Remember Kyrgyzstan? Longtime readers of this
space will recall our extensive coverage of that country's "Tulip
Revolution," also dubbed the "Pink Revolution," way back
in those heady days when George W. Bush's "global
democratic revolution" was said to be the wave of the future. The so-called
color revolutions in Georgia,
Ukraine, and the
landlocked and desperately poor Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan were supposedly
sparked by Bush's "fire
in the mind" – a phrase lifted out of Dostoyevsky's The
Possessed and used in one of the former president's more unhinged perorations.
In the case of Kyrgyzstan, however, it looks like that fire has blown back in
After pouring all
sorts of resources, including
cash, into the coffers of the Tulip Revolutionaries, via overt aid and covert
payments to "nongovernmental
organizations," basically underwriting their campaign to overthrow
the regime of then-President Askar
Akayev, what has the U.S. got to show for it? The Kyrgyz government recently
announced that it was unilaterally canceling
the contract that grants us the right to maintain the Ganci
air base at Bishkek's Manas airport, a key link in the increasingly fragile
supply lines that service U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Western news reports invariably couple
this announcement with the recent conclusion of an aid pact with the Russians
guaranteeing $2 billion. U.S. government and NATO officials openly accuse the
Russians of interference, yet the real reasons for the base closure are only
mentioned in passing, if at all: the 2006 killing
of a Kyrgyz citizen by a U.S. soldier, one of 1,500 stationed in and around
the air base.
The soldier, Zachary Hatfield, shot and killed Alexander Ivanov, a 42-year-old
truck driver and father of two sons, at a checkpoint where Ivanov was in the
process of delivering fuel to Manas. Ivanov had supposedly threatened Hatfield
with a knife. A USA Today report
includes this testimony from Ivanov's son and other truck drivers:
"'He told me often that American soldiers behaved insolently and unceremoniously,'
he said. 'I want only one thing: that the guilty man be punished,' he said.
Ivanov's colleagues accused the U.S. servicemen of behaving disrespectfully
towards local workers. Yevgenyi Trai said he and his co-workers have decided
to deliver fuel to the airport bypassing the U.S. military checkpoint, 'because
there is a threat to our lives there.'
'''Americans are boorish with us, pushing us into the [security tent] with
gun butts,' Trai said."
Other news reports indicate that as Hatfield approached the security tent,
Ivanov brandished a weapon. Whether or not this was immediately after being
whacked with the butt of a gun is an open question, and there is a real dispute
over whether Ivanov posed a threat. There is some
indication that the knife found may have been taken from his vehicle after
the shooting. The Jamestown Foundation reports:
"At the time of the shooting Ivanov was about 5-6 meters away from Hatfield.
Since Ivanov's knife was found 20 meters away from the site of the incident,
his widow questions whether he was, in fact, threatening Hatfield with it."
Kyrgyz prosecutors doubted Hatfield's story and pressed murder charges against
him, ignoring the status of forces agreement that immunizes U.S. soldiers from
legal action by local authorities. Surely this knowledge of his immunity led
to a certain carelessness, shall we say, on Hatfield's part. One Kyrgyz civil
rights activist told the Jamestown Foundation that "Hatfield, knowing
he was protected by diplomatic status, intentionally hunted down Ivanov out
of anger and low personal character."
Ivanov's widow was eventually given compensation of some $50,000, which is
not the same as an admission of wrongdoing but pretty close to it. What's really
bad PR for the U.S. in Kyrgyzstan is that she was initially offered $1,000,
which shows just how much value we put on life out there on the far frontiers
of our Empire.
No wonder they threw us out.
Partisans of the Obama administration are hoping the new diplomatic
dispensation from Washington will mean this sort of thing will become the
exception rather than the rule, yet there is little reason to believe this hope
is realistic. The U.S. footprint in countries where we have bases has never
been inconspicuous, and relations with the "natives"
are inevitably rocky: it's inherent in the situation. From
Okinawa to Bishkek, U.S. military bases are generators of violence, prostitution,
and environmental degradation. They are, in short, a lot of trouble for the
host countries, quite aside from the number of fatherless children they produce.
That there is no real "change" in Washington on the foreign policy
front was confirmed by the
news that we are now frantically negotiating with Uzbekistan for permission
to reopen our old base on their territory. The Uzbek government, you remember,
us out when we criticized their Maximum Leader, Islam
Karimov, after he mowed down hundreds of his subjects in what became known
as the Andijan
massacre. Even the Bush administration had to distance itself from Karimov,
a nutball with delusions of grandeur, when his neo-communist
policies turned murderous. Oh, but not the "liberal" Obama administration.
Heck, why not go back to Uzbekistan, anyway, since we've apparently already
down payment on the rent?
With President Obama getting ready
to launch his Afghan "surge," the U.S. is targeting the 'stans
in the vicinity: the idea is to build a ring of bases around the battlefield
– Pakistan and Afghanistan – to support extensive military operations. This
will add to the instability in the region, provoke a fight with Russia, and
expand the list of possible terrorist targets, as well as provoke a backlash
in host countries, as it did in Kyrgyzstan.
There is one possible way for the U.S. to "solve" its Kyrgyzstan
problem and that is by doing what they did last time the locals got uppity.
The former President Akayev roused U.S. ire by similarly
threatening to revoke the contract allowing our base to operate, and he was
shortly and unceremoniously overthrown by a U.S.-backed-and-funded revolution.
The base stayed.
Could history repeat itself? I don't know if maybe they've run out of colors
to brand their made-in-America "revolutions," but, when push comes
to shove, I've no doubt that they'll think of something. Maybe they'll go