New York Post, January 25, 2004

CENTRAL Asia is now one of the most important, yet most obscure parts of the world. What is happening in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan matters to the security of the United States as much as events across the border in Mexico.

The five former Soviet Republics, popularly known as the "stans," are next door to Afghanistan and wedged between China, Russia and Iran. U.S. military bases there provide vital support for the war against al Qaeda.

Central Asia is also a vital back-up in case the tenuous U.S. position in Pakistan founders. If al Qaeda were to get lucky and assassinate President Pervez Musharraf, America could still fight al Qaeda and the Taliban from bases in Central Asia.

Americans wanting to know more about their new allies in Central Asia have little to guide them. The academic literature is dull, outdated and overpriced. Cleverly filling this gap is German-journalist Lutz Kleveman's "The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia."

The book is an easy-to-read guide to countries where the food is atrocious and the plumbing worse. The book is clever. Kleveman has traveled thousands of miles and spoken to scores of important and interesting people. Unfortunately, all the entertaining reportage is a cover for an insidious attack on the United States.

We meet hard-drinking oilmen in Azerbaijan, an Iranian who held U.S. diplomats hostage and who says he loves America even while blaming the U.S. government for the 9/11 attacks. Yet consistently Kleveman leaves the reader feeling that the United States is in Central Asia to grab the oil, not to fight the terrorists. Kleveman links everything to inflated figures for the amount of oil in the Caspian Sea, numbers that nobody in the oil industry has ever taken seriously.

Perhaps the most insidious piece of writing is Kleveman's discussion of Bush adviser Zalmay Khalilzad, who was born in Kabul. Khalilzad was a consultant to Unocal, which was planning to build oil and gas pipelines across Afghanistan - plans that never left the drawing board.

Kleveman portrays Khalilzad as an almost sinister figure, rather than a policy wonk who initially misjudged the Taliban: Like many others in 1996, he saw them as a potential force for stability and as anti-Iranian. The world has changed, and Khalilzad, after working with both the Iraqi and Afghan oppositions, has contributed to the liberation of 50 million Muslims from terrorism-supporting dictatorships.

If Kleveman were right and the war in Afghanistan was about oil, then the American airbase in Kyrgyzstan would be named after Exxon. Instead, it is named after the fallen FDNY chief, Peter J. Ganci Jr. - it doesn't take a New York minute to work out that this war is about justice, not oil.

Andrew Apostolou is director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.



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