Russia, China, Central Asia Call for US Withdrawal
The members of something called the Shanghai Cooperation Council are trying to push the United States back out of Central Asia. The SCO consists of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, China, and Russia. The US essentially came into their territories or spheres of influence in 2001 to prosecute its war on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. At the time, China and Russia appear to have acquiesced in part because of their own struggles with Muslim radical movements in Chechnya and Xinjiang, which al-Qaeda was encouraging. In part, the Americans may have more or less bribed them behind the scenes. For the post-Soviet Central Asian states themselves, an American military presence had the attractions not only of protecting them from radical Islamists (who are a tiny, tiny minority in long-Communist Central Asia), but also of providing a counterweight to Russia, the military power in the region since the mid-nineteenth century.
Islam Karimov and the other Central Asian rulers assumed that they were dealing with the old realist Washington, which would trade them acquiescence in their authoritarianism for use of bases.
In fact, the Bush administration has a messianic commitment to destabilizing the area, under the rubric of “democratization.” Apparently it prefers failed states such as American-dominated Afghanistan and Iraq to stable, even pro-American dictatorships. This policy creates a key contradiction. Bush needs authoritarian states such as Syria and Uzbekistan to fight radical Muslim groups. But even as it seeks their help in this endeabor, it announces that it hopes to toss their leaders out of power.
The persistent rumors that the United States ran a covert operation to produce the crisis in the Ukraine, helping install the Yushchenko supporters and to ensure the ouster of Kuchma and his would-be successors, appears to have given leaders like Uzbekistan’s Karimov and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev a bad chill. The last straw for them came when crowds overthrew Askar Akaev in Kyrgyzstan in March. From the point of view of Astana and Tashkent, this event looked suspiciously like the Ukraine reprised, and they appear to have seen an American hand in it.
Whatever benefits the US is offering the Central Asians for use of their bases are far outweighed by this new fear of the revolutionary impact of Bush administration policies. Just as Syria abruptly ceased helping the US against al-Qaeda when the Neocons pushed through new sanctions on that country in Congress, so the Central Asians now want out. Bush has not handled the Russians and the Chinese very diplomatically, either, so they have every reason to cooperate with Karimov and Nazarbayev in beginning a push for getting rid of the US.
There is a real question as to whether an elected Afghan parliament, which will certainly be dominated by Muslim fundamentalists, will want a US presence much longer, either. Even the pro-American Karzai government offered scathing criticism over the recent civilian deaths in a US air attack on suspected terrorist safe houses in eastern Afghanistan.
Message to Bush: You just can’t have it all.