On the first day of Kyrgyzstan’s “daffodil revolution,” photogenic girls smilingly offered daffodils to police guarding the presidential palace, but in a few hours those same guards were being pushed back and beaten by drunken crowds, who surged into the seat of government and ransacked the place. They also ransacked the entire city. “Democracy, whiskey, sexy!” as the saying goes
Looters in Kyrgyzstan’s capital city of Bishkek justified their rampage on the grounds that the owners of the big stores including President Askar Akayev‘s son, Aidar were supporters of the old regime. Conversely, in typical Soviet style, the “revolutionary” leaders were quick to accuse the looters of being part of a counterrevolutionary plot:
“‘It’s those government-hired provocateurs who were trying to spoil our rally yesterday,’ said Kadyrbai Sodirov, referring to hundreds of men in plainclothes who clashed with the anti-Akayev rally before the seizure of the government building known as the White House. ‘Now they are trying to tarnish our image another way.’ But Saniya Sagnayeva, an analyst from the International Crisis Group, said she believed most looters had been on the opposition side Thursday. ‘It’s a war of the poor against the rich,’ she said. ‘It is understandable: These young men are mostly from remote villages. They have no fridges, no radio at home. After their triumph at the White House, they think the city is theirs. It’s winners’ fever.'”
That the Bush administration has unleashed a war of “the poor against the rich” may seem anomalous to some of us here at home after all, this is the same administration that is making it harder for the poor to declare bankruptcy while at the same time giving the rich the right to keep their Mercedes but this is nothing new for our Janus-faced administration: they are royalists at home and Jacobins abroad. While the Bushians claim the right to suspend the Bill of Rights in the U.S., they do more than merely proclaim their “global democratic revolution” they are acting on it.
It was therefore not at all surprising to read the text of a purloined memo from U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young originally posted on the official news site of the Kyrgyzstan government that outlines in detail the American plan to oust Akayev. Now before I go any further, I just want to comment on the authenticity of this memo: a number of people have remarked on the various grammatical errors that appear in it. These, I believe, can be explained as errors of transcription: it seems that this was posted in a very great hurry, as events in Kyrgyzstan have proceeded apace. After all, we aren’t talking about the Associated Press or Reuters here, but a news agency, albeit the “official” one, in a small and relatively impoverished Central Asian country. Secondly, we have to look at the context in which this memo appears: it was posted on a Web site that features all sorts of articles written with reasonable objectivity, and even pieces that put the Akayev government in a bad light. So the Kabar News Agency doesn’t seem to be an outlet for pro-Akayev propaganda. The memo sticks pretty closely to the thrust of U.S. policy in Kyrgyzstan, and I find the signature of the U.S. ambassador as well as the U.S. government seal reproduced at the bottom fairly convincing. The distinct possibility that this is authentic, and precisely because it hasn’t received attention anywhere else, compels me to take it seriously. If this isn’t a memo written and conceived in the U.S. embassy, then let the U.S. State Department deny it.
“Taking into account the interests, of our presence in the region and development of democratic society in Kyrgyzstan, our primary goal according to the earlier approved plans is to increase pressure upon Akayev to make him resign ahead of schedule after the parliamentary elections.”
And of course Akayev’s supporters were completely correct, as the memo itself proves. It’s fascinating to read the smug assertions of the ambassador, as he calculates the impact of covert American support to his various sock puppets:
“According to the materials we sent to the Department of State earlier, at present two formations are shaped on the political arena of Kyrgyzstan. First of all, it is the pre-election block For Powers of People. In July 2004 it united six opposition parties, which nominated K. Bakiev [sic], ex-prime minister and MP, as their single candidate for the presidential post. I think he is the most acceptable candidate in the aspect of fruitful development of relations between the USA and Kyrgyzstan. I met Bakiev on repeated occasions. Bakiev expressed his consent to take advantage of the support after his block’s winning in parliamentary elections. As he said, after ambiguous American involvement in elections in Georgia and Ukraine unconcealed American support provided to a candidate might have a negative effect on his political reputation. Furthermore, he was against falling off in relations with Russia by criticizing on behalf of his party Russian intervening in the Ukrainian elections. “
So Bakiyev is their man, but what of the others?
“Among the other significant political leaders we name M. Ashirkulov, the former secretary of Security Council, and F. Kulov, who is currently imprisoned. They represent a newly founded party the Civic Union For Fair Elections.
“We believe Ashirkulov’s growing popularity has arisen from recent scandals and his demonstrative walkout from the president’s team. In our opinion, it was a specially made up action to promote the president’s friend to head up a ‘puppet’ opposition. In this connection, we advise continuing contacts with another prominent representative of the opposition F. Kulov, whose imprisonment will end in the middle of 2005. Enjoying deserved popularity and being a victim of [the] regime, he will have sufficient potential to struggle for the presidency. F. Kulov shares and adheres to American concepts of freedom and democracy and can be viewed as a dubbing candidate for the presidency in case our main candidate Bakiev is defeated.”
The truth is that the “democratic” opposition backed by the U.S. is no better and, in some ways, worse than the regime they have just overthrown. Kulov is a former official of the Soviet secret police who brutally crushed a 1990 ethnic uprising in the southern city of Osh and mobilized the military around Akayev’s banner after the fall of the Soviet Union. He purportedly became involved in an abortive coup, and, as one study of the Kyrgyzstan opposition puts it:
“Much of the equipment allocated to a special task force set up by Kulov, including electronic eavesdropping devices, mysteriously disappeared. The president, already doubtful of Kulov’s loyalty, demoted him in 1998 to the post of mayor of Bishkek. In late 1999, Kulov resigned and set up his own party to oppose Akayev in the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections. In January 2001, as his split with Akayev grew deeper, a Bishkek court found Kulov guilty of fraud and abuse of power, giving him a seven-year prison term.”
Oh yes, Kulov certainly “shares and adheres to American concepts of freedom and democracy” by Bushian standards.
Bakiyev is no better. On March 17, 2002, demonstrators who were holding a peaceful and legal rally in support of Azimbek Beknazarov a member of parliament who spoke out against the cession of land to China by the Akayev government were attacked by the police and five demonstrators were killed. Bakiyev, then prime minister, was forced to resign after an investigation revealed police responsibility for the murders. This character has been proclaimed the new “president” of Kyrgyzstan: yesterday, he was reviled as a “hardliner,” and now he is being held up as the symbol of “democracy” and pro-American liberalism.
The United States couldn’t care less about “democracy” and “freedom,” in Kyrgyzstan or anywhere else. What they care about is limiting Russian and, increasingly, Chinese influence in Central Asia, and their strategy is to encircle both. The “democratic tide” that pundits are waffling on about is just the ideological window-dressing that adorns what is basically a military strategy. That’s the real reason the U.S. is pouring money and resources into this impoverished backwater, with the help of the Soros Foundation and other global meddlers, as Ambassador Young relates in his memo to the State Department:
“We have mostly succeeded in developing contacts with another leader of the opposition R. Otunbaeva, ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs. Through the funds allocated to her we managed to lobby setting up and promoting certain NGOs as well as organizing a unified system of mass media for better coverage over the country to spread her statement about noninterference of Russia in internal affairs of Kyrgyzstan.
With a view to providing favorable conditions and helping democratic opposition leaders come to power, our primary goal for the pre-elections period is to arouse mistrust to the authorities in force and Akayev’s incapacitated corruption regime, his pro-Russian orientation and illegal use of ‘an administrative resource’ to rig elections. In this regard, the embassy’s Democratic commission, Soros Foundations, Eurasia Foundation in Bishkek in cooperation with USAID have been organizing politically active groups of voters in order to inspire riots against pro-president candidates.
“We have set up and opened financing for an independent printing office the Media Support center and AKIpress news agency to interpret impartially the course of the elections and minimize state mass media propaganda impact. We also render financial support to promising non-governmental tele- and radio companies.”
The tentacles of the U.S. “democracy”-exporting machine are everywhere: Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, with a Western media eager to broadcast the administration’s narrative of color-coded “revolutions” (i.e., coups) as triumphs of the popular will. This strategy, which seeks to avoid outright invasion and take over countries on the cheap, was given voice by Robert D. Kaplan in a recent article in The Atlantic, in which he advocated small-scale covert interventions around the world as an alternative to the Iraq-quagmire scenario. Check out this debate with political scientist John Mearsheimer on NPR (also here), in which Kaplan details his plans for building a “global empire” unobtrusively (I got a kick out of Mearsheimer’s response, in which he wonders why we should care about what happens in, say, Colombia: why, indeed a good question, which Kaplan doesn’t deign to answer). In any case, it seems to me as if the U.S. is already implementing the Kaplan Plan, and that’s what’s happening in Kyrgyzstan, and elsewhere.
You’ll note that Kaplan evades Mearsheimer’s query as to the fate of empires, from Rome to Great Britain: didn’t all these imperial projects fail? Well, uh, yes, Kaplan admits, but we still have “30 or 35 years” before we overextend ourselves and exhaust the U.S. Treasury, enough time to create some kind of “world order.” So overweening is the sickening arrogance of the empire-builders that they don’t care about the “blowback” that comes our way as a result of our policy of global intervention.
And what about the human cost of all these low-grade interventions, which are supposed to save us the trouble of invading, Iraq-style, while still extending our imperial domain? This query is met with the answer all utopian madmen of the Jacobin mentality have traditionally come up with to justify their global depredations: You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. In replying to Kaplan’s blithe dismissal of the slaughter in the Philippines that was the direct result of U.S. intervention, Mearsheimer notes that thousands were killed and that people to this day remember and resent it but such protestations fall on deaf ears. Morality, humanity, the old republican virtues of modesty and humility those are for ordinary people, not the “great men” (and women) of our new imperial class.
Well, then, isn’t freedom worth a few lives, or even more than a few? But that’s the problem with our “liberationist” foreign policy there isn’t much “liberating” involved. Don’t think for a moment that the new regime in Kyrgyzstan is going to install anything even remotely resembling a condition of freedom. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported the other day:
“A witness to the government ouster in the southern Jalal-Abad and Osh regions where the authorities fell first said the new rulers immediately imposed new taxes on businesses. The witness, who also asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said no one in the interim government had expressed concerns about democracy or human rights. She said the newly appointed head of the Osh region told her his administration’s attitude toward press freedom would depend on its treatment by the media.”
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
No sooner had I written the words “let the U.S. State Department deny it” than they did deny it but not very convincingly. Here is the text of their press release on the Stephen Young memo referenced above, in full:
“A document attempting to imitate a report of the Embassy of the United States of America in Bishkek is being disseminated via the internet and circulated by government supporters at demonstrations, bazaars, bus stations and in mail boxes. Made to appear on U.S. Embassy letterhead and dated December 30, 2004, the document slanderously misrepresents U.S. policy toward Kyrgyzstan and its election process. It forges the signature of Ambassador Young. This report is a crude fabrication by an individual or individuals who have no association with the United States Government.
“The document in no way represents the views of the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek. Our support for democratic development here has been clearly documented in public, and is designed to support the efforts of the people and government of Kyrgyzstan to strengthen democratic institutions in this country. The creation and distribution of this fraudulent document is a disservice to the citizens of Kyrgyzstan and threatens to damage the good relations between the United States and the Kyrgyz Republic. We urge the Kyrgyz authorities to denounce this forgery and take effective steps to disassociate the government from any efforts to distribute it.”
Oh, c’mon, guys, you can do better than that! To begin with, there is nothing “slanderous” about the memo: didn’t George W. Bush clearly state in his recent inaugural address, as well as the 2005 State of the Union speech, that the U.S. government was actively seeking to export “democracy” to the four corners of the earth? We’re lighting “a fire in the mind,” to use the Dostoevskyian phrase uttered by our oh-so-literary President and if Kyrgyzstan is now burning, is it any wonder that the identity of the arsonist is now coming out?
Furthermore, I don’t see what is so “crude” about this alleged “fabrication” it is surely far less crude than the documents that supposedly “proved” Saddam Hussein was trying to procure weapons-grade uranium in the African nation of Niger, a reference to which appeared in the President’s 2003 State of the Union address. The embassy alleges that Young’s signature is “forged” but how do we know that? Is Young willing to submit samples of his signature to a handwriting expert and, if not, why not?
One can only note, with dismay, the distinctly threatening tone of this Embassy missive. The Ambassador’s office ominously refers to the possibility that this could “damage relations between the United States and the Kyrgyz Republic” but isn’t it a bit late for that, considering how the U.S. government is openly engaging in a campaign of “regime change” in Kyrgyzstan? How else can one explain Ambassador Young’s traipsing about the country, making speeches about the proper application of “democratic” principles and brazenly interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation? It is as if the Kyrgyz ambassador to the U.S. held a press conference demanding another Ohio recount.
Implicit in this threatening tone is the demand that the posting on the Kabar News Agency be taken down:
“We urge the Kyrgyz authorities to denounce this forgery and take effective steps to disassociate the government from any efforts to distribute it.”
Translation: delete it or you’ll be sorry.
But what happened to the U.S. government’s alleged devotion to “free speech” and an untrammeled media? We are pouring how many millions of taxpayer dollars into Kyrgyzstan, flooding the country with propaganda but we can’t stand up to what they claim is a “crude forgery”? Get over it, guys, and stop trying to censor the brave new “democracy” of Kyrgyz. And I wouldn’t have the Kyrgyz government “denounce” the memo, either that’s likely to convince people that it’s real.
Which leads us to a fascinating bit of speculation: if it is a forgery, and a “crude” one at that, why is the U.S. government bothering to issue an official statement? Why give it that much credence if there isn’t some truth to it?
The answer, of course, is that the American embassy in Kyrgyzstan has been caught with its pants down, and is desperately trying to cover its butt. But it’s a little late for that
Finally, it is difficult to see how the embassy can maintain this stance of high moral dudgeon in the context of its own actions: regardless of whether or not the memo is real, in whole or in part, they have made its declared provenance all too believable.