No Comment — February 4, 2009, 10:51 am

The Mess at Manas

Just as the Obama Administration prepared to beef up the American presence in Afghanistan as evidence of its commitment to fighting Al Qaeda, bad news arrived from two fronts. Afghan insurgents destroyed a bridge in the Jalalabad region that is a vital link on the land supply route used by the United States and its NATO allies, and at the same time, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his government’s decision to shut down Ganci (or Manas) Air Force Base, located just outside the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, which has been one of the principal resupply corridors for U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan.

The New York Times carried a good report on the struggle over the Ganci base this morning. The Times report puts the matter in the context of a broader struggle between the United States and Russia. There is no doubt that Russia is less than enthusiastic over the establishment of a sustained military presence by the United States on the territory of the former Soviet Union.

“The fact that a rather little country has decided to take the payoff is intriguing,” said Paul Quinn-Judge, a Central Asia expert with the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to resolve deadly conflicts. “But what is really striking is that the Russians seem to be at this point tightening the screws and trying to get D.C.’s attention in the nastiest possible way.”

But this is far from the whole story. In fact at the time the Kyrgyz agreed to let the United States open the base, the two nations enjoyed excellent relations and the Kyrgyz public was arguably the warmest and most pro-American of the region. That changed rather dramatically, and the change did not result as much from Russian propaganda as it did from American ineptitude and misconduct. For a decade, American advisors and aid contractors had lectured the Kyrgyz on the need for budgetary transparency and anti-corruption measures. Yet when the United States Government first arrived in country with a serious contract to negotiate—for the creation of the air base—it wound up concluding an under-the-table deal with the president’s family under which most of the financial benefit from the airbase wound up parked in offshore bank accounts. That deal was cut by Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon with Rumsfeld’s direct involvement. Had a private U.S. company cut such a deal it would probably have found its officers on the other end of an indictment under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act brought by a U.S. attorney. However, following an FBI investigation that confirmed these depressing facts, the Bush Administration concluded that in this as in other areas, it would hold itself immune from the criminal law standards it applied to ordinary citizens.

But the longer-term problem was with the Kyrgyz. A prominent Bishkek lawyer discussing the dealings over the base with me pronounced a judgment that I heard consistently: “We finally got an up-close look at your government. You’re a bunch of hypocrites, no less corrupt than our own government–just a lot bigger.”

Off to a bad start, things quickly got even worse. In 2006 U.S. serviceman Zachary Hatfield shot and killed Aleksandr Ivanov, a truck driver employed by the base’s aviation fuel contractor. The incident was catastrophically mishandled by U.S. military and diplomatic personnel. U.S. spokesmen issued a statement claiming that Ivanov had physically threatened Hatfield with a knife, and that Hatfield shot him in self defense. While making vague and unconvincing statements of “regret” about the “incident,” the soldier was whisked away back to the United States. That was flight to avoid prosecution and to block a homicide investigation–such flight, of course, a serious crime unto itself. While offering vague assurances that the soldier would be dealt with under the military justice system (something which, in the eyes of the Kyrgyz, never occurred), American officials did little to atone for the crime. Kyrgyz newspapers made mincemeat of the proffered excuse, reporting that Hatfield’s claims that Ivanov was armed with a knife were untrue and establishing that Ivanov had made numerous prior deliveries to the base, and was known to the soldier. The Kyrgyz media fanned suspicions that the homicide was an unprovoked act, accounts that American officials only fueled by issuing a false report and failing to convincingly show either contrition or an intention to bring the soldier to justice. The U.S. government offered a $2,000 damages payment to Ivanov’s family on account of his death, an act widely viewed in Kyrgyzstan as a calculated insult. Although the U.S. embassy later clarified that this was an interim payment only and that a larger sum would be paid later, the damage was done.

The American management of the incident was totally bungled, leaving the local population with the idea that the Americans on the base were arrogant and not accountable to the law. The public’s view of Americans underwent a radical and sudden transformation. A nation once seen as generous benefactors now were seen as arrogant bullies.

“This base is doomed,” I was told repeatedly. It is only a matter of time before public opinion forces its closing. The question at this point is whether America will learn any lessons from this experience.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2017

Document of Barbarism

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Destroyer of Worlds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Crossing Guards

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I am Here Only for Working”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dear Rose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Year of The Frog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Destroyer of Worlds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

Illustration by Darrel Rees. Source photographs: Kim Jong-un © ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo; Donald Trump © Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
Article
Crossing Guards·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

Illustration by Richard Mia
Article
“I am Here Only for Working”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

— Karl Marx

Photograph from the United Arab Emirates by the author. This page: Ruwais Mall
Article
The Year of The Frog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

“Horse 1,” by Nine Francois. Courtesy the artist and AgavePrint, Austin, Texas
Article
Dead Ball Situation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

Begin, as Wallace Stevens didn’t quite say, with the idea of it. I so like the idea of Simon Critchley, whose books offer philosophical takes on a variety of subjects: Stevens, David Bowie, suicide, humor, and now football — or soccer, as the US edition has it. (As a matter of principle I shall refer to this sport throughout as football.) “All of us are mysteriously affected by our names,” decides one of Milan Kundera’s characters in Immortality, and I like Critchley because his name would seem to have put him at a vocational disadvantage compared with Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, or even, in the Anglophone world, A. J. Ayer or Richard Rorty. (How different philosophy might look today if someone called Nobby Stiles had been appointed as the Wykeham Professor of Logic.)

Tostão, No. 9, and Pelé, No. 10, celebrate Carlos Alberto’s final goal for Brazil in the World Cup final against Italy on June 21, 1970, Mexico City © Heidtmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Factor by which single Americans who use emoji are more likely than other single Americans to be sexually active:

1.85

Brontosaurus was restored as a genus, and cannibalism was reported in tyrannosaurine dinosaurs.

Moore said he did not “generally” date teenage girls, and it was reported that in the 1970s Moore had been banned from his local mall and YMCA for bothering teenage girls.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today