Friday, October 8, 2010

Central Asia Matters (or Hey, I'mma try to get back on point)

Drezner Bey wrote in the increasingly-irrelevant Foreign Policy Blog that Central Asia doesn't matter. Steve LeVine then responded that, well, yeah, it kinda does. You can probably imagine which camp I fall into.

What the brown sandal militia in Washington often forgets is WHO things matter to. For example, the midterm elections don't matter to me. I know I'm an American, I know that there's this whole third political party thing happening...but man, I'm not in the US right now. I have no clue who is doing what. I'd have no clue who to vote for. So, y'know, I won't.

But you know who Central Asia matters to? Central Asians. So yeah, putting blinders on other human beings' cares, wants, and desires is pretty darned ugly, no? Do I REALLY need to link to NewEurasia again? Guess so. And if real people with real families and real hopes and dreams don't matter, here are eight quick things that I had in my reading list about Central Asia, and why they're important to you, John Q. Publick.
  1. Jihad! For all the consternation about rising tides of Islamic law/rule/vaguely frightening things in Central Asia...it's mostly nothing. That said, the article I linked to is fascinating for lots of reasons. Joshua Foust, the Mullah of Registan (Nathan Hamm would be the emir, of course. And Michael Hancock is the goofy Hoca who is debating whether or not we can call Hamm "Khan"), has written a lot doubting the existence of Chechens in Afghanistan. And, well, I believe him. But if there are proven Daghestanis in Tajikistan, then Chechens in Afghanistan is really not all that far off. It's not the same thing as proof, but at least its reasonable suspicion. There may be something to this "Global Islamic Threat" after all...But can we stop using Jihadi? I just found a book this week that called Isa Yusuf Alptekin a "Jihadi for the Turkic world" and I mean, really?
  2. Central Asia is a virtual sandbox for corruption. I realize including Afghanistan here may not be perfect, so, I dunno, lets talk Roghun instead. Either way, the steppes are littered with the carcasses of good causes and the wastes of corrupt people. This has, in the past, led to Real Big Problems for the U.S. and will continue to do so in the future. There are good lawyers on the ground, and it's worth working to help them.
  3. Journalistic freedom is important. Even if you don't think the story is worth hearing, you can't deny that every story has a right to be heard. You don't have to have the window open, but people are allowed to yell. Freedom of the press is an issue in the Caucasus and Central Asia (Turkey, too!) on a very basic level. If you don't think that my first three sentences here are true, there are 75 families who may disagree.
  4. Nobody has any clue what's going on in Afghanistan on a very basic level. "Empire Gone Mad" is about as well-put as possible, there's lots of talk of change but nobody knows what to change to or from. Afghanistan may be excepted from Central Asia because of the past 30 years of history, but its still very much a patch in the Central Asian quilt. It's not quite as pat as, "understand Central Asia and you understand Afghanistan" but there is a whole lot to be learned from the Turanic and Persian influences on the country.
  5. The environment there is falling apart. You probably know about the Aral Sea, massive strip mines, desertification, and the maw of hell in Turkmenistan. The planet is changing, and it is REALLY changing over there. So, you know, that's a thing.
  6. And on the same note, there's heeyuuuge natural resource wealth in Central Asia. Afghanistan's gotten some news for it recently, but well, it's a common, continuing, trend.You should read about it.
  7.  The rise of private military companies is...interesting, at least. There's lots of grumbling stateside about contractors like Xe and the like, but there is sometimes some well-reasoned debate as well. And sometimes you just run into something so sketchy (to quote, " In 2007, their armoury of Kalashnikovs was seized by the police despite their documentation being in order, the company believed that the raid was orchestrated by competitors in the Ministry of Interior to seize parts of their business.") Books have been written about PMC's, but The Book has not yet been written. I know a good professor over at UMd who wants to write comparing the PMCs of today to the Swiss Mercenaries of yesterday. So you could contact him, I guess.
  8. I'm one for aphorisms, and one of my favorites is, "Every day you wake up, thank whatever God you believe in that you were not born in Grozny." The place is a Bartertown-esque wildland, and only the more so for being completely ignored by not-Russians. I'm not sure what you could do to change that, I'm not sure what I could do to change that. But I know it could start by caring.
So hopefully that's enough reasons for you, Drezner, to care about Central Asia. And if you don't care about something, well, that's alright. As I've mentioned, there are many things I don't care about. But demanding ignorance is displaying arrogance. And it's pretty darn foolish to do both as American policy.

The USA may be on the downswing of empire, and is not an omnipotent God by any means. And all the money and caring in the world aren't going to fix any of the myriad of problems in Central Asia. But maybe, little-by-little, something could be put together. Eventually, starting with little design projects, or doing locality-centered development work, you could help a couple of dozen lives. It's better than nothing. Nothing, in fact, is a terrible policy.

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