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 our faces.
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, threw 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. Change? Heck, why not go back to Uzbekistan, anyway, since we’ve apparently already made a 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 plaid.