The Bush regime got a regime change yesterday in Kyrgyzstan for far less than the going rate. The cost of an oil change in Iraq, for instance, is at least $200 billion and thousands of uncounted corpses and, damn it, they’re still not finished.
One small steppe for man, one giant leap for oilmankind.
That doesn’t mean the U.S. had a hand in wiping that annoying grin off Askar Akayev‘s face. We have no idea whether that’s true. But Akayev, as I noted yesterday, was drifting away from the U.S. and toward Russia in this 21st century version of the “Great Game.”
The original Great Game was the 19th century struggle between the British Empire and Imperial Russia for control of Central Asia. This is a new century, so the players are different and considerably bulked up, and oil has made an already slick game more slippery. Lutz Kleveman, author of The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia, explains, in an article posted by the Zurich-based Center for Security Studies’s ISN Security Watch:
The U.S. has taken over the leading role from the British. Along with the ever-present Russians, new regional powers such as China, Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan have entered the arena, and transnational oil corporations are also pursuing their own interests in a brash, Wild East style.
Since 11 September 2001, the Bush Administration has undertaken a massive military buildup in Central Asia, deploying thousands of U.S. troops, not only in Afghanistan but also in the republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia. These first U.S. combat troops on former Soviet territory have dramatically altered the geo-strategic power equations in the region, with Washington trying to seal the Cold War victory against Russia, contain Chinese influence, and tighten the noose around Iran.
And here’s a shocker: It’s about oil. Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have any, but the country’s a vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle of power politics in Central Asia.
After 9/11, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (always an interest-bearing figure) and the other Bush handlers assiduously cultivated Akayev’s regime (see photo below), getting the OK to plant a strategic U.S. air base (named after New York City fallen firefighter Peter Ganci) in Bishkek.
No wonder Wolfie gave Aitmatov the star treatment. As Elizabeth Wishnick of ISN Security Watch explained in July 2003, shortly after they huddled at the Pentagon:
With the announcement on 5 June 2003 of a three-year extension of the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, with Russia’s decision to station its own forces in Kant [an air base only 15 miles from the U.S. base], and with China’s new interest in boosting security ties with Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan has become a focal point for great power rivalry in Central Asia.
But as Justin Raimondo at antiwar.com now points out, Akayev “did not take direction well.” In other words, he knew how to play the Great Game—by playin’ the playas. And lately, Akayev wasn’t playing the game the way the U.S. wanted him to.
Raimondo notes a smart Eurasianet story from mid-February, in which Gulnoza Saidazimova reported:
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov said yesterday that American AWACS reconnaissance planes will not be deployed at the Ganci air base outside the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Aitmatov made the statement after a trip to Moscow. Some observers say the Kyrgyz government’s decision was made to please Russia, with the aim of gaining the Kremlin’s support ahead of February 27 parliamentary elections and the presidential election in October.
Aitmatov’s visit to Moscow resulted in two decisions.
The first—announced on February 11—was to send more Russian military equipment and weaponry to the Russian Kant air base near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. The other decision was to deny the U.S. request to deploy the AWACS reconnaissance planes at the U.S. Ganci air base, which is also near Bishkek.
Hey, Akayev, you can piss off your people by crushing dissent and having the cops beat them, but don’t piss off the big oil companies. Akayev’s increasingly despotic rule, which included his rigging the aforementioned parliamentary elections, didn’t keep Bush and Don Rumsfeld from sharing grins with him, but as he drifted toward Russia (which has now offered him asylum, by the way), he was no longer of use to us.
For those of you ready to celebrate this as a victory of democracy, Justin Raimondo details the sordid pasts of Kyrgyzstan’s new leaders and adds a cautionary note:
The idea that the people of Kyrgyzstan have risen up, all on their own, to establish “democracy” and the “rule of law” in a land that has never known either, is the sort of fairy tale that even the most naïve will probably greet with a considerable degree of skepticism.
As for Foreign Minister Aitmatov? Interfax just reported that he has been dismissed, along with a host of other Akayev cronies. Looks like no more “honor guard” visits to the Pentagon for Aitmatov.
But keep in mind what the Central Asia struggle is all about. Before the Kyrgyzstan coup, New Great Game author Kleveman summed it up:
The Bush Administration is using the “war on terror” to further U.S. energy interests in Central Asia. The bad news is that this dramatic geopolitical gamble involving thuggish dictators and corrupt Saudi oil sheiks is likely to produce only more terrorists, jeopardizing U.S. prospects of victory.
The main spoils in today’s Great Game are the Caspian energy reserves, principally oil and gas. On its shores, and at the bottom of the Caspian Sea, lie the world’s biggest untapped fossil fuel resources. Estimates range from 85 to 190 billion barrels of crude, worth up to $5 trillion. According the U.S. Energy Department, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan alone could sit on more than 130 billion barrels, more than three times the U.S. reserves.
And don’t blame the Bush regime for reviving the hazardous Great Game. As Kleveman noted:
The aggressive U.S. pursuit of oil interests in the Caspian did not start with the Bush Administration, but under Clinton, who personally conducted oil and pipeline diplomacy with Caspian leaders. US industry leaders were impressed. “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian,” declared Dick Cheney in 1998 in a speech to oil industrialists in Washington. Cheney was then still CEO of the oil-services giant Halliburton.
In May 2001 Cheney, now U.S. Vice President, recommended in the Administration’s seminal National Energy Policy report that “the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy,” singling out the Caspian Basin as a “rapidly growing new area of supply.”
You know what Cheney thinks about danger. I wrote last August about Cheney’s lust for the Caspian, pointing to Amarillo business writer Greg Rohloff‘s capture of the future veep’s June 1998 comments to Texas oilmen:
The potential for this region turning as volatile as the Persian Gulf does not concern Cheney.
“You’ve got to go where the oil is,” he said. “I don’t worry about it a lot.”
Unlike the families of our soldiers.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 25, 2005