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August 14, 2005
Winning Wars That Lose Battles

The people of Kyrgyzstan have successfully and formally completed their first clean democratic election, confirming interim president Kurmanbek Bakiev as their new leader after a popular revolt drove off the autocratic Askar Akayev out of office. The creation of a true democracy in the former Soviet Central Asia republics serves as yet another victory for democratization, but it may come with a price for the Bush administration:

Kurmanbek Bakiev has been officially inaugurated as president of Kyrgyzstan, a month after winning the Central Asian state's elections. ...

Mr Bakiev, 55, who praised the conduct of the July elections, has said his main goal is to eradicate corruption.

He took the oath of office on the country's constitution in front of dignitaries in Bishkek's central square, following a military parade.

Mr Bakiev has said he will expect professionalism from members of his government, who he says will serve on the basis of merit rather than connections.

For his forward-looking inaugural address, Bakiev noted the need to grow the economy for the Kyrgyz in order to create jobs and raise the standard of living. He wants to focus on energy production and tourism to pull one of the most poverty-stricken populations into a more prosperous and stable state. It's a smart approach, and one suited best to democracy; people who see their economic situations improving will have little incentive to oppose the new political system, leading to a more stable environment for capital investment and job creation.

The United States will no doubt want to help Bakiev achieve those goals, as another stable democracy on China's doorstep (along with India and several other former Soviet republics leaning that way) will foster an example of how people can live and prosper under their own leadership, rather than an imposition of power by autocrats and worse.

However, we may have to pay for that win with yet another base closure in Central Asia. Bakiev spoke about asking the Americans to close our Bishkek base, which supports our operations in Afghanistan, in his first major speech after the election. He has not spoken of it since, but the expectation has been set. With luck and some hard work at State and Defense, we may change his mind or at least get a lengthy delay.

Even if we cannot prevent the closure, it still represents a good trade in the long term strategic goal of democratization. After all, if we can transform that region through democracy, we will find that we have little need to stage military bases there at all. It is a small battle to lose when the overall war has been won.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 14, 2005 9:15 AM

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