Sunday, July 31, 2005

More on Central Asia ... Earlier this month, I posted a speculative piece about how the U.S. would respond to the calls by a central Asian bloc -- specifically, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose membership also includes Russia and China -- that the Pentagon set a definite timetable for American withdrawal from air bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

So when Rumsfeld visited the base in Kyrgyzstan last week -- and essentially made an all-out effort to secure its use indefinitely -- I started to write a follow-up piece. But I scrapped it. Try as I might, I couldn't really figure out what was going on -- a personal visit by the Secretary of Defense seemed like a bit of an overreaction for a base that, on its own, is not vital.

Today, however, Rumsfeld's trip makes a lot more sense. Late Friday night, the U.S. covertly airlifted about 450 Uzbeki refugees, who had fled Uzbekistan following the Andijon massacre in May, to Romania. When Uzbekistan found out about the airlift yesterday, they were, predictably, displeased -- so much so that they evicted the U.S. from its base.

This sequence of events doesn't just suggest that Rumsfeld was aware of both the impending airlift and what the Uzbeki response would be. It suggests that the airlift wouldn't have happened had we not secured use of the Kyrgyz base first, and thereby made the base in Uzbekistan expendable.

Now, I don't know whether Rumsfeld was acting on his own here or in accordance with a Bush -- or perhaps Rice? -- mandate. But whoever is responsible for the airlift ought to get due credit. This is one of the few times during Bush's presidency that his administration has compromised a strategic military asset for explicitly humanitarian reasons. For that they should receive appropriate recognition, if not outright praise.


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