One thing you can say for stuff like Tom Daschle‘s op-ed on Kyrgyzstan in today’s Washington Post is that it’s decisively not Tweet-bait. And yet more than any other major for-profit publication the Post remains deeply committed to the “soporific 750-word treatise on future of ‘democracy’ in obscure but ‘strategic’ corner of the world ‘authored’ by bland ‘retired’ statesman and current ‘fellow’ of something very dull-sounding whose patrons he appeased by spending 36 hours in a presidential suite there last month, security compliments Xe services” format.
It’s an inherently corrupt format for boring “conflict of interest” type reasons I will address when I can a vaguely sexy example, but Daschle’s doesn’t reek of anything sexy. To the contrary, the column reminds me how the most corrupt thing about boring overhedged wonky retired statesman op-eds themselves is in many cases their mindbending boringness.
For instance, Tom writes:
The Bakiyev regime toppled in April at least in part because it failed to deliver on democratic promises and trampled on political freedoms and human rights.
When he could have written, say, “The Bakiyevs fled the hellhole country they had so comprehensively looted in April because let’s be realistic here there was not a whole lot left to pillage, but not before they transferred a final $170 million (more than 10% of all the country’s remaining banking reserves) into offshore bank accounts in Switzerland with the help of a guy the new president has described quite convincingly as an “accountant for the Italian mafia” and also, killed 80 unarmed protesters in the space of something like 18 hours.”
According to Daschle, the fact that Kyrgyzstan has “arguably more democratic wind in its sails than ever before” is being obscured by an unhelpful “narrative”:
One narrative among American Kyrgyzstan-watchers goes something like this: Kyrgyzstan is important because it hosts a U.S. airbase, which serves as a key transit point for personnel en route to Afghanistan. Although the rights to this base were reasonably secure under the autocratic administration of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, his ouster in April threw the fate of the base into question. Kyrgyzstan is now ruled by a more democratic but weak interim government that was unable to quell the deadly ethnic violence that erupted in June, has been unable to remove a hostile mayor in the south, has been unreliable about meeting international commitments, and has risked increasing tensions by holding a constitutional referendum in June and scheduling parliamentary elections in October. The narrative’s subtext seems to be that this government is less predictable than its authoritarian predecessor. Indeed, a recent headline in The Post described Kyrgyzstan as a “new headache” for U.S. policy.
I see it differently. Kyrgyzstan is important not only because it houses an airbase but also because it has the most democratic potential in the region.
When he might have said, “Kyrgyzstan is important because it hosts a U.S. airbase. Building an airbase in a country requires inviting the local oligarch population to defraud your taxpayers by charging 100% markups on jet fuel and that sort of thing, and this can create problems. And so you’ve gotta keep tabs because if one local oligarch who also happens to be the president’s son gets so rich defrauding your Pentagon in collusion with some international mobster of mystery (who also happens to be Jewish) that he eventually gains control of the whole country’s banking system and starts seizing the assets and businesses of the entire rest of the oligarch community, you’re gonna have some problems on your hands, which is the important lesson we can learn from Kyrgyzstan. Oligarchs: you’ve got your straight “evils”, and your lesser evils, and then you’ve got some real pieces of evil work and that is the category in which we’ll place Bakiyev. And the thing about that kind of gluttonous uber-kleptocrat, readers, is that he totally gets off on this sort of anarchy.
In Bakiyev Jr.’s case, he fled the country only to immediately begin ordering (according to a Youtube recording, anyway) his old deputies back home to round up 500 “bastards” and send them out for a few rounds of astroturf ethnic cleansing. And at that point, even with every other investigation they are neglecting at the moment, the House Oversight Committee felt it necessary to start subpoenaing some of these crooks for an official investigation into the clusterfuck, so the idea that professional Kyrgyzstan “watchers” are still griping about how much better we had it in the old days when Kyrgyzstan still had national resources left for Bakiyev to pillage is pretty fucking absurd. (If, and I do not doubt Daschle on this one, common.)
As Bakiyev’s business partner Eugene Gourevitch recently tweeted (despite supposedly having been arrested in Kazakhstan for embezzling $2.7 billion from Italian telecom concerns in a scam that obviously involved the Mafia):
This is an old axiom about the weakest element of any system. Lawlessness in the law has been and will be. Changing only the level of cynicism.
Gourevitch’s Twitter feed is well worth the clunky ride through Google Translate; on September 11 he shared a Goethe quote: “There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.” Added Gourevitch, “What a true and especially relevant thought!” he added. Indeed.
I did not know crap about Kyrgyzstan before today’s attempt to divine what Daschle was trying to say with this op-ed piece. (Possibility: he’s about to take a job in the Obama Administration that will involve travel to Bishkek?) But like most casual readers I do know that aggressive stupidity has governed most of this country’s major foreign policy decisions for a decade now, that it has involved the enrichment and empowerment of a near-limitless array of unsavory regimes, corporations and money laundering syndicates, and that the only silver lining to all of this is that it all made for some pretty excellent crime stories.
And yet even when they appear to be gingerly taking the side of relative “good” — as Daschle does here — our politicians and our pundits fail to tell them. Because he is a much avowed participant in the perverse Beltway “bipartisanship” cult, but also, because it’s actually hard to tell the story of “how we got here” without sounding like a complete crank (and most people with the patience to figure it out stay for the bonus lesson on how to launder money for fun and profit.)