“War is God’s way of teaching geography to Americans.” — Lt. Col. Stan Giles
“I’d never even heard of Kyrgyzstan.” — USAF Capt. Dale Linafelter
As dated (and accurate) as Colonel Giles’ maxim is the unspoken adage that war is America’s way of teaching democracy to foreigners. Germany, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Iraq have made it so. Spreading freedom without violence, however, has been a flop since before the invention of the international community. For those outside the European garden, the League of Nations proved that if Ethiopia or Manchuria were the world’s business, they were also the prerogative of their aggressors. What sunk the League was the belief among civilized peoples that tyrannies only bothered their own subjects, and that war and peace were the “on” and “off” of a single switch. Not until after World War Two did this mythos begin to wane. But until 1945, armed conflicts were announced like weddings, and neutrality meant peace with a country fighting some other war.
Today, it’s formal peace and declared war that are the rarities — while outside the garden, the rejects run wild. Inspections, sanctions, threatened sanctions, six-party talks, insurgency, and occupation thrive in an international jungle where the only norm is there are no norms.
Through the chaos breaks an unlikely headline: Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. The only lay Americans who knew Kyrgyzstan before last week were the ones stationed there, at Manas Air Field — where Giles, Linafelter and 1,150 other servicemen live in a tent city next door to China in a place where Russia still maintains bases and winter splits the nation by closing down its one major road.
Nothing in Kyrgyzstan is significant. Uzbek President Karimov got face time with Paul O’Neill, courtesy of the geography of oil. Distinguished neither in resources, climate, population, nor culture, what keeps Kyrgyzstan on the map is mere location. Malicious militias camp out in the nearby Ferghana Valley. Afghanistan, China, India, Russia, and Iran are a heartbeat or a reconnaissance drone away. In central Asia, nowhere is more central than Kyrgyzstan. This also makes it a boondocks. It would take a revolution on Antarctica to rival the non-event that the Kyrgyz Spring should have been. But Kyrgyzstan is not just Kyrgyzstan in 2005. Once a bore, Kyrgyzstan has become a Democratic Domino.
From Afghanistan to Georgia, Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt, freedom has hopscotched at a dervish’s pace. Not even the Saudis are safe anymore, and the Kyrgyz are now a proof. The headline “Freedom Marches Thru Kyrgyzstan” is the geopolitical equivalent of a star-making human-interest story on the local news. Kyrgyzstan belongs to a theory, a policy, a political talking point. It is a rallying cry for the Natan Sharansky Fan Club. “Even In Kyrgyzstan” is the ultimate comeback against naysayers of “Asiatic” democracy. “Even here” — where most people look Mongolian and Locke and Rousseau are not mentioned in the cafes. Wait — do the Kyrgyz even have cafes? Even better. Behold the easternmost democratic revolution in the history of the world — pulled off without modern Western prods. If it can happen in Bethlehem and Beirut without debt restructuring, why not in Bishkek, too?
Because it might not be happening. Dueling parliaments do not a democracy make. Hurling sticks at your former President is almost as unprofessional in the enterprise of freedom as his announcement that the “rumors” of his resignation “are false and intentional.”
Yet when the people cheer that “freedom has finally come to us,” who has the gall to say “easy come, easy go”? It’s true that a country waving its hands and shouting is a mob, not a movement. But it’s also true that passion is paramount. The best way never to fail is never to try — and that goes for freedom, too.
“The Bush administration,” Christopher Hitchens claims, “retains its capacity to startle, mainly because it has redefined the lazy term ‘conservative’ to mean someone who is impatient with the status quo.” The elevation of a haphazard, half-peaceful revolution in a global backwater to the level of headline news shows just how right he is: Kyrgyzstan is news today because Georgia and Ukraine were news yesterday, and yesterday’s news is still news because the grand strategy of the USA is to help dissident populations under active threat of tyranny push themselves past the tipping point into freedom.
This policy is genius and self-expedience, but its implementation is also humanely visionary at the edge where boldness threatens hubris and risks recklessness. The newsworthiness of Kyrgyzstan is news on its own terms. Action is on the breeze, fruits of the dare or gamble or premonition of some “conservatives” for whom a new word —beyond neocon — might be needed to describe them.
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