Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Can't win for trying

Elinor Burkett gives a ground-level view of anti-Americanism in Kyrgyzstan.

Even if the United States became everyone's paragon of virtue -- a twisted tango, given the vagueness and endless mutations of virtue's definition -- how much really would change? Would the Russian press or Iranian television share that good news with people who have no means to change the channel?
She also explains something I'd wondered about for some time.
The lush [Fergana Valley] had been split between the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik Soviet Socialist Republics by Stalin, no slouch in the "divide and conquer" department.
via Arts & Letters Daily


Protecting a world that hates and fears them

This exchange...
"America got what it deserved because it always meddles in everyone else's business," exclaimed a senior named Rada, just moments after her classmates offered me their formal sympathies for the attacks on New York and Washington.

"What 'meddling' are you talking about?" I asked.

They all shouted at once: Vietnam, Bosnia, Serbia, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq. Their knowledge of history, well beyond what American teenagers could have mustered, was cold comfort. Could they really see no difference between Vietnam, which I thought of as old-style American imperialism, and Bosnia or Haiti, President Clinton's postmodern brand?

I interrupted the litany: "If Uzbekistan invaded Kyrgyzstan to annex the Kyrgyz part of the Fergana Valley, what would you want the United States to do?" The lush valley had been split between the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik Soviet Socialist Republics by Stalin, no slouch in the "divide and conquer" department. But in the post-Soviet era, many Uzbeks lusted after the entire basin.

"You must defend us," they said.

"But we can't," I responded. "That would be meddling."

"Oh, no, it would be different if the Uzbeks invaded. You wouldn't be meddling. You would be defending us."
...reminds me of this passage from the profile of Colin Powell in GQ.
[Powell] dived into a story about "this little stupid island that I had to deal with about a year and a half ago, off the coast of Morocco, which is as big as two soccer fields. Nobody lives on it. And for some reason, the Moroccans went aboard and claimed dominion over the island—not even an island, it's a rock. It's 200 yards off the Moroccan coast. It belongs to Spain."

"Why would they want it?" I asked.

Powell winked. "Because it belonged to Spain, and it's 200 yards off the Moroccan coast. And they've been arguing about it for a couple hundred years. Next thing we knew, it was an international crisis. The European Union immediately said, 'Spain is right,' and the Organization of Islamic Conference—the fifty or so Muslim nations in the world—said, 'No, Morocco's right.' So there you have it. Well, what are you going to do? Take it to the U.N.? No. What are we going to do?" He paused for effect. "Call the U.S. secretary of state on a Thursday night.

"And so the brand-new Spanish foreign minister, who is now one of my best girlfriends, Ana, calls me. She calls me and says, 'I have a problem,' and she explains this rock. And she gets finished and I say, 'Why are you calling me?'

"And she says, 'You need to fix my problem.'

" 'Ma'am, what's this got to do with me?'

"Well, over the next forty-eight hours, I did nothing but work this rock problem. I must have made, oh, I think we counted it one day, thirty-eight or forty phone calls to her, the prime minister of Spain, and the king of Morocco. And the only way both sides would agree to the outcome is if I would write a letter to both of them telling them what they agreed to do to each other and if I would sign the letter. Not each of them—I would sign the letter. If I would cosign this deal!

"So I wrote the letter at home," he continued. "I shipped it out to the two of them. They both started arguing about the letter. It was a major problem in that the name of the island on the part of the Moroccans was one name, and the Spanish called it something else. And this wasn't going to work. So what to do, what to do? I say, 'Can't I just call it "the island"?'

" 'No, it's got to be more than that.'

"So I went to the State Department cartographer, and I got the exact coordinates of the island, and we put into the letter 'the island located at da-da-da.' Okay, that'll do it. And then, when the deal was about done, the Spanish agreed to it thirty minutes before darkness. Couldn't find the king of Morocco. He'd gone off in his car to go to another city. I tried to reach him, and they said he doesn't take calls in his car. I said, 'Well, you need to find him in ten minutes, because I'm going to go play with my grandchildren, and the Spanish won't leave the island. So he needs to pull over somewhere.' And he did. They caught him. He pulled over, called me from somebody's house. The king got on the phone. I said, 'We got the deal, but you've got to approve the letter.'

"He said, 'But the letter isn't here. It's back in Rabat.'

"I said, 'I've got to have you approve the letter now, Your Majesty.'

"And he said, 'But I only saw an early draft. What does it say now?'

"I finally said, 'Your Majesty, the letter does what I told you it would do. Trust me.'

"And he said, 'Mr. Secretary, I trust you.' And he got in his car and went off where he was going. I signed two copies of the letter, faxed one to Spain and one to Rabat. The Spanish left, and they've been buddies ever since."

He paused for a second. "Now, that's a silly story," he said, "but it illustrates so much. They come to the United States. It takes diplomacy. It got almost no attention in the press. Why would it? I mean, it's not terribly exciting. But that's what diplomacy is about."
"You have no idea how many issues end up on the desk of the secretary of state of the United States," [National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice] said.

"Little things?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said. "There is no issue that people honestly believe is not an American problem."