Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Backlash in Central Asia ... It's long been supposed that the Bush administration has viewed the war on terror as a fortuitous circumstance. If you go back and read the many position papers and speeches Bush's cabinet members gave before the fall of 2001, you get the sense that they wouldn't have minded much if the U.S. had a permanent military presence in Central Asia. Not only would such a presence have enabled us to keep an eye on Russia, but even more, it would have been a backdoor way to check the regional influence of China. (Remember the fuss about China in the spring of 2001?)

Small wonder, then, that when the war on terror began, the administration seized on the legitimate target of Afghanistan to open military installations in the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Now, though, China and Russia have convinced the two countries to press back:
ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) -- An alliance of Russia, China and central Asian nations called for the U.S. and coalition members in Afghanistan to set a date for withdrawing from member states, reflecting growing unease over America's regional military presence.


The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, at a summit in the Kazakh capital, said in a declaration that a withdrawal date should be set in light of what it said was a decline of active fighting in Afghanistan.

''We support and will support the international coalition which is carrying out an anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, and we have taken note of the progress made in the effort to stabilize the situation,'' the declaration said.

''As the active military phase in the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan is nearing completion, the SCO would like the coalition's members to decide on the deadline for the use of the temporary infrastructure and for their military contingents' presence in those countries,'' the declaration continues.

It'll be interesting to see how the Bush administration handles this. My guess is that they will in fact cede the Uzbeki and Kyrgyzi bases, but that they'll take their sweet time doing so -- not because they don't respect the sovereignty of those countries, but because they don't want China and Russia to get the sense that it was their pressure that led us to leave.

On the other hand, knowing Bush he may well come out on the offensive. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have effectively come out and said that they don't think the U.S. will exert a regional influence over the long haul. It's hard to imagine Bush ever yielding to that kind of gambit, even though -- given how thinly stretched the Pentagon currently is -- he will pretty much have to.

Either way, like I said, it should be interesting to see how Bush reacts.


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