Tag Archives: kyrgyzstan

Autographed Copies Now for Sale! Revised/Updated 2014 Edition of “Silk Road to Ruin”

The expanded paperback 2nd edition of Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East is OUT NOW. You can order it from Amazon or scroll below to order an autographed copy directly from me. Signed copies come with a personal sketch and can be dedicated to anyone you want. And most of the money goes to me, unlike Amazon, which pays authors about a buck a copy.

The new edition updates the politics and current events sections to the present. In addition, there is a bonus chapter about my expedition to Lake Sarez in Tajikistan — Central Asia’s “Sword of Damocles,” which could cause an epic flood that could kill millions of people at any time.

If you are a book critic or reviewer interested in a review copy, please contact NBM Publishing directly.

If you would like me to speak about Central Asia and the new book at an event, please contact me through the contact form here on the Rallblog.

To order an autographed copy:


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Silk Road to Ruin: 2nd paperback edition

The expanded paperback 2nd edition of Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East comes out April 1, 2014. It is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The new edition updates the politics and current events sections to the present. In addition, there is a bonus chapter about my expedition to Lake Sarez in Tajikistan — Central Asia’s “Sword of Damocles,” which could cause an epic flood that could kill millions of people at any time.

I will sell personally signed copies of the book through my website. Please use the contact form if you’d like me to add you to the mailing list and I will get in touch as soon as I have copies to sell — probably around May 1st. (The Amazon copies will ship first, though.)

If you are a book critic or reviewer interested in a review copy, please contact NBM Publishing directly.

If you would like me to speak about Central Asia and the new book at an event, please contact me through the contact form here on the Rallblog.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Real Reason to Impeach Obama

Why Is the FBI Helping a Monstrous Dictator?

Forget the IRS, AP and Benghazi. The real scandal this week — the corrupt politicization of the nation’s top law enforcement agency — is President Obama’s decision to carry water for one of the world’s most evil dictators.

In a little-noticed move, Obama’s FBI has arrested Fazliddin Kurbanov, a 30-year-old Uzbekistani political dissident who, were this 1983, would be dubbed a “freedom fighter.”

Kurbanov faces the generic catchall charges used since 9/11 by the feds against low-level Islamists: conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization — in this case, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — and conspiracy to provide material support to (individual) terrorists. As usual, the “material support” charge doesn’t amount to much: the indictment alleges that he researched and made videos about how to make IEDs to use in Uzbekistan.

Major plot point: Kurbanov’s “terror plot” did not target the United States.

Nearly as important: the IMU is not at war with the U.S.

Originally based in rural Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan, the IMU’s goal is to overthrow Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov, the most brutal of the dictators that have run the Central Asian republics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Karimov’s regime brooks no dissent: torture and murder of political opponents (and of businesspeople who refuse to pay bribes) is widespread. Officialdom is breathtakingly corrupt, sucking the oil- and gas-rich republic dry. Universally feared and reviled, Karimov is best known for boiling dissidents such as Mazafar Avazov and Khuzniddin Alimov to death (details and a gruesome photo of the 2002 boilings can be found in my book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?“), and for personally orchestrating the 2005 Andijon Massacre, in which at least 400 civilians were slaughtered by Uzbek security forces.

After Andijon, even the ethics-deficient Bush Administration decided that enough was enough, pulling U.S. forces out of Kashi-Khanabad airbase, which it had leased since 2001, and slashing military aid.

Which did nothing to rein in the tyrant. “The Uzbek constitution imposes a two-term limit, but Karimov was elected to a third term…His government engages in routine torture of citizens and has subjected dissenters to forced psychiatric treatment,” reports Parade magazine. All three of Karimov’s “opponents” in the 2007 election campaigned on his behalf.

Even by the cynical standards of international realpolitik, Karimov is radioactive — the kind of over-the-top despot Americans normally consider targets of “regime change” or at least trade sanctions. No civilized country should maintain diplomatic relations with Karimov, a tyrant whose abuses equal or exceed those of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi.

“Radioactive” is an unfortunate choice of words, since Uzbekistan’s uranium mines (along with vast reserves of Caspian Sea natural gas, oil, and a pipeline and refinery network strategically linked to its petroleum-rich neighbors Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) is part of the reason the United States is sucking up to him.

Rather than targeting Karimov with drones or cruise missiles, Obama has the butcher of Andijon on speed dial, reaching out in 2011 to ask the Uzbek leader for permission to ship war materiel through his benighted country into U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. In 2012, despite a Human Rights Watch report that found that life under Karimov had gotten worse since Andijon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama agreed to restore Karimov’s billion-dollar aid package.

Even in this economy, it seems, a billion bucks only goes so far. To further ingratiate the U.S. to Karimov, the White House has targeted the IMU. Bear in mind, the IMU has never attacked the U.S. Even though a U.S. airstrike killed an IMU founders in 2001, the group has never declared its intent to attack the U.S. Its beef is with Islam Karimov; its goal is to establish an Islamist state in Uzbekistan.

The IMU’s misfortune has been to fall on the wrong side of the “enemy of our friend is our enemy” equation. We’re in bed with Karimov and his fellow Central Asian dictators. Our icky prisoner-boiling pals hate the IMU.

No doubt, the IMU is a violent insurgent group. During one of its periodic summer offenses, the IMU kidnapped four American mountain climbers in early 2000 — an offense that prompted Bush to declare the group a State Department-designated terrorist organization. But the fact that the climbers were American appears to have been unrelated to their capture. IMU offensives also swept up Tajik and Kyrgyz civilians and soldiers, and four Japanese geologists. (Kyrgyz security forces claim to have disrupted a 2003 IMU plot to blow up the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, but such claims, often ploys to attract U.S. foreign aid, should be met with skepticism.)

Like many radical Muslim groups in Asia, some members of the IMU — a small cadre of fighters estimated to number between 300 and 500 men — trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. After the 2001 U.S. invasion they fled across the border into Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, where they established alliances with and fought alongside various Pashtun Islamist groups. IMU fighters have clashed with U.S. occupation forces in Waziristan and Afghanistan. But the IMU has shown no sign of bringing the fight to the U.S. IMU ideology is local and regional, limited to spreading Sharia-based governments first and foremost in Uzbekistan, and in countries like Pakistan if possible. No one — not even the FBI — alleges that the IMU plans to attack the U.S.

The U.S. government is at war with radical Islam. The question for Americans is: In a conflict between a monstrous dictator and a small group of would-be revolutionaries trying to overthrow him, should we take sides — especially the side of the dictator?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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My Thoughts: Boston Suspect is from Kyrgyzstan

Note: the following relates to a rapidly developing breaking story. At this point, there is a lot of speculation and a lot of reliance on official government reports which, as we know, are not always reliable.

According to media accounts based on police reports, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings is a 19-year-old man named Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, a resident of Boston who lived in the former Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan and may or may not be Chechen in origin. He identifies himself as a Muslim.

In anticipation of media queries due to his Central Asian origin, I thought I would post the following impressions and thoughts about his possible motivations.

Obviously no one knows, if in fact he is guilty, what his motivation was for helping his brother to set off bombs at the Boston Marathon on Monday. That said, a lot of people are unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan so I thought I would set up a little bit of light on the subject since I have been there many times and have studied Central Asia, its politics and culture.

Generally speaking, Kyrgyzstan is divided between its secular Sovietized North, centered around the capital of Bishkek, and its conservative Muslim south, centered around the Fergana Valley city of Osh. Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Kyrgyz Republic represented one of the great hopes for democratization in former Soviet Central Asia. It had a flawed but democratically elected president, one of the least corrupt police forces in the region, and was relatively peaceful. Largely it was free of Western influence because it did not have oil or natural gas reserves coveted by Russia or the United States. Therefore, it did not suffer from the famous oil curse.

In recent years the most important political development in Kyrgyzstan was the 2005 Tulip Revolution, which saw radical Islamist insurgents and financed by the American CIA and based around Osh topple the regime of Pres. Akayev, who fled into exile rather than order his security forces to fire upon his people. Nobody can be 100% certain why the United States decided to repeat the same mistakes that it made in Afghanistan during the 1980s, but it isn’t a huge stretch to assume that the fact that Akayev was demanding increased rent on the US air base at Manas that was established after the 9/11 attacks may have had something to do with it.

Since 2005 the political situation in the Boston suspect’s homeland has deteriorated. Some analysts consider it nearly a failed state. Certainly the central government has lost control of much of the South. For example, when I tried to cross from Tajikistan into southeastern Kyrygzstan at Sary Tash in 2008, border guards informed me that they had not heard from Bishkek in years. In fact, they no longer even had a passport stamp. It was very clear that local warlords were in charge of mining and other concerns there.

Radical Islamists, always active in the southern part of the country, have become emboldened since 2005. One insurgent group, the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, formerly known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, has attracted self radicalized Muslims from all over the world, including a substantial faction from Chechnya. Chechnya, well-informed readers will recall, was destroyed by forces under the direction of Russian Federation president Boris Yeltsin. While we in the West may have forgotten this episode, Chechens are well known as ferocious fighters who never forget a grudge. Jihad is alive and well for them.

Why did Mr. Tsarnaev blowup the marathon? Assuming, of course that he did?

It may well be that his trajectory as an ethnic Chechen brought him into contact with radical Muslims in Kyrgyzstan. Although it seems like a stretch for Americans, Muslims around the world often see America and Russia acting in concert. It would then be another logical leap to attack America here – yes, including attacking innocent civilians, because after all, Russia attacks innocent civilians in Muslim countries and in places like Chechnya, and the United States does so in other places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Of course, all of this is conjecture.

Anyone interested in a broader look at the Soviet legacy in Central Asia, including countries like Kyrgyzstan, may be interested in checking out my book “Silk Road to Ruin: is Central Asia the new Middle East?”

Media may contact me via the contact form at rall.com.

 

As of 10:45 AM: this is an update.

So there is also a conflicting report that the brothers lived in Kazakhstan after leaving Chechnya in the early 2000s. The political situation in Kazakhstan could not be more different than in Kyrgyzstan. Although the two countries are closely related ethnically, and many many Kyrgyz live in Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan is the beneficiary of one of the biggest oil booms in the history of mankind. The economy is booming, although oil wealth has not been shared. Also, Kazakhstan is ruled by an authoritarian dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, a US ally who has run the country since independence in 1991 and was a former Soviet party boss. He is ruthless – he is even accused of executing rival presidential candidates months before an election – but he hasn’t had much of an Islamic insurgency to deal with, unlike neighboring Central Asian republics. If in fact the brothers are from Kazakhstan, they probably did not have the opportunity to meet many radical Islamists.

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: U.S. Double Standard: Gaddafi Bad, Karimov Good

The US shows its hypocrisy by accusing “tyrants” of human rights abuses while not owning up to supporting dictators.

“After four decades of brutal dictatorship and eight months of deadly conflict, the Libyan people can now celebrate their freedom and the beginning of a new era of promise,” President Obama said last week. The capture and death of Moammar Gaddafi prompted him and other U.S. officials to congratulate the Libyan people on their liberation from a despot accused of terrible violations of human rights, including the 1996 massacre of more than 1200 prison inmates.

The kudos were as much for the U.S. itself as Libya’s victorious Transitional National Council. After all, the United States played a decisive role in Gaddafi’s death. First President Obama put together the NATO coalition that served as the Benghazi-based rebels’ loaner air force. When the bombing campaign was announced in February, Gaddafi’s suppression of the human rights of protesting rebels was front and center: “The United States also strongly supports the universal rights of the Libyan people,” Obama said at that time. “That includes the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech, and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. They are not negotiable. They must be respected in every country. And they cannot be denied through violence or suppression.” (No word on how police firing rubber bullets at unarmed, peaceful protesters at the Occupy movement in Oakland, California fits into that.)

And in the end, it was a Hellfire missile fired by a Predator drone plane controlled by the American CIA—in conjunction with an attack by a French fighter jet—that destroyed the convoy of cars Gaddafi and his entourage used to try to escape the siege of Sirte, driving him into the famous drainage pipe and into the hands of his tormentors and executioners.

American officials and media reports were right about Gaddafi’s human rights record: It was atrocious. They cautioned the incoming TNC to make human rights a priority: “The Libyan authorities should also continue living up to their commitments to respect human rights, begin a national reconciliation process, secure weapons and dangerous materials, and bring together armed groups under a unified civilian leadership,” Obama said. (No word on how Gaddafi’s execution fits in to that.)

Yet the very same week the United States was cozying up to another long-time dictator—one whose style, brutal treatment of prisoners, and notorious massacre of political dissidents is highly reminiscent of the deposed Libyan tyrant.

Like a business that maintains two sets of records, one for the tax inspector and the other containing the truth, the United States has two different foreign policies. Its constitution, laws and treaty obligations prohibit torture, assassinations, and holding prisoners without trial. In reality there are secret prisons like Guantánamo. Similarly, there are two sets of ethical standards in America’s dealing with other countries. Enemies are held to the strictest standards. Allies get a pass. This double standard is the number-one cause of anti-Americanism in the world.

In yet another display that exposes American foreign policy on human rights as hypocritical and self-serving, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Uzbekistan to establish closer ties to the Central Asian republic’s president for life, Islam Karimov. Even as her State Department was ballyhooing the bloody conclusion of Gaddafi’s 42-year reign as a victory for freedom and decency, the former First Lady was engaged in the cynical Cold War-style of one of the worst human rights abusers in the world.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Guilty After Proven Innocent

Make DSK Whole—Then Jail Him

“Innocent until proven guilty.” We say it. We teach it to our children. But we don’t believe it.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with ambushing a hotel cleaning person at a hotel in midtown Manhattan and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, has been released.

This was not the usual case of a well-heeled defendant wielding money and influence to weasel out of responsibility for his crime. To the contrary, the NYPD and district attorney believed the alleged victim, initially characterized as a hard-working immigrant struggling to support her family. The cops aggressively pursued DSK, as the French media calls him. They even subjected him to the “perp walk” that signifies official contempt.

But that’s all over. District attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. says the case has fallen apart. The victim was unreliable at best, a conwoman at worst. The charges are dead. DSK is free.

Innocent until proven guilty, right?

Technically.

But not really.

When you’re accused, the story screams in blood-red 112-point type above the fold on page one for weeks on end. When you’re exonerated, it runs one column-inch buried in the classifieds—on the day all your friends, relatives and colleagues happen to miss the paper.

Strauss-Kahn won’t go to prison. Not for whatever happened or didn’t happen at the Sofitel. (He will face a rape charge filed by a French reporter, who accuses him of going after her “like a chimpanzee in rut” years ago.)

Though legally innocent, DSK will not be restored to his job leading the International Monetary Fund, which he was forced to resign as he cooled his heels at Rikers Island. No reason given. Just: no.

Before getting dragged out of his first-class seat on an Air France jet bound for Paris, the deaccused rapist was widely considered a frontrunner for the Socialist Party’s nomination for the French presidency. Now George W. Bush has a better chance than DSK of moving into Elysée Palace. Too much dirt has come out. Legally innocent he may be, but too many voters harbor doubts.

Like the old Soviet Union, the United States and its Western puppet states (France included) mindlessly repeat too many sweet-sounding slogans devoid of real meaning: “Equal justice under the law.” “All men are created equal.” “One man, one vote.”

“Innocent until proven guilty.”

If legal innocence (i.e. the failure of the state to convict one of a crime) is to rise above the status of hollow rhetoric, people like DSK ought to be entitled to the full restoration of their pre-arrest status. In DSK’s case, he is morally entitled to his old job at the IMF and an open invitation by the French Socialists to run for his nation’s highest office. He also deserves to be compensated for the legal bills and bail costs he accrued during his ordeal.

Not many people reading this will agree with me. Which is my point: as a society, we don’t really believe in “innocent until proven guilty.”

We did not revel in Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest because of the crime that the legal system has since decided not to pursue, rape. We laughed and jeered because we hate(d) him.

We hate(d) DSK because he is rich and evil.

Had DSK been a run-of-the-mill accused rapist, few would have noticed and no one would have been as gleeful about his predicament. Here was the fearsome chief of the mighty IMF, an old, smug, white pig forced to shower with an electronic monitoring device locked to his ankle. “Le Perv!” shouted the New York Post.

How delicious!

After the arrest I published a cartoon showing DSK in a police interrogation room. I pride myself on my refusal to leap aboard media bandwagons, so I didn’t assume he was guilty. “What’s the big deal?” I showed him asking police detectives. “I’ve been raping the world for years!”

It takes a cruel genius to turn big profits on the backs of the world’s poorest people. Meet DSK’s IMF.

First IMF officials such as DSK convince the political leaders of say, Kyrgyzstan, that they could rapidly modernize their Fourth World backwater with a loan. Build some new highways! How about that long-awaited hydroelectric dam? Foreign corporations will rush in to do business! Paying us back will be a breeze!

This is, to be charitable, as overly optimistic as Countrywide telling slum dwellers they’ll never regret an adjustable-rate mortgage. There are good reasons that foreign firms do not invest in dumps like Kyrgyzstan. Those reasons do not change because there’s a new airport road or a new four-star hotel.

Increase in GDP or no, the IMF loans come due. What to do? IMF experts parachute in. Their recommendation: “structural adjustment.” No more profligate spending on social programs. Close those pricy health clinics! The IMF is the world’s biggest loan shark.

Ripped social safety nets cause social unrest. Kyrgyzstan, once relatively stable, was propped up by IMF loans in the late 1990s. They came due, forcing the poor nation to curtail social spending. It has since been swept by a series of riots, coups, ethnic cleansing and even warlordism.

Here in the United States, IMF-style gangster capitalism takes the form of Republican/Tea Party “starve the beast” demagoguery. There’s always money for rich people. And for wars. And for wars that make rich people richer. For the poor and middle-class, Medicare and Social Security are ostentatious and unaffordable luxuries. Socialized medicine, guaranteed cost-of-living increases and unlimited unemployment benefits are off the table.

It is this economic outlook, devoid of humanity and contemptuous of people’s basic needs, that Dominique Strauss-Kahn represents.

We all hate him. We hate those like him. That perp walk looked so…right.

He deserves prison, no doubt about it. Until there’s a revolution, however, DSK will never suffer for the crimes he committed as a globe-trotting financier.

Even as DSK flew first-class and left his most intimate DNA in $450-a-night suites at four-star hotels, his IMF was demanding that the citizens of Greece and Portugal slash pensions and hike college tuition. That is his biggest crime, undeniable and unforgivable, and the one for which he and those like him should someday face justice.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: WikiLeaks: The Devils We Know

Cables Reveal Background of Pro-Dictator U.S. Policy

After the Soviet collapse in 1991 U.S. policy toward Central Asia was transparently cynical: support the dictators, screw the people.

As the U.S. stood by and watched, corrupt autocrats looted the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Dissidents were jailed, massacred—even boiled.

Well, actually, the U.S. was anything but passive. They negotiated deals for oil and gas pipelines. They rented airbases after 9/11. They poured in tens of millions of American tax dollars—all of which wound up in secret bank accounts belonging to the dictators and their families. Meanwhile, average citizens lived in abject poverty.

During trips to Central Asia the locals constantly ask me: “Why doesn’t America stop supporting [insert name of corrupt dictator here] so we can kill him and free ourselves?”

Poor, naïve people. They believe our rhetoric. They think we like democracy. Actually, we’re all about the looting. Dictators are easier to deal with than parliaments. One handshake and a kickback, that’s all you need with a dictator.

Central Asia only had one democratically elected president, Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan. George W. Bush ordered the CIA to depose him in a coup.

Americans who care about human rights have long wondered: Is the State Department stupid and/or naïve? Or did the diplomats in Tashkent and other capitals of unspeakable misery understand the brutal and vile nature of Central Asia’s authoritarian leaders?

An examination of the WikiLeaks data dump answers that question: Yes.

Hell yes.

Like those from concerning more prominent countries, the WikiLeaks cables on the Central Asian republics can be funny. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, a U.S. “ally in the war on terror” who seized power in a palace coup following the death of Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov, is described as “the ‘decider’ for the state of Turkmenistan.” This is true. Turkmenistan is an absolute dictatorship in which millions starve while Berdimuhamedov’s inner circle feasts on the profits from the world’s largest reserves of natural gas.

A December 2009 cable describes America’s pet autocrat as “vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative, a practiced liar, ‘a good actor,’ and vindictive.”

According to an unnamed source, the outwardly conservative dictator has a Russian mistress named Marina, with whom he has a 14-year-old daughter. Though Berdy’s power may be limitless, his intellect is not. “Berdimuhamedov does not like people who are smarter than he is,” says the cable. “Since he’s not a very bright guy, our source offered, he is suspicious of a lot of people.”

No one’s perfect. Least of all America’s allies in Central Asia.

On the other side of the steppe in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev presides over the world’s largest oil reserves with an iron fist. Among his greatest hits: the convenient “suicides” of his top two political opponents a few months before a presidential “election.” The two men apparently shot themselves in the back of the head, then bound their own hands behind their backs and dropped into a ditch outside Almaty.

Needless to say, Nazarbayev is another valuable U.S. ally in the war on terror.

But that doesn’t stop American gossip. Nazarbayev’s defense minister, says an embassy staffer in Astana, “appears to enjoy loosening up in the tried and true ‘homo sovieticus’ style—i.e., drinking oneself into a stupor.” But alcoholism isn’t illegal. Graft is—and the president is public enemy number one.

“In 2007, President Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, celebrated his 41st birthday in grand style,” explains an April 2008 cable. “At a small venue in Almaty, he hosted a private concert with some of Russia’s biggest pop stars. The headliner, however, was Elton John, to whom he reportedly paid one million pounds for this one-time appearance.” How did he come up with all that coin? “Timur Kulibayev is currently the favored presidential son-in-law, on the Forbes 500 list of billionaires (as is his wife separately), and the ultimate controller of 90% of the economy of Kazakhstan,” states a January 2010 missive.

Membership has its privileges. The U.S. has never spoken out against corruption or human rights abuses in Kazakhstan.

So it’s clear: American diplomats have no illusions about their brutal allies. Interestingly, Central Asia’s overlords have a dismally accurate view of corruption in the U.S. government.

“Listen, almost everyone at the top [of the Kazakh regime] is confused,” First Vice President Maksat Idenov told the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan early this year. “They’re confused by the corrupt excesses of capitalism. ‘If Goldman Sachs executives can make $50 million a year and then run America’s economy in Washington, what’s so different about what we do?’ they ask.”

No response was provided.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL

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Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?

This is the book I wanted to write instead of To Afghanistan and Back — everything you ever wanted to know about Central Asia, without having had to attend grad school — but didn’t have time. Five years later, I was able to release my Central Asia brain dump, a book anyone can read cold and come away understanding the importance of the region and why it’s so interesting.

Comprising travelogue, political analysis and five graphic novellas, “Silk Road to Ruin” examines the “New Middle East”–a part of the world the United States is focusing upon more than the Middle East. “Silk Road to Ruin,” featuring an introduction by “Taliban” author Ahmed Rashid, includes 200 pages of essays about everything from oil politics to the wild sport of buzkashi and 100 pages of graphic novel-format comics about each of my five trips to the region.

Elderly Central Asians are starving to death in nations sitting atop the world’s largest untapped reserves of oil and natural gas. Looters are cavalierly ambling around in flatbed trucks loaded with disinterred nuclear missiles. Statues of and slogans by crazy dictators are springing up as quickly as their corrupt military policemen can rob a passing motorist. And on the main drag in the capital city of each of these profoundly dysfunctional societies, a gleaming American embassy whose staff quietly calls the shots in a new campaign to de-Russify access to those staggering energy resources.

CIA agents, oilmen and prostitutes mix uneasily and awkwardly in ad hoc British-style pubs where beers cost a dollar–a day’s pay and more than enough to keep out the locals. In an extreme case of the “oil curse,” wealth is being pillaged by U.S.-backed autocrats while their subjects plunged into poverty. Meanwhile Taliban-trained Islamic radicals are waiting to fill the vacuum.

It is a volatile mix. But does anybody care? Maybe not — but you should.

Transformed by what I saw being done in America’s name and eager to sound the alarm, I went back to remote Central Asia again and again. I returned to visit the region’s most rural mountain villages. He brought two dozen ordinary Americans on the bus tour from hell. I went as a rogue independent and as a guest of the State Department. I came back to cover the American invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, then went back again. Capitals moved, street names changed and the economic fortunes of entire nations turned on a dime from year to the next, but those changes merely reinforced my  belief that Central Asia is really the new Middle East: thrilling, terrifying, simultaneously hopeful and bleak, a battleground for proxy war and endless chaos. It is the ultimate tectonic, cultural and political collision zone. Far away from television cameras and Western reporters, Central Asia is poised to spawn some of the new century’s worst nightmares.

“Ted Rall’s Silk Road to Ruin is a rollicking, subversive and satirical portrait of the region that is part travelogue, part graphic novel. It’s fresh and edgy and neatly captures the reality of travel in the region.” —Lonely Planet Guide to Central Asia

For decades in the 19th century, the world’s superpowers competed in Central Asia in what became known as the Great Game, an epic scramble for influence and resources that still is being played today. Despite the high stakes — including what may be the planet’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas — the competition for the exotic lands between the Himalayas and Russia’s southern border has had remarkably few chroniclers. With ‘Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?’ Ted Rall fills that void with a book that combines fascination with Asian exoticism and the punchy distancing of cartoons and pop-culture irony. Rall is a former investment banker and expert in the harsh but potentially wealthy region known as ‘the Stans.’ His book is an unconventional, provocative and bitterly funny mix of travel diary, tour guide and graphic novel based on the author’s voyages, from Beijing to Turkmenistan through China’s remote Xinjiang region and the oil-rich steppes of Kazakhstan. The resulting collection is a travel book unlike any other. Besides pipelines, snow-capped mountains and Islamic radicals who may have alluded to the 9/11 attacks two years before the fact, Rall encounters along the way corrupt police, bizarre cult-of-personality regimes and the world championship of a sport where players are often killed during matches. —Bloomberg

Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?
Essays and Graphic Novellas, 2006
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