Posted by: jt | February 7, 2009

you gotta give a little, take a little

Before I climb up on a long and rambling soapbox, say it with me, please: keer-guh-stan

Thanks. (And you have been warned.)

The news about the only American military base in Central Asia closing makes me think of the board game, Risk.

We just got kicked out of Asia.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that I’ve never won a game of Risk. I have, however, won its much cooler German equivalent, Settlers of Catan.  While Risk is entirely about military strategy – overpower, outlast, conquer; Settlers is about development – trade, diplomacy, coexistence. Don’t get me wrong, Settlers is not rainbows and unicorns. Just like Risk, it requires strategy and guile to win and you do, of course, play to win. Settlers is just a little more comprehensive in its scope. In addition to building an army, you also build roads, towns and cities. You harvest crops. There’s a little more to it than guns, guns and MOAR GUNZ.

The closing of the Manas Air Force Base in Kyrgyzstan has been on the table since 2006. We’ve known this was coming and failed to prevent it. The fact that we even established the base there in 2001 is kind of surprising (9/11 sympathy at work) and keeping it open would have been, one might think, a rather high priority.

Personally, the pacifist/globalist in me likes that it’s closing. I was the nine-year-old who wanted to know why we had military bases in Germany. Frankly, I’m now the almost-twenty-nine-year-old who wants to know why we have military bases in Germany.

Who the fuck do we think we are? Would we let Germany have a military base in California? Perhaps we should give Italy an outpost in Massachusetts? Does Bahrain deserve a piece of North Carolina?

I’m with the Kyrgyzs on their right to kick us out. We’ve squandered this opportunity. Why do we deserve to stay? What have we done for Kyrgyzstan? What do we know about Kyrgyzstan? Raise your hand if you can name two countries that border Kyrgyzstan. I’ll even give you a handy-dandy visual.


Don’t cheat. Where’s Kyrgyzstan? We have two – count ’em two – military bases in between Iraq and Korea. One is Camp Rhino, a Marine base in Afghanistan. The other is Manas AFB in Kyrgyzstan. Considering that we’ve been fighting a war in this part of the world for more than seven years now, this is pretty damn important.


Imagine you’re playing Settlers or Risk. If you had a hold here, would you consider that something worth fortifying?

First, just a hop, skip and a jump south is Afghanistan. We’re committing an additional 30,000 troops there and, wow, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a supply route? No problem, we’ll just ask one of our other reliable friends in the neighborhood. Hm. Maybe Iran?

Now, that big country just north of Kyrgyzstan, that’s Kazakhstan. What do the two have in common? Once upon a time, that giant country to their north…they were a part of it. The leaders of that giant country? They still talk about Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and most of the 14 other now-sovereign nations as if they should and will one day again be part of a Russian Empire.

And it’s not just talk. You may recall, Russia invaded one of those now-sovereign nations this past fall.  To be fair though, you may not recall that tiny incident since, at the time, our president was chillin’ at the Olympics, slapping asses and playing volleyball on the beach. It was French President Nicolas Sarkozy who took the lead, brokered a deal, and may have prevented World War Three.

Perhaps the French have good reason to be a bit more sensitive to Russian expansionist tendencies. Personally, I appreciate their sense of history.

Now, see that giant country to the east of Kyrgyzstan? That would be China. You might note that Kyrgyzstan is not far from what used to be known as Tibet…before China decided it belonged to them. Hong Kong should really be its own state…and it belongs to China. Taiwan is a sovereign state…that China claims it owns.

I’m not trying to be alarmist or inspire any kind of fear. I have no fear of Russians. I have no fear of Chinese. At the same time, I can’t shake my awareness of a shifting global balance of power. We’ve been playing Risk for too long, when we should have been playing Settlers.

USAID provided an estimated $19 million in development assistance to Kyrgyzstan last year. Yes, that’s $19 million with an “m.” That’s about what we spent per hour last year in Iraq. (You do the math, $12 billion/month = ~$17 million/hour)

Kyrgyzstan has issues with water pollution. Preventable water-borne diseases are all too common.

Kyrgyzstan has issues with prenatal care. More than 30/1,000 infants don’t survive (it’s 6/1,000 in the U.S.).

These are some of the most basic issues we can address. Give a town a water treatment plant; get a military base in return. Give a town a medical clinic; get a military base in return.



Just a little.

On Barack’s second day as president, he made an official visit to the State Department. On his third day, he went to USAID. We’ve dealt ourselves a really crappy hand but I think, at least, we’re playing the right game now.



Update: Without even reading this post, my friend sent me the world’s most super-fun map game. I love this! Possibly more than I should. And shame on me for not knowing where Bahrain is. I’ve met several people from Bahrain. Bad me. (But damn, that’s one tiny place!)



  1. All I have to say is, I love the word “Kyrgyzs.” The lack of vowels makes my head spin. (And yes, I know, “sometimes Y”… but you know what I mean. The lack of REAL vowels.)

  2. I kinda love Kyrgyzs themselves. :-) But I’m biased since the first group I worked with was 3 Kyrgyz politicians. I took them door-knocking for John Kerry and asked them if they did the same thing in Kyrgyzstan. Of course, they responded, but we bring vodka with us.

    And yes, the lack of vowels is fun. That makes me think of Kevin’s last name – Schwandt. Eight letters and only one vowel. Impressive.

    And just for more linguistic geekiness, say “Kyrgyz” while you look at this: Кыргыз

    I love language.

  3. Did you get any wrong on the first map quiz JT? (besides Bahrain)

  4. :-) I suck with the interior North African countries. I know the coastal ones, but I messed up the others good and proper.

    And, truth be told, the only reason I got Armenia and Azerbaijan in the right places is because of a vague knowledge of the ongoing Turkey/Armenia genocide issues.

    The rest, yes, I know them. :-)

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