by Leon Hadar
a Washington-based pundit with some foreign policy credentials,
I frequently receive phone calls from secretaries under pressure
of a deadline who book "experts" like me for radio and
television news shows, asking me to "do Iraq" or chat
about some other area of crisis around the world.
usually don't get paid a lot (if at all) for those insightful and
one-and-half-minute long interviews (Question: "Dr. Hadar,
will peace finally come to the Middle East?" Answer: "Perhaps.")
But they do help me win some "visibility" (Neighbor on
elevator: "Didn't I see you on television last night?")
and can therefore serve as great ego boosters.
when the lady from a certain cable television asked me a few days
ago whether I could "do Kyrgyzstan," I was tempted for
a few seconds. But then I had to admit to myself that I couldn't
even fake a minimal level of familiarity about Kyrgyzstan
or is it Kyrgyzstan? and its people. Instead I told the disappointed
Rolodex turner that I was coming down with a flu.
plain old coup
wish that some of my fellow talking heads in Washington would have
also exhibited the same kind of global affairs humility when it
came to the recent "events" in Kyrgyzstan as President Askar Akayev
was fleeing from the capital. If you were following the initial
instant analyses on CNN, Fox-TV or CNBC or for that matter, on the
op-ed pages of some of the elite newspapers, you would have concluded
that a democratically-inspired revolution was taking place in Bishkek.
there was Georgia, and then Ukraine, followed by Lebanon, and now
Kyrgyzstan. Add to that the election in Iraq, and we had no choice
but to agree that US President George W Bush's call for spreading
political freedom had been winning the hearts and minds of democracy
enthusiasts everywhere, including in Kyrgyzstan. The "Democracy
Narrative" that dominated media chatter for at least a few hours
was creating the impression that the "Good Guys" were winning.
fact, there are actually a few American experts on Kyrgyzstan and
several Western journalists even traveled to Bishkek, and after
a day or two they succeeded in getting their message across, and
we discovered that as the New York Times concluded the uprising
looks now less like a democratic revolution and more "like a garden-variety
coup, with a handful of seasoned politicians vying for the spoils
of the ousted government," that is, "a plain old coup."
ousted Mr. Akayev is now being described as one of the more progressive
political figures in Central Asia, while its opponents are depicted
as members of the political and economic elite, mostly politicians
from the country's southern and northern provinces, trying to overturn
the results of the last parliamentary elections and inciting mobs
in acts of vandalism.
many Americans fail to understand is that the collapse of centralized
authoritarian governments in Kyrgyzstan, like in many parts of the
world, including in Central Asia and the Middle East is propelled
quite often by tribal, ethnic, religious and nationalist forces.
anti-government uprising in Georgia and Ukraine reflected a powerful
nationalist anti-Russian stance. In the case of Ukraine, tension
between the Ukrainian majority and a substantial Russian minority
(25 percent), and divisions between the Russsian Orthodox and Catholic
churches were very much are the center of what was happening there.
Lebanese nationalism brought together an ad-hoc coalition of the
Maronite, Sunni, and Druze communities that are facing off a challenge
from an authentic and powerful community of pro-Syrian Shiites.
The US is allied with exactly that kind of Shiite coalition in Iraq while confronting opposition from the Sunni minority and backing
the Kurds who want to separate themselves from both the Arab Sunnis
seems that many Americans who regard the US constitution as the
main national symbol that binds them together find it difficult
to empathize with the sense of "organic" nationalism that
reflects tribal, ethnic and religious identities or the power
of regional clans, in the case of Kyrgyzstan that motivates much
of domestic and regional politics in the rest of the world.
possible that much of this kind of nationalist movement would end
up tearing apart not only Iraq and Kyrgyzstan but other states in
the Middle East, Central Asia and elsewhere. American policymakers
should recognize that these developments don't necessarily herald
the rise of democracy, but could ignite civil wars and result in
intervention by regional and foreign powers a plain, old-fashioned
war and one that has nothing to do with a shinning crusade to spread
liberty into which the United States would be drawn.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.