NEW YORK—Believe it or not, I don't scour the headlines looking for tragedies and atrocities to blame on the United States.
But that's how it often works out. Now it's Kyrgyzstan's turn to fall apart as the result of American malfeasance.
The images coming out of Osh, a culturally diverse Silk Road city that recently celebrated its 5,000th anniversary, are reminiscent of the collapse of Yugoslavia. Ethnic Kyrgyz, resentful over the recent ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and angry about an economy that always seems to get worse, have murdered hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks because they support the new interim government. Kyrgyz rioters burned Uzbek-owned homes and businesses, prompting tens of thousands of Uzbeks to flee across the border into Uzbekistan. Buildings spray-painted with the word "Kyrgyz" were spared.
U.S. news consumers following the Kyrgyz crisis are repeatedly reminded about America's airbase near the capital of Bishkek, used to supply NATO forces occupying Afghanistan. The base, they say, is what we should care about, but the base isn't why Kyrgyzstan really matters. The big effect is that the events in Osh mark the beginning of a new surge of anti-Americanism with long-term repercussions.
This latest violence represents something new. It's bigger and more widespread. Second, it's delayed fallout from George W. Bush's misadventures in regime change.
Bush's military-CIA complex had more than Iraq and Afghanistan on its collective mind. Over the course of six years, it toppled or attempted to overthrow the governments of Venezuela, Haiti, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine--and, yes, Kyrgyzstan.
In March 2005, a CIA-backed (and in some cases-trained) mob of conservative Muslim young men from Osh drove up to Bishkek and stormed the presidential palace. President Askar Akayev, a former physicist who was the only democratically elected president in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, fled into exile in Russia.
Akayev's real mistake was crossing Bush. After 9/11, the United States demanded an airbase at Manas airport, paying nominal rent. Reconsidering after the fact, the Kyrgyz government demanded $10 million a year, quite a chunk of change in a country with an average salary of $25 a month.
Bakiyev, the Osh-based leader who replaced Akayev, was supposed to be more accommodating. Instead, he threatened to kick out the Americans unless they raised the rent from $17 million to $63 million.
Now he's in exile, too.
Kyrgyzstan was never a lucky country. Surrounded by neighbors with vast energy resources and other natural resources, the Kyrgyz have little but water and rocks. But the country enjoyed a strategic location. Under Akayev, people were poor but the country enjoyed relative stability.
Since then, there has been political disintegration, with southern provinces turned into de facto fiefdoms run by brutal for-profit warlords. Neither Bakiyev nor Otunbayeva, both brought to power by mobs, has enjoyed legitimacy or full acceptance. This is the real story: political and economic chaos masquerading as ethnic cleansing. And it's largely our fault.