Article: Where is Central Asia anyway?

My article for appeared December 17

The published final text is here:

A slightly expanded version, with a bit more background, is here.


So, where is Central Asia?  European backwater?   New Chinese sphere of influence?  Landlocked and dependent on Russia?  World heartland with cunning leaders who balance the superpowers?   Can we hold to our vision that someday the delicious melons of the Ferghana valley would be served on the breakfast tables of New Delhi, that we could rent a car in Almaty and drop it off in Karachi or Istanbul or Shanghai?  

Those connections remain dreams for now.  With the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and renewed fears of terrorism emanating from the south, one can only hope that Central Asians will make the most of their opportunities north to Russia, east to China, and West to Turkey.  However, the fact that Central Asia’s outlets to the world go largely through China and Russia means less pressure for internal change –less pressure to open up economies and government, to end corruption, advance human rights, or to provide competition for oligarchs and state companies.   For the moment, the hub of the world remains hemmed in by its geography and history. 

Shorter Points on Afghanistan

Here are the points I used today for a podcast, along with several others, for the Rhode Island National Guard.


  • Honored to speak with you.
  • Want to offer some reflections — to start a much needed discussion.
  • We realized that Afghanistan needed a stable government.
    • We failed to base it on Afghanistan’s conditions.
    • We built an army like ours that depended on airborne logistics and resupply.
  • We failed because we did things instead of supporting Afghans to manage their own country.

Afghanistan and September 11 — Series of articles in MingPao Hong Kong

The Ming Pao in Hong Kong published several articles in late August and on September 11 which drew on answers I sent to the author, Wunliong Chau. The articles are pasted below.

Here are the answers I sent and a supplemental one on South & Central Asia.

The gist:

Secretary Powell told me on the way back to Washington that day: “This changes everything.” He was right. We had to go to Afghanistan to root out the perpetrators of this horrible attack, but over time our attempts to help the Afghans build a government and an Army foundered. Instead of a government and army fit to Afghanistan we brought our NGOs, advisors and ministries to help them build a centralized government on a US model, which didn’t fit Afgahnistan. We need to learn important lessons of intervention and stability.

Our withdrawal from Afghanistan was necessary but disorderly. Nonetheless, most Americans and others will see it as the right step and not a sign that we wouldn’t use military force to defend friends and Allies.

Many countries, including the United States, are concerned about China’s actions in areas from human rights, to intellectual property, to the South China Sea and Taiwan. We can find cooperation with China possible in some areas like anti-terrorism or climate, but we also need to make clear our differences on others.國際/article/20210825/s00014/1629830696982/阿伊戰爭虎頭蛇尾-美反思政權更迭

Speaking about Afghanistan

The astonishing collapse of the Afghan army and government and the swift takeover by the Taliban led to a number of requests by reporters. I’ve tried to emphasize, as I’ve done before, that we shouldn’t take this as a sudden event nor a basis for partisan recrimination. We need to think more deeply about when and how we intervene and the failure of 20 years of trying to build a government and military that resembled, much too much, our own. It’s also a tragedy for so many Afghans; we need to make sure we take as many to the US as we can and stay open to Afghan refugees when they make it to neighboring countries.

Fox Business News called me a week ago. Little did I know I’d be speaking on the day the Taliban entered Kabul:

Then, I got a call from the Dan Yorke radio show in Providence:

I’ll post other interviews and writings as they appear.

Economic Dynamics of Asia

Spoke to a group of high school students sponsored by the Houston World Affairs Council about the political economy of Asia.

Summary: China can invest in high tech, but economic creativity and vitality is dulled by the dead hand of the communist party. US needs to upgrade its workforce for modern manufacturing. South Asia and Southeast Asia need more and smoother integration.

All of us need to face up to our internal problems rather than blaming problems on outsiders.

Ended with a quote from George Kennan in his X article: US standing in the world depends on our ability to demonstrate a “spiritual vitality” among nations –economic dynamism included.

Here are the slides I used, plus my speaking notes.

South China Morning Post article on Advisory against China

Talked to Mark Magnier of the South China Morning Post about the new US “advisory” on Hong Kong, reflecting the reality of Chinese heavy control, but also that US companies need to be there. Also comments at the end about meeting with Chinese leaders in an international setting and then the big picture: the Chinese need to deal with a world increasingly united against them and the US needs to deal with the reality of China’s rise into world affairs.

Afghanistan — Pakistan needs to step up and influence Taliban

I did an interview with Voice of America (Nilofar Mughal) Urdu service. Urdu version is here.

The gist (to the extent I remember what I said): Taliban and government are pushing to occupy the space as the US withdraws, but will have to reach agreement among Afghans. Pakistan’s needs to take responsibility and push for a settlement.

Ming Pao Articles Quoting Me About Quad and International China Strategy

Ming Pao in Hong Kong on March 31 and April 2 published articles on the Biden Administration’s China strategy and the Quad. Two sections quote me. The gist: The Administration is working with others who share concerns about China’s increasingly pushy posture in economic relations, in the South China Sea, in Hong Kong or in international organizations.  Rather than letting China isolate each country, we can take a common stance on the “rules of the road.”

The reporter also asked about whether India’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia will disrupt our cooperation. While Congress passed a law in 2017 authorizing sanctions for such purchases, the Adminsitration will likely just disregard the purchases and pursue strategic interests with India. Nonetheless, the purchase is a reminder that India’s interests are generally aligned with those of the US but India will always go its own way.

What I sent them in English:

—  The Quad and other meetings with Europe and friends in Southeast Asia, represent a chance to work with others who share concerns about China’s increasingly pushy posture in economic relations, in the South China Sea, in Hong Kong or in international organizations.  Rather than letting China isolate each country, we can take a common stance on the “rules of the road” be they trading rules, human rights or behavior in diplomatic relationships.  China will feel increased pressure because its practices under the current administration are out of step with what the rest of the world sees as fair, and that “rest of the world” talks to each other about China.
—  India has long purchased Russian weapons so it shouldn’t be surprising that they want to buy these missiles –a sale first announced in 2018. Unfortunately, Congress had passed a law in 2017 called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (Caatsa), that requires the President to invoke sanctions against countries that buy Russian weapons.  At the time, under President Trump, the White House and State Department cited the law as potentially unconstitutional in restricting the President’s authority in foreign affairs.  Thus, it remains to be seen whether the new Administration will invoke sanctions, use the threat to pressure India, or ignore the sale and see if Congress responds.

And the Chinese pages from Ming Pao on 31 March and 2 April 2021:

Preview for snowy US-China get together

Solid article by Mark Magnier for South China morning post quotes me, Jeff Moon and others. My prognosis: both sides need to lay down markers (US on Human Rights, cyber-spying, trade, technology, South China sea) (China on Taiwan, South China Sea, economic independence). However, both need to show that they are not isolated, so will look for areas of cooperation, probably: climate change, lowering trade tensions, opening investment flows, North Korea.