Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You want Central Asia? You got it.

I've diverted pretty hard from the true path of this blog lately, mostly because I'm easily sidetracked and all of that. I've been working on this whole football thing for no good reason lately, and I've gotten a couple other side projects up and running and yeah...I've just gotten confused. Well, Imma gonna change that.

I had the opportunity to have a long talk (or to be technical, listen to three different talks) with a woman who does Law and Central Asia stuff for the US Government. I'm not going to get into specifics because I haven't asked her if I can get into specifics on an internet forum, and I'm going to defer to being circumspect. If you're interested in this sort of stuff, well, you can figure out how to find me. However, some of the more general issues are things worth talking about, and worth a whole lot of blog posts in the future to discuss these things in more detail.

The most important thing, that I think we all on the academic (instead of practice) side of things forget sometimes is...this stuff is COMPLICATED. I mean, obviously, there are no simple solutions. But it's not like Nazarbayev doesn't know how the Zhovtis Case looks on the outside, or that the Tajiks don't realize how daunting Roghun would be. But personalities get in the way of decision making. It's easy, from academia or think-tankistan, to forget that all of the NGOs are competing for grants, all the embassies are competing for favor, and all of the local civil servants are competing for raises. I've talked about the Rule of Law and how its not a monolith before, y'know. But even more than that, Rule of Man still exists. The entire culture in most governments, and I'd venture to say the same for the NGOs, is that the prevailing mindset isn't "What would be the legal thing to do?" but rather "How can we make what we want to do legal?" It's how groups and hierarchies tend to operate across developmental lines, and its an often-forgotten hurdle.

Another fun thing mentioned was the concept that the US things that it can throw money at any problem. This hasn't just been shown to be untrue in the Terror/Security issues, but also in corruption and development. Kazakhstan has their oil money, and its a whole 'nother thing. The woman spoke about how Norway's sovereign oil wealth fund was a really unique way to combine resource wealth with Scandinavian socialism. But as attractive as he may be, Stoltenberg isn't the sort of role model our republics are looking towards.

On that note, there's also this idea of "who is a good role model for the Central Asian Republics?" to consider. Every embassy, of course, wants the host country to be just like them. But I can think of a good, non-Murray, reason why Uzbekistan can never be the United Kingdom. So instead, there's this idea of stealing legal concepts from certain instances in history. For example, Italy's anti-Cosa Nostra initiative is seen as a good way to deal with the Mafia connections in the Former Soviet Union. As much as context is important, and of course they are, parallels exist. As I would put it: the law nerds find the parallels, us regional nerds are needed to put it into context.

Of course, there are plenty of issues with all of this, and I'm sure you can all think of a half-dozen before I've finished this sentences. But the diplomatic relationships are complex, and the neo-imperialists are few and far between. They are loud, though. Boy, are they loud. But there's plenty of stuff to chew on from an academic/research perspective. Even people doing sociology of the local level have to realize the context that their research is put in. The Afghanistan Analyst Bibliography is fantastic, of course, but its being used for less-than-purely-academic reasons. Which isn't exactly a shock to anyone.

But that brings me back to the original point. In this field (at least from my current perspective) there is rarely a "pure" study of the issues. The various and multifarious folks at work at making their dream stan a real place aren't always trying to make the legal, technically perfect, understanding a reality. They're trying to get their dream made into reality the easiest, and preferably most legitimate, way possible. Which gets into questions of "what's easy?" and "legitimate by who?" for the dreamer. So when the maddening stuff happens, and that Times article drives you to punchiness...it's all just peoples' dreams. I'm just curious how I expect mine to be so much different, more effective, and more actionable than Tom Friedman's.

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