No Comment — April 27, 2010, 2:40 pm

Clueless at the Pentagon

It’s hard to study the situation in Kyrgyzstan and not come away with the sense that the Pentagon and CENTCOM horribly misplayed the strong hand they had. The result: a supply base that is essential to the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) used to fuel U.S. forces in Afghanistan is now in jeopardy. But the major question now is whether the Pentagon has learned anything from the recent developments. An article by two right-leaning analysts with tight defense community connections, Ilan Berman and Jeff Smith, in Defense News provides a good glimpse into the current thinking of what passes for Central Asia expertise at the Pentagon. In their article, the developments in Kyrgyzstan of April 6-7 were a “coup” that “caught almost everyone by surprise.” The “coup” was “likely at Russia’s instigation.”

The term “coup” is usually reserved for relatively quiet maneuvers in which one group of elites, most frequently the military, seize power from another. What happened in Kyrgyzstan was a popular uprising. Following the arrest of key opposition leaders, thousands took to the streets in protests, staring down police and storming government buildings while hundreds fell from gunfire. And while there is no doubt that analysts inside the Pentagon were “caught by surprise,” that’s hardly the case for others who study Kyrgyzstan, like those who testified before Congress last week, who widely expected a repeat of the events of 2005.

In the Defense News article, the entire controversy is understood in geopolitical terms as a power and influence contest between the United States and Russia, and everything revolves around the Manas Transit Center. Notice how perfectly this mirrors the principal complaint the new Kyrgyz leaders make—that the Americans care about nothing except the base. The leaders of the new government are not identified by name, nor is any effort devoted to understanding them or their national agenda. There is no effort to present what made Kurmanbek Bakiyev the focus of so much anger in his country—the nepotism, corruption, assassination of political opponents, undermining of human rights, and election rigging, all against the background of American dictator-coddling of the worst sort. The fuel contracts awarded by a Pentagon shell company to Bakiyev-controlled companies, which engendered enormous anger in the country, breeding charges now formally leveled by the new government that the Pentagon was bribing Bakiyev in an effort to hold on to its base, get no mention.

In sum, this article presents a two-dimensional world with a dangerous information vacuum, which is exactly how the Pentagon backed itself into its current dilemma. It shows very well why the relationship between the United States and the new Kyrgyz government should be managed by professional diplomats with a broader view and a deeper understanding of the region, and it shows us how letting the Pentagon pursue its own foreign policy can be a formula for disaster.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:

16

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today