Friday, July 29, 2005

America the one-eyed

I've been surgically attached to Belmont again this morning, reading two new posts that purport to be about the role of Central Asia in the global conflict, present and future. I say "purport to be" because the comment threads, particularly in the second post, quickly became philosophical rather than strategic. Fascinating stuff, some of which calls to mind the scene from The Princess Bride, Greatest Movie of All TimeTM, in which Vezzini, Buttercup hostage at his side, is lecturing Westley about fights to stay out of:

The first [universal adage] is to stay out of land wars in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! [And then he drops dead.]

I have re-created the quote. All who know the movie, please cut slack.

So my first thought is that if, as Wretchard at Belmont suggests, we're poised to enter that realm of military folly known as "land war in Asia," I certainly hope he's right that our now-demonstrated ability to project force far from the sea and from permanent bases will be as effective as the steppe horses were for the Mongols - NOT that I advocate attacking China, of COURSE. Good gravy. But the point is, that's one big swath of land there, Central Asia, and more than one army has wandered around in it for a long time, getting progressively hungrier and colder before reaching its goal. If our fortunes take us there, we'd better have our supply lines locked down and defended...

And my second thought is related. Some Belmont commenters, examining the prospect for our chasing down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan or wherever his fortunes have taken or will take him - but probably northward if, as many believe, he's currently harboring in northwestern Pakistan and we have any success in convincing Musharraf that we're going to come after bin Laden no matter how concerned he, Musharraf, is about Pakistan's border integrity - brought up the question of why we're not trying to get Russia or (less probably) China involved in the forward effort. After all, the reasoning goes, all the 'stans were once in the Soviet sphere and Moscow retains at least illusions that they are Russia's turf; why not use that to our advantage?

The title of this post is intended to convey my belief and understanding that we are not licensed drivers of the engine of history, a tortured metaphor if ever there was one. We, like every other civilization and people before us, are doing the best we can to choose a course that is good for us. The difference between what we're doing and what other, less visionary (if I may use the term) nations are doing is, I think, that we're attempting to see at least the medium term. It's been pointed out in various spots and with various emphases that the War on Terror is in fact in some respects a war for oil - or, more cogently, a war for Our Way of Life, since OWoL runs on oil (and gas, and coal, pace my husband in the energy biz). Oil matters. Oil on the open market matters a lot - nowhere have we "conquered" an oil-producing nation and arrogated its oil resources for ourselves; we always buy, and in practice we prefer the market model for pricing. Giant oil fields in the hands of militant Wahhabists - that's not a scenario we should want to promote, either from an OWoL standpoint or from a human rights standpoint. Central Asia has promise as an oil-producing region - some say as productive a region as the Middle East is today, though I haven't looked that up anywhere. So. Do we want that region under the control of bin Laden's spiritual brethren (by whom I do not mean Muslims, but rather militant Wahhabists, Islamofascists, or choose your euphemism for Muslims who believe that their mission in life is the return of the Caliphate by whatever means necessary)? Clearly not.

But almost as clearly, we don't want those lands under the control of a Russia that apparently still entertains notions of "democracy" radically different from ours. (Recall that the Soviet Union always tried to convince the world that it was a "democracy" too - just a remarkably unified one.) Nor do we want China, with few pretensions to post-Soviet reform, in control. While we're allied with both, in general, in the GWOT, our interests do not align perfectly, to say the least. So in the medium term, at least, it behooves us to prepare to project our power into the vastness of Central Asia, not to subjugate it but to provide its people with an alternative to Chinese central control and Russian pseudo-empire. If we succeed in promoting real democracy in the 'stans, how much the better for us?

This is where I get puzzled: where are the Russians and Chinese? Why aren't they taking advantage of either the wide-openness of the region or our current "distraction" in Iraq? If we must get involved in Central Asia, even if "only" to the extent of supporting democratic reform movements (as we're already doing, which in itself represents a pretty significant departure from the past century or so), we stand to create a region of allies where we've never had them before. If Russia and China have had the use of their eyes over the past twenty years or so, perhaps they've noticed that Soviet-style socialism is gone the way of the dodo and Chinese-style socialism has survived only by hybridizing heavily with capitalism; why would they ignore these facts of recent history and, respectively, warn the US to stay out of the 'stans because they're "traditionally" part of Moscow's sphere of influence, or apparently ignore them altogether? See this map and ask yourself why China isn't in the news all the time concerning Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Certainly there are ethnic considerations - but I say again, these countries appear to be "up for grabs" in the alliance sweepstakes, in an area of important strategic value right now and potentially even more important economic value in the future - especially with China's oil consumption growing like the weeds I can't keep ahead of in the back yard. Yet - nothing. In the country of the blind, we do appear to be king.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

China has focused more on the South China Sea. They've built military installations on the Spratley Islands, claimed by the Philippines among others, and have claimed the Senkaku/Daioyu Islands, also claimed by Japan. They also want to be ready to take Taiwan, and have been busy working out their "capitalism with Chinese characteristics" (which apparently requires them to make every mistake themselves, rather than learning from the experience of others). I'm not saying that there are limits to their greed, only that their focus has been in a different direction.