Pyrrhic “victory”

Kyrgyzstan has reversed an earlier decision to end U.S. access to Manas air base, a valuable hub supplying U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Both Reuters and the New York Times describe this step as a “victory” for the United States and for the Obama administration. In fact, it’s a victory for the government of Kyrgryzstan, which ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
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584435_090624_waltb2.jpg

Kyrgyzstan has reversed an earlier decision to end U.S. access to Manas air base, a valuable hub supplying U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Both Reuters and the New York Times describe this step as a "victory" for the United States and for the Obama administration.

In fact, it's a victory for the government of Kyrgryzstan, which had threatened to close the base earlier this year, shortly after Russia had offered them a $2 billion loan. Like a smart landlord in the midst of a housing shortage, Krygyzstan threatened to evict us if we didn't pay more rent. So the annual charge for using the base will rise from about $17 million to $60 million, and the United States also agreed to spend $36 million to expand the airport and additional millions on economic development and drug eradication programs.  

Kyrgyzstan has reversed an earlier decision to end U.S. access to Manas air base, a valuable hub supplying U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Both Reuters and the New York Times describe this step as a “victory” for the United States and for the Obama administration.

In fact, it’s a victory for the government of Kyrgryzstan, which had threatened to close the base earlier this year, shortly after Russia had offered them a $2 billion loan. Like a smart landlord in the midst of a housing shortage, Krygyzstan threatened to evict us if we didn’t pay more rent. So the annual charge for using the base will rise from about $17 million to $60 million, and the United States also agreed to spend $36 million to expand the airport and additional millions on economic development and drug eradication programs.  

When Washington cares more about Central Asian security than Central Asian governments do, it will be child’s play for them to charge us whatever they think the market will bear. Admittedly, it’s small change when you consider the overall cost of the Afghan operation (over $200 billion in defense costs since 9/11 and currently running $2-3 billion per month, according to the Congressional Research Service). But when the federal budget is hemorrhaging red ink and state and local governments are slashing budgets and programs right and left, I don’t see why succumbing to this sort of blackmail is a “victory” for us. Krygryzstan gets a bigger air base, and we get a less well-educated and less healthier population here, not to mention crummier public infrastructure. Maybe it’s the best of several bad alternatives, but let’s hold the high-fives.

VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

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