability on this, and handily. Nate’s a good reporter and a good writer.

Nobody in this story is claiming there’s any Arab Spring. That’s why it’s silly to pound anyone over it.

Olcott’s “shameless regime boosterism”? Oh, dear. Don’t let me get started on your many works trashing the human rights movement’s protests about the Karimov regime that essentially accomplish the same thing.

So in conclusion, um, yes, I’m an educated person, Joshua, and I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I can grasp that seemingly local labour disputes sometimes have a greater impact than might be visible because they scrape away the veneer of the regime’s legitimacy, as Jacob Zenn wrote — that was really a great insight.

But that’s not what you were doing at the Atlantic. You were trying to convince us all that despite the brutality and bloodshed, it was localized, not a big threat to the regime or any big event, certainly not Arab Spring-like, and certainly not global terrorism. But then you didn’t say what it was, nonetheless, still important, because it would cause Nazarbayev to crack down more and tighten the screws before the parliamentary elections, and then possibly spark more unrest. We’ll see.

I think when your need to play gleeful gotchas on other people subsides, perhaps your naturally-curly brilliance will have a better chance to shine.

Joshua Foust December 23, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Okay Catty Catty Fitz Fitz. We need another lesson in being honest.

1. Please describe where I “minimized the events — deliberately and snarkily — on your Atlantic piece” (you probably meant “in”). I described the situation accurately — 15 people confirmed dead (now 16), lots of people in the hospitals, continuing tension & unrest. Where am I minimizing those events?

2. The Russian media is swimming with the 70 dead number. Good for them! Actual journalists, you know, the ones who are there and not with Russian racial axes to grind, can’t find evidence for that number yet. Neither your Eurasianet colleague Joanna Lillis nor Pete Leonard, both of whom are in-country and actively investigating the situation, cannot confirm anything beyond the known 16 dead. That’s a poor basis on which to claim I’m deliberately minimizing what happened, unless they are too.

3. Zenn left plenty of reasons for me to describe his piece the way I did: as blowing JaK’s capabilities and presence far beyond anything justifiable, and for needlessly linking them to events like Zhanaozen they had nothing to do with and couldn’t “exploit” (in his phrasing) beyond releasing a video on the internet no one beyond western CT “experts” even watched.

  • First graf: “Should Nazarbayev end up being deposed the way autocrats in the greater Middle East and Islamic world were in 2011, then JaK will be one of the reasons why.”
  • JaK also has global ambitions. It has followed other Central Asian jihadi movements in supporting the creation of an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia and the greater Islamic World. In a statement JaK described the reasoning behind the name “Jund al-Khilafa: “This name reminds Muslims of their duty to revive the Islamic Caliphate as a system. … It is the system of Shariah-based governance that must be prevail in every Muslim country from the east to the west. … We believe that the region of Central Asia, in addition to the Islamic Maghreb [North Africa] and Yemen, are candidates to be the nucleus for the return of the Caliphate State in the future.”
  • The protests had nothing to do with JaK, but the group’s message about getting rid of the Nazarbayev regime might strike a chord with other Kazakhs who, for other reasons, seek the same objective. Other opponents of the regime will be unlikely to coordinate with JaK to bring down the regime, but JaK terror attacks, heightened discussion of the regime’s excesses, protests and strikes throughout the country, and examples from Kyrgyzstan to Russia to the Arab World of people gathering in the streets to voice dissents will make Nazarabyev’s job security less stable than ever before.

Indeed, while Zenn is all about how JaK is “exploiting” the Zhanaozen riots, he is guilty of the exact same thing, using a completely unrelated event irrelevant to the goals of an Islamist militant group to boast of how dangerous they are. He deserves more scorn than I heaped on him at The Atlantic because his methodology — literally, drawing all significance from an unwatched web video — and conclusions are completely unsupportable. My editors there asked me to trim that out.

4. For the eleventeenth time, a dispute can be both major and localized. Killing sixteen people at a riot is a big deal no matter the circumstance, but that killing can also not mean anything about the regime’s chances of surviving or even thriving. This is also the heart of Nate’s piece, and if you go back and read things again, you’d see that he and I have both discussed the ways in which Kazakhstan’s social contract are being challenged. We come to slightly different conclusions about how that is happening and what the end result might be, but we are not diametrically, or even substantially, opposed. Your distinction between the two ideas here is both wrong and mendacious.

5. The constant references to the Arab Spring, including by Zenn, are why I continue to argue against it. Blake Hounshell, the managing editor of Foreign Policy, has speculated if “the Spring is coming to Central Asia” (or something similar, that’s not an exact quote). To say that no one is talking an Arab Spring is either misleadingly describing the actual discussion or completely ignorant of it.

6. Trotting out the whole “by criticizing people I like you are objectively pro-Karimov” line is not only pedantic and idiotic, but it appeals to the very worst instincts of the neo-cons in 2003 who described anyone who felt the Bush policies were wrong as being “objectively pro-Saddam.” Because only a monster who hates human rights would oppose opposing a monster like Saddam Hussein!

Of course, thinking, honest people know that you can oppose a policy, or in my case a method of advocacy, without being pro-regime. For you to insinuate otherwise is not only unjustified, but again dishonest.

Dishonesty is a recurring theme with you, Catherine, and it was old months ago. Please do not expect to be welcome here if you insist on refusing to engage with the actual arguments in play as opposed to what you wish people have argued. This isn’t some Second Life forum, Prokofy.

Nathan Hamm December 23, 2011 at 4:10 pm


  • Whereas, is privately owned intellectual property, there are no free speech rights beyond those I grant, and
  • Whereas, the length of your comments kills the flow of discussions I try to create here, and
  • Whereas, your repeated attacks on others not only derail discussions but border on libel, opening me to potential liability, and
  • Whereas, you simply have a digital black thumb, and
  • Whereas, you have your own blog and other platforms where it is far easier for me to ignore what you have to say, and
  • Whereas, it’s Christmas and I really deserve a gift to myself,

Be it resolved that your continued use of the fora I provide to state your opinions or promote your work is unwelcome. It will all be deleted, disemvoweled, or otherwise altered as I deem appropriate at the time.

Dilshod December 24, 2011 at 10:45 am

Hey guys,
Merry Christmas indeed. Me too is weary of reading her pieces. But if I were you I would simply ask her to be more concise with the way she reasons. Just to remind her she is not a USC Justice. 😉 Otherwise, I am pretty fine with arguments developed “from a really different perspective”. Again, just a thought.

Nathan Hamm December 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I tried that. She, to sum it up, called me a Stalinist asshole.

Will December 24, 2011 at 11:51 am

How many times have I read that anybody who doesn’t agree with her line of thinking is called a pro-regime, or worst a suspect? People like her are doing more disservice to human rights cause by being, quite often, out of touch with reality, but they don’t realize it.

Dr Red Book December 26, 2011 at 1:48 am

Nathan, if I was you, I’d use “ideological” instead of “intellectual”…

Nathan Hamm December 26, 2011 at 2:12 am

“Intellectual property” is an actual thing. But as a troll, I’m sure you know that.

Dr Red Book December 26, 2011 at 1:44 am

Joshua, I have an advice, hope you dont mind, you shouldnt, as a writer you should be able to handle critisism and to correct you as appropriate.

And this is the case, where you are not quite right. Sorry for my directness. To be on the safe side, now and forth please be more neutral and while you are commenting specific people follow code of conduct and do not insult them publicly. Not the right way to treat yourself.

Otherwise, your accuracy is arguable as well, I am entering in details, but I believe you need time to understand my point.
Between, Merry Christmas!

Dr Red Book December 26, 2011 at 1:46 am

Otherwise, your accuracy is arguable as well, I am NOT entering in details, but I believe you need time to understand my point.

K1 December 27, 2011 at 8:02 am

This was all really nasty. I don’t comment often on Registan but I’ve been reading it for years. This is a new low for all involved.

Nathan Hamm December 28, 2011 at 1:32 am

Unless you used a different name and email address in the past, I can’t find any comments by you.

Don’t hold any of this agains us. Google Catherine Fitzpatrick‘s pseudonym. This happens many other places she goes online.

If you’ve read for years, you know we don’t care about disagreement. We don’t appreciate baseless accusations and trolling.

MJ January 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I tend to agree that Fitzpatrick’s comments here are hard to read but maybe a more appropriate response would be just to ignore them. But don’t start to censor, that is a new low indeed – where does it start, where does it end? Either don’t allow comments, or deal with them in a constructive manner. And if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Regarding the accusation that her comments border on libel: this is a serious one, not a judgement for amateurs to make. If you really think that is the case you should hire a lawyer. If you don’t want to do that don’t assert it in the first place.

Nathan Hamm January 2, 2012 at 2:36 am

MJ, have you read all the exchanges going back over several weeks or so? I know the answer is “no,” so let me recount.

Catherine was leaving exceedingly long comments. Those get flagged and require manual approval. She assumed I was censoring her and flew off the handle. I assured her I wasn’t, that I would approve her comments, but that I request they be shorter than the (very high) character limit I’ve set; they derail discussion otherwise. In response, I was informed I’m sectarian, an idiot, etc.

Step two was to ignore her. I did so, until third parties who have history and reputation with this site (not Josh) asked if I would shut it down.

Step three was shutting it down. If she’s making people who are much kinder than me uncomfortable, then I have no problem shutting her down. She has several blogs. Her rights to say what she wants are in no way limited. I’m under no obligation to provide her or anyone a forum. I usually do because I just don’t care enough to go to the trouble of denying commenters the platform. So, she should feel good; she’s part of a very exclusive club.

Please, and I truly am saying this in a constructive spirit, don’t lecture me on how to deal with this, what it represents, etc. I’ve been doing this a while and it’s nothing new here or anywhere else. It’s no crisis; the internet is a wide open place where anyone can say what they want and are more than free to ban me from commenting on their posts.

And regarding libel, if it’s false, malicious, and defamatory like a duck, might as well say what it is. It’s unlikely that it would meet the standards for US cases, but the things she says are certainly more clearly over the line than the weak sauce she has threatened to sue me over.

It seems to only be a constellation of folks orbiting around OSI/CEP who have the vapors about all this lately. Why have you popped out of the woodwork so excited all of a sudden?

lone wolf January 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

this is mor funn then a goo goosha boiling the politco dissident party.

lone wolf January 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm

1 thing,
what the diffirence betwn leninst ahol and stalinist ahol
and a gorbachev ahol etc etc ?
is it how much vodka was consumed the nite b4.

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