Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Kazakhstan, Democracy Promotion and U.S. Interests

We held a luncheon discussion today at the magazine with Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution (see her recent two-part article on Kazakhstan and the likely prospects for a "color revolution" at National Interest ), Martha Olcott of the Carnegie Endowment, author of "Kazakhstan: Unfulfilled Promise" and Paul Starobin of the Atlantic Monthly and author of a piece ("Sultan of the Steppes") that will appear in that magazine's December 2005 issue.

An excellent discussion from people who want to talk about substantive issues rather than engage in sloganeering.

Fiona opened with the critical point that Kazakhstan is "not just another 'stan" and that we should not consider the Central Asian and Caucasuan states and their leaders to be interchangeable. Kazakhstan is emerging as a major Eurasian state, and as Martha Olcott later noted, it has the potential to become a "middle power with a global reach."

She also noted that we need to face the reality that manipulation of elections is going to occur throughout the post-Soviet Eurasian space. It is a "sad fact of life." What should concern the West is the extent of that manipulation and how it might prevent reform from continuing.

There is a serious opposition in Kazakhstan, a point echoed by Martha--an opposition that was part of the governing elite and has the competency to govern. This is not, as Martha said, the dilemma that the United States faced in Azerbaijan--where it did not want the opposition to come to power, preferred the existing government to stay in place but hoped it could do so by means of a free, fair and transparent election. (This dilemma was one of the issues raised in discussing U.S. energy security needs versus its desire to promote democracy at a conference sponsored by the Caspian Project at Columbia University last month.)

Both Fiona and Martha raised the point that the issue is not a "colored revolution" per se but the question of succession: is there a mechansim in place that allows for a transfer of power from a Soviet-era ruler to a post-Soviet one? In Kazakhstan, the question is augmented by the challenges this country faces: 80 percent of its industrial output is still generated by the oil and gas industry. Without a more dynamic political system in the future, the country's prospects for continued economic growth are imperiled.

Fiona noted that Nursultan Nazarbayev remains committed to a "gradualist" vision, top-down reform promoted by a stable state and component governing elite, in contrast to a sudden revolutionary shock. The experience of Kazakhstan's neighbor Kyrgyzstan--where despite the "revolution" corruption remains a major problem and concerns about the ability of organized crime groups to manipulate the government are heightened--is something Kazakhs are analyzing closely.

Paul commented on what he has observed, notably, the emergence of a personality cult around the figure of President Nazarbayev as the "father" of his country, alongside the image of Nazarbayev as a technocratic modernizer. Nazarbayev is both concerned about how he is viewed in the West--he does not want to be classed as yet another Central Asian dictator--but also he wants to "game" the system so that he remains in charge and unopposed.

Paul noted that if any sort of revolution happens, it will be a "revolution of the elites"; that among ordinary Kazakhs, Nazarbayev is tolerated even if he is not beloved--especially those Kazakhs who are aware that they are better off than other Central Asians like the Uzbeks and that things could get much worse. Kazakhs, as he put it, are risk-averse in this regard.

The three panelists noted that U.S. influence is limited, and that Washington has sent mixed signals. The end result is that while the forthcoming December 4 elections are likely to be cleaner than previous ones, and while real progress has been made, the electoral process will still not be "clean enough" to satisfy European and OSCE norms.

Further complicating the picture is the fact that Kazakhstan's economy is booming, and given some of the economic problems that Georgia and Ukraine have faced following their "color revolutions", Kazakhstan's model may seem more appealing. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli recently visited Astana and made this interesting comment: "We became convinced yet again that Kazakhstan's most important resource is not oil and gas, but the unity of the people and the government, without which the economic miracle of this country would not have occurred."

In the end, the elections in December are not the critical point: it is what happens over the next three years or so. Will Nazarbayev appoint a government that will consciously undertake the changes needed to start the process of transition? As Martha pointed out, "color revolutions" that have happened in the Eurasian space happened because of the failure of the old regime to successfully manage the transition.

Honda Civic has received the Motor Trend Car of The year Award. While I take no great satisfaction in announcing this news I do take good lessons learned from a proud company. Honda sticks to the ideal that it sells where it manufactures, their main manufacturing is in Japan and America, and their main selling areas are Japan and America. American companies such as Ford, GM, and Chrysler, stumble over each other trying to ship jobs to cheaper countries to build a more profitable vehicle. Honda has focused its resources on building a sound vehicle; their vehicles are reliable and very rarely need major service in the first few years. Honda builds customer loyalty by providing employment to its market base, their American counterparts continuously lay off their market base and employ low wage help in countries where the employees cannot afford to buy their product. There is never talk of outsourcing in the Honda Corporation, they hire the best domestic talent and expect results. Many American companies state they cannot find good talent in their marketing bases and they must ship the work out in order to meet demand, why has Honda not encountered this problem in America? American companies try to rely on our feeing of patriotism by telling us “ Buy American”, yet they are turning right around and building in Mexico, China, India, and Korea, then they slap their American made hood ornament on the vehicle as it gets delivered to the showroom. Honda is constantly expanding in the United States while GM, and Fords is constantly contracting. I support GM, Chrysler, and Fords, I have owned at least one model of each type, but I feel they can take a lesson learned from Honda. I believe they should focus more on building back up their market place in America by employing more workers, at a fair wage for both the employee and the company. I also believe they need to focus on their domestic talent and quit outsourcing all of their engineering and development. Focus on building a good vehicle not a cheap one. I never hear Honda discussing how much it costs to build a vehicle, or how much money they will make this quarter or the next. What I do hear is how they want to build the best. They understand that if the build a good car and have a healthy amount of employees the rest will take care of itself. Let’s hope that this time next year I can write about one of the big three taking home the motor trend car of the year.
Raymond B
Having also listened to the discussion this afternoon, I think a point that Nick raised in his questions needs to be pursued further--whether the U.S., even with the best of intentions, is turning "opposition into a profession", in the phrase he quoted from Ray Takeyh. Democratic change in this or any part of the world comes because of a strong grass roots movement from below, not English-speaking elites seeking help from Washington.
The amusing thing is that in the West Borat is what everyone associates with Kazakhstan.
"What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women -- not merely peace in our time but peace for all time"...

..."The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough -- more than enough -- of war and hate and oppression. We shall be prepared if others wish it. We shall be alert to try to stop it. But we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on -- not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace."

June 10, 1963
Commencement Address at American University in Washington,
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

JFK's profound and haunting words should be remembered today.

US interventionalism is rooted in the supremist American exceptionalism delusions that FALSELY imagine US oil and energy interests, (and those who profit from the control of oil and energy interests) are the singular penultimate concern and primary importance in the promotion of "democracy" in nations that happen to be rich in oil or energy resources.

Subtract oil from the equation, and the quaint notion of promoting freedom and democracy are of absolutely zero concern to Washington or US oil and energy oligarchs today.

Any cursory review of America's meddling in the ME, South and Central America, Southeast and East Asia and beyond reveals a troubling legacy of alignments and alliances with tyrannical despotic dictators and "English speaking elites" who ruthlessly oppress their own people and exploit their own resources to win the favor and support of Washington and America oligarchs.

Do "realists" consider it politically, economically and morally responsible, or deleterious - in the long-term for America to hoist and back tyrannical, despotic, dictators for short term access to, (or more accurately major control of) oil and energy resouces in foriegn lands?

The inevitable endgame resulting from American interventionist machinations with unsavory tyrants, despots, dictators, and "English speaking elites" exploiting their own national resources and oppressing their own people, is almost always violent upheaval and regional instability.

If a nations leaders fail to adequately and equitably distribute wealth and provide for the general welfare of the majority of the population - that population eventually reacts often violently in response. American leadership may learn this hard lesson soon.

Raymond B's eloquant point is striking. America leadership (corporate and political) is blinded and corrupted by the pursuit of short-term profit, and personal aggrandizement specifically. Excellence in products and services, long-term relationships, customer and employee loyalty, social justice, environmental responsibility - are all secondary, or little or no concern to America's political and corporate panjandrums.

Fabricated stock values, (or manipulated perceptions) and book cooking of numbers to extrude quarterly profits (or favorable polling) are the primary drivers of American leadership and decision making.

This flawed, and odious fixation on short-term profit and the usurping of individual wealth and power may benefit select elites (or cronies) in the short-term, - but the long-term results and inevitable realites are an expansive divide between rich and poor, an proportional increase social injustices, a radicalized response to that divide and those injustices, and evenutally violent upheaval and instability.

Let us hope the "realists' align more Kennedy's leadership, - and much less with America's current corporate titans and the Bush government.
Is there a reason Iran is pledging over a billion dollars to aide in Iraq? With its recent actions of late this move by Iran appears very suspicious. Let’s review the recent actions of the Iranian government. Iran has recently been accused of attempting to work out an ‘oil for weapons technology’ deal with North Korea. Recently there has been proven contact between Iranians and the A.K. Khan. Network. As recently as a few weeks ago there was the president of Iran calling openly in public for Israel to be "wiped off the map." During the past week Iran's hard-line president stated that he firmly believes the Bush administration should be tried on war crimes charges related to Iraq while also taking time to denounce the West for its position on Iran's contentious nuclear program.
Many have known for years that Iran supports and finances the Hezbollah fighters in and around Palestine and Lebanon; they utilize this group to further their political agenda and influence in the Gulf region. And now Iranian lawmakers have voted to resume uranium enrichment and end snap UN checks of its nuclear sites if Tehran is referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. You add all of this up and two questions must be asked, ‘Why has Iran not been brought before the U.N. security council?’ and ‘Why are they so anxious to help out in Iraq?’
The first question is easy to answer, because the structure of the IAEA Board of governors has changed and the new participants consist of countries not as likely to go along with Western policy, among them, Cuba and Belarus, the U.S. has decided to allow Russia to be more active in resolving the nuclear issue. Many U.N. statesmen believe that if a vote is conducted there will be more abstentions than the last time, and this would be a political nightmare for the Bush administration. The second question is not so easy to answer. Iraq and Iran have fought a brutal war the past 25 years; the countries have a deep rooted hatred for one another. Iran has struggled to try and rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, this has been accomplished. Iran has also wanted Iraq to become de-Baathified, which has also occurred. So now why is Iran so interested in helping out the country? Do they see an opportunity to walk in the back door and snatch a hard earned democracy from their neighbors in Iraq? Is there an ulterior motive to their sudden policy shift? Has the Untied States and its allies fully addressed the influence Iran will try to now apply in Iraq? What alliances will the new Iraq government form with Iran? I feel these are all valid questions that must be asked by those leading the march to democracy in Iraq. When a newly formed government, such as Iraqs, struggling with its hold on power, begins to cozy up with a country with a reputation such as Iran’s, I feel it must be asked, what is the motive?
Raymond B
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