[Guest post by Ezra Deutsch-Feldman.] With the sudden success of nonviolent revolution in Egypt, attention has turned to the seemingly ubiquitous influence of Peter Ackerman, a former investment banker who became something of an intellectual godfather to the Middle Eastern protest movements. His group, the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, produced instructional videos for leaders of nonviolent revolutions, held conferences where would-be revolutionaries could meet and swap tactics, and even financed a video game meant to help organizers plan and practice grassroots uprisings.
When an angry mob overthrew Kyrgyzstan’s autocratic president Kurmanbeck Bakiyev last April, one of the complaints heard most often on the streets of Bishkek, the country’s capital, was that the U.S. government had been complicit in propping up his regime. A former Soviet republic once known as the “Switzerland of Central Asia” because of its relatively strong civil society, Kyrgyzstan had suffered in recent years under Bakiyev from grinding poverty, widespread corruption, and government marred by cronyism and contempt for political opposition and independent media.
The man tells me that the severed head is Kyrgyz. The video, relayed to me on the small screen of his mobile phone, is blurry and the sound quality is poor. But I can nonetheless decipher what is happening. A group of men are playing a macabre combination of soccer and field hockey with the detached cranium, shouting excitedly throughout as they kick and smack it with sticks. The clip lasts no more than 20 seconds. We’re standing in an alleyway off a major thoroughfare in Osh, a 3,000-year-old city located in southern Kyrgyzstan, the hustle of a bazaar only steps away.
Has the United States stopped playing the Great Game in Central Asia? In the wake of the destabilizing violence that occurred in Kyrgyzstan this summer, that seems to be the case. The Obama administration reacted slowly when at least 300 people were killed in inter-ethnic fighting in June and Kyrgyzstan seemed on the verge of spiraling out of control.
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan—Smiling in a conference room of her aging Soviet-era office suite, Roza Otunbayeva appeared confident—possibly for the first time in her short presidency. It was only two weeks after June 10, when ethnic violence had begun engulfing the south of her country, but Kyrgyzstan's diminutive leader, a bespectacled former diplomat with a bob cut and the good-natured manner of a high-school principal, announced that the bloodshed had failed to discourage people from participating in a nationwide referendum.
Turkey is not going to join the European Union. Bald or candid statements are usually unwise, or “impolitic,” which is why politicians tend to avoid them, knowing that they may be falsified by events. But some can be made with absolute confidence, and here is one of them. This question has returned to the news with the recent Turkish visit by David Cameron, during which he said that Turkey should join the E.U. as soon as possible. Whatever my new prime minister may say, it has been clear to me ever since I took any interest in the question that Turkey was not going to join the E.U.
If you’re a betting person, here’s a safe bet: On August 9, the balloting in the east African state of Rwanda will give world-famous military leader Paul Kagame yet another seven-year term as president. The astonishing margin of victory will impress even the modern grand viziers of Central Asia.
In late July the Washington Post published an ambitious report on U.S. national security intelligence that we are told had taken the Post’s staff two years to complete. The project was led by two competent and experienced reporters, Dana Priest and William Arkin, and the report has received an enthusiastic press. Having written about national security intelligence in books like Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps (2007), I was looking forward to reading the Post’s report. The report is, in fact, a disappointment.