WHERE ARE THE 'STANS'?
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outdated and overpriced.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
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
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
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
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.