The death of Turkmenistan’s dictator, an ex-Soviet bureaucrat who named the month of January after himself, is another aspect of the brewing crisis in strategically key post-Soviet Central Asia (BBC).
** AN OBVIOUS “DISCOVERY” MISSES A CRISIS. While some on the right fulminate about the capture of a few Iranian operatives in Iraq, most everyone misses the brewing crisis in Central Asia. Which is merely key to the US effort in Afghanistan, not to mention global energy markets.
Iranians operating in Iraq. Imagine that. Of course they are in Iraq. They’ve been operating there for many years, building powerful networks among the majority Shiite population. President George W. Bush met with one of Iran’s chief allies in Iraqi politics a few weeks ago. They helped the US effort in invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein, after providing even greater help in the US takedown of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime and disruption and dispersal of Al Qaeda. Iran wanted the Taliban ousted, they were ousted. Iran wanted Saddam ousted, he was ousted. Iran has served its strategic interests, and continues to do so. It’s central to any settlement of the crisis in Iraq, as the Iraqi politicians who journeyed to Tehran for summits recently are obviously only too well aware.
Meanwhile, the US victory in Afghanistan is in danger of reversal, as previously discussed. Lest we forget, the war was begun in order to find and punish the perpetrators of 9/11. More than five years later, the top leaders of Al Qaeda continue to elude us. Their likely safe havens in Pakistan remain safe. Their allies in Afghanistan are making a comeback.
The US moved into post-Soviet Central Asia in the immediate wake of 9/11, establishing bases with the support of Russia, which has remained relatively friendly with its five former Soviet socialist republics there: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Borat‘s purported home, Kazakhstan. Last year, the US lost its base in Uzbekistan supporting operations in Afghanistan, leaving only the air base in Kyrgyzstan.
Unlike Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union, Central Asia never underwent a tumultuous transition of leadership. The five former Soviet republics-turned-new countries went on to be run by former Soviet bureaucrats, remaking themselves in nationalist images.
Kyrgyzstan is in crisis, as previously discussed on NWN, its increasingly chaotic government united on few points, one of which is its anger about the US base outside its capital city of Bishkek. But it has at least undergone a political transition, ousting its Soviet legacy leader, who is now a math professor in Moscow.
Now Turkmenistan, one of the world’s greatest natural gas producers, is undergoing political transition following the death of its notorious dictator. His deputy premier, who does not appear to be a strong leader, is in charge for now and may win elections set for early next year. But the real jockeying is for power from the outside. Russia needs to maintain its hold over Turkmemistan’s vast gas reserves, which fuel its country and which it sells for great profit to Europe. It will need to fend off the interests of neighboring Iran, which also sees great opportunity. This also, as previously discussed, creates a fascinating new dynamic, in that Russia has helped Iran and served as a back channel to Iran.
It’s a process likely to play out across the region, as leadership changes in other countries occur. Kazakhstan is particularly key, given its even greater energy reserves. It’s actually not at all the incredibly backward place depicted in the Borat movie and skits. That’s a totally fictional comic amalgam. The character himself is based on a Russian doctor he met, according to Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator and actor. His home village is actually in Romania. And so on.
In addition to Russia and Iran, China, the European Union, and the US have major interests at play in the region. Let’s see if we can get a handle on the future there — and preserve our base there as we seek to revive our fortunes in Afghanistan — and seem less surprised by discovering the obvious about Iran and Iraq.
** U.S. TO LIST POLAR BEAR AS THREATENED SPECIES. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of the Interior will propose that the polar bear be listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Polar bears depend upon sea ice, and that has been receding dramatically in the greenhouse era. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts say that polar bears have begun resorting to open sea swimming and even in some instances cannibalism in order to survive, though their possible extinction is viewed as decades away. The federal government has been under intense pressure on this from environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace.
But, you know, it’s okay, because no matter what happens we can always enjoy those great, heartwarming polar bear computer animations in the Coca Cola commercials.
** CONAN THE GREEN. Over Christmas weekend, the Washington Post published a front page story on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as the leading environmentalist Republican, championing efforts to control greenhouse gases. In it, he sounds themes very familiar to NWN readers, and completely consistent with my discussions with him in 2002 and 2003 before he became governor, much less pushed the big renewable energy and global warming programs of this year.
Schwarzenegger says that he will push to make climate change a major issue in the 2008 presidential election. “We want to put the spotlight on this issue in America. It has to become a debate in the presidential election. It has to become an issue.”
He calls himself a “sane Republican,” noting that he can’t be stereotyped as many pro-environment politicians have been as “the tree hugger, the crazy guy out there who wants to live on the moon and talk about the spirits and all this holistic stuff.”
“With me they can’t do it, because my whole history is different. It’s unexpected, so therefore you have a better chance to have an impact.”
** SCHWARZENEGGER’S HIGHLY-RATED SPEECH. As he contemplates next months’ State of the State address, snug in his hospital bed, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can take satisfaction in last January’s State of the State address, which a PR expert has rated one of the best speeches of the year. It merely apologized for past mistakes and positioned him for this year’s dramatic comeback. The worst speeches were more off the cuff affairs, by Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and outgoing Virginia Senator George “Macacca” Allen.
** GERALD FORD PASSES. Former President Gerald Ford has died at the age of 93. After retiring, he lived for many years in California, in the Palm Springs area. It would be hard to say that his presidency was especially distinguished, but he restored a sense of decency to a politics traumatized by the Watergate scandal and forced resignation in 1974 of California’s first president, Richard Nixon. Ford, of course, became vice president when Nixon’s first vice president, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign in the midst of a corruption scandal. Ford then became president upon Nixon’s resignation. The longtime Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ford was an amiable man, a star athlete at the University of Michgian. It was his fate in presidential politics to be a transitional figure. The U.S. defeat in and withdrawal from Vietnam was finalized during his presidency, which ended following his defeat by Democrat Jimmy Carter in November 1976.
** Monitor computer memory prices on a daily basis. Prices are stable.
** Track global and national energy prices in near real time via Bloomberg. Crude oil prices have dropped to around $60 per barrel on forecasts of warmer than usual weather in much of the US.