Uncle Sam — Sucker for Strongmen


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

Our foreign policy suffers from a chronic learning disability: Neither Democrats nor Republicans can get it through their heads that supporting unpopular, corrupt foreign bosses always ends badly.

Decade after decade, we’ve backed illegitimate rulers as a a strategic short-cut. We did what was expedient, not what was wise. And we paid.

Our latest debacle occurred in Kyrgyztan — a backwater that wouldn’t matter a hoot, if not for other dumber-than-dumb US policies.

Last week, the Kyrgyz people took to the streets to overthrow US-backed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev — who’s now on the lam from the popular new, Russian-backed government.

That’s right: Russian czar Vladimir Putin stood with “people power,” while we, once again, have been tarred by association with an oppressor.

Putin has the gratitude of the Kyrgyz population. When the up-from-the-streets coup hit, Russia rushed to recognize the new government. We delayed. And we’re still marking time.

Bakiyev may have looked like a decent bet when he came to power in 2005, in the wake of Kyrgyzstan’s “Tulip Revolution.” But he soon grew autocratic and unreliable. We chose to rely on him, anyway. Even when he threatened to cut off our access to Manas Air Base — essential to our Afghanistan supply effort — we just sent more money and continued to back him.

That threat to close the base was driven by Putin, who’d offered Bakiyev $2 billion in aid to shut us out. Bakiyev took part of the money, broke the deal and didn’t give back the Kremlin’s cash.

Putin took it personally. Russian propaganda efforts and subversion began targeting Bakiyev (whose growing despotism made the job easier). And we were blind to it.

Now our man in Bishkek is out, and the new government owes Putin. Even if we’re allowed continued access to the air base, Putin can choke off that supply line to our troops any time he wants.

(It’s especially ironic that Putin’s seen as the champion of the oppressed in the wake of last weekend’s air tragedy, which decapitated the Polish government — killing Poland’s fiercely anti-Russian president and his senior advisers in the murky crash on Russian soil of a Russian-built aircraft recently refurbished in Russia.)

We’re also tied to the vigorously corrupt Pakistani government, thanks to our even greater reliance on supply lines through Pakistan to support our forces in Afghanistan. This was military idiocy when the Bush administration did it. Now Obama’s sending 30,000 more US service members — making us even more dependent on Russian and Pakistani goodwill.

Then there’s Afghanistan itself. Often, autocracies creep into power — but in the case of President Hamid Karzai, there was a specific moment when it became clear that our continued support of his regime was foolish. It happened last year, when Karzai rigged the election — stealing it so clumsily that nobody was fooled except those who wanted to be fooled. (That would be us.)

So now we’re giving blood to prop up a regime despised by the Afghan people. And to do so we rely on supply lines controlled by foreign powers that, to put it mildly, do not have our best interests at heart.

In the 1990s, I was fond of saying, “The shah always falls” — warning that our support of autocrats always backfires. Then, briefly, there was cause for hope, as the Bush administration initially fought for freedom and democracy.

The moment didn’t last. Once again, expedience trumped our long-term interests. Bush soon went back to supporting the likes of Egypt’s aging Pharaoh, Hosni Mubarak, and (as always) giving Saudi terror-bigots a pass.

Now the Obama administration shuns talk of spreading democracy, preferring to (literally) embrace dictators, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez — a blatant thug our president won’t even criticize.

We’re not only no longer willing to stand up for freedom — we won’t even speak up for it.

We look like hypocrites, because we are hypocrites. And yes: The shah, or the president-for-life, or the election-thief in Kabul, always falls eventually. But we barely think past next weekend (this administration would rather have a wretched treaty today than a useful one tomorrow).

Our nation’s consistent foreign-policy goal is to stave off embarrassments until after the next election. But diplomacy that focuses on short-term gratification inevitably delivers long-term disasters. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2010 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Endless War: Middle Eastern Islam vs. Western CivilizationHis most recent novel is “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. His most most recent non-fiction book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.” He is Fox News’ strategic analyst.

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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