Great Games

The United States’ worldwide military posture provides valuable information how the US plans to address present and future threats. The US redeployment from the European theater marks the end of the Cold War strategy of protecting Europe from the threat of the now-defunct USSR. The shift of American forces to the East – Central Asia and the Middle East, and South – the Horn of Africa, reflects the new areas of concern for the United States.

In the Asia Times, Ramtanu Maitra documents the proliferation of US bases in Central Asia, and posits the purposes are to surround Iran (a point made here last December), secure the US’s position in “The Great Game” (the struggle for strategic positioning in Central Asia), and secure US access to regional resources (OIL!). The United States is preparing permanent basing in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhistan and Pakistan (collectively referred to as ‘the ‘Stans’), as well as in the Persian Gulf region:

Other recent developments cohere with a US Air Force strategy to expand its operational scope across Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region – with its vital oil reserves and natural resources: Central Asia, all of Iran, the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the northern Arabian Sea up to Yemen’s Socotra Islands. This may also provide the US a commanding position in relation to Pakistan, India and the western fringes of China.

The base set up at Manas outside Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan – where, according to Central Asian reports, about 3,000 US troops are based – looks to be part of the same military pattern. It embodies a major commitment to maintain not just air operations over Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, but also a robust military presence in the region well after the war.

Prior to setting up the Manas Air Base, the US paid off the Uzbek government handsomely to set up an air base in Qarshi Hanabad. Qarshi Hanabad holds about 1,500 US soldiers, and agreements have been made for the use of Tajik and Kazakh airfields for military operations. Even neutral Turkmenistan has granted permission for military overflights. Ostensibly, the leaders of these Central Asian nations are providing military facilities to the US to help them eradicate the Islamic and other sorts of terrorists that threaten their nations.

These developments, particularly setting up bases in Manas and Qarshi Hanabad, are not an attempt by the US to find an exit strategy for Afghanistan, but the opposite: establishing a military presence.

Mr. Maitra’s article, as well as Austin Bay’s recent account of the importance of the massive Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, falls directly in line with the recently released National Defense Strategy of The United States of America, a forward looking strategy to confront the new threats of the 21st Century. The entire document, along with the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States, are well worth reading to understand the radical changes in US foreign policy objectives, the approach to the Global War on Terror and other perceived threats, and military deployments and transformation. The establishment of forward logistical nodes, airfields and basing is in concert with the objectives of this report, particularly the STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES and IMPLEMENTATION GUIDELINES outlined below:



The United States cannot influence that which it cannot reach. Securing strategic access to key regions, lines of communication, and the global commons:

• Promotes the security and prosperity of the United States;

• Ensures freedom of action;

• Helps secure our partners; and

• Helps protect the integrity of the international economic system.



 The United States cannot achieve its defense objectives alone. Our concept of active, layered defense includes international partners. Thus, among the key goals of the National Security Strategy is to work with other nations to resolve regional crises and conflicts. In some cases, U.S. forces will play a supporting role, lending assistance to others when our unique capabilities are needed. In other cases, U.S. forces will be supported by international partners.

The redundancy of bases in the Asian ‘Stans provides for this “active, layered defense”, and ensures a regional crisis can be addressed quickly. Cooperation with local governments is vital to this effort. Close interaction provides on the ground increased diplomatic channels, local intelligence and contacts, and the ability to react quickly to problems as the infrastructure would already exist, requiring only a ramp-up in assets to improve capabilities. Contrary to the common perception among media elites, the American presence in Afghanistan has not fueled a growing hatred towards this country, and there is little evidence this is the case in the ‘Stans as well.

While many isolationists are looking for disengagement options and exit strategies from the Middle East and Central Asia, they need to wake up to the harsh reality that we are establishing a strong global presence to counteract the numerous threats inherent in these regions, including the spread of the Islamofascist ideology, the proliferation of WMD technology and the growing danger of Iran. In the globalized world of the 21st Century, an isolationist foreign policy cannot provide for America’s security. The attacks on 9-11 are a direct result of fearing engagement in faraway lands and ignoring enemies believed too distant to be threatening. The foreign policy and military experts in the Bush administration recognize the failures of America’s post Cold War foreign policy, and are implementing a direct American presence in the heart of the world’s trouble spots.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Peyton says:

    An excellent discussion. Our moves in the region make perfect, long-term strategic sense. Yet, looking at our closer relations with the ‘Stans, as well as much of Eastern Europe, how will a permanent U.S. military presence in the south motivate Russian nationalism? In this case and many others, we are lucky to have Dr. Rice as SecState. I would hope that there is an enormous amount of high- and low-level contact with the Russian government. If Putin or his political opponents begin to feel cornered and pressured, then they’ll be motivated to do something to make themselves look “strong.” We probably wouldn’t like it. Any move by them would probably be startling, and damaging. Remember, Russians play soccer and chess, Americans think in terms of football and poker. The mindsets are dramatically different.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Hello Peyton,
    Our moves into the ‘Stans could not have happened without the approval of the Russians at some level, and there was a great deal of debate about this in the lead up to Afghanistan. Granted, the Russians can change their thoughts about this and feel threatened at some point. I am not of the mind they currently view the United States as a threat, but perhaps more of as a competitor. I suspect our deployment to this region has given them some short term comfort, as we are in a sense providing for their own security by reducing the Islamist threat. Their experiences in Chechnya and Afghanistan have been humiliating and they might be happy with the United States carrying the burden of security in the region. The mid to long term outlook is more uncertain, however. Much of this depends on internal Russian politics and developing or deteriorating relations with the United States. I am in full agreement that having Rice as SecState is an asset – excellent point. She is a Soviet expert by training, and her knowledge and understanding of the Russian mind will be instrumental in navigating the waters in Central Asia.

  • Patrick Barton says:

    Good article. I disagree with your take on why 9-11 happened,we weren’t “afraid” to confront a given enemy,we were in a delusional era.
    We sat back and entirely ignored all the multiple attacks of the jihadists against us. We can blame Clinton for no leadership and we would be right,but not many of us raised hell,either.
    Reminds me of the pre WWII era,monsters incubated and we danced. Until they made us.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Hi Patrick,
    I will disagree. There was a reluctance to attack al Qaeda in Afghanistan directly (meaning ‘boots on the ground’) during the Clinton administration out of fear of the reaction of the vaunted “Arab Street”, as well as fears of derailing the failed Middle East Peace Process.

  • Bill Rice says:


    Excellent quality post. I would like to also stress, which is referenced in the article you quote, that China has to be an additional consideration of basing structures in Central Asia. The United States is working very hard to strengthen relations with Japan (Sec. of Def and State for Japan and the US recently updated the US-Japanese Alliance) and with India (to promote as a 21st century major power over China).

    These partnerships will ensure American involvement in being close to the current battle fields on the War on Terror and near potential future battle fields, whether they be over Iran or the Straits of Taiwan.

    Kind regards,

  • Cheryl says:

    Hi Bill & Patrick;
    Well said Bill — and excellent points Patrick, however, don’t forget Somalia or Beruit — we were afraid (or rather the Clinton’s) were afraid of spilled blood and destested the military. They had no concept of how to properly deploy the military and were afraid of deferring to the advise of our military commanders — hence Somalia.
    Even now in the media, all you hear are the #’s of our soldiers lost in the GWOT. They can not look at the strategic, long-term implications of winning this war.
    I’m currently reading Armageddon, by Max Hastings regarding WWII and specifically Overlord. Although we lost far fewers soldiers total or in any single engagement than did the Soviets or the Nazi’s, there were battles where we lost several thousand per day or over the course of just a couple of days –and our military was considered “cautious” by Soviet or Nazi standards. Obviously CNN wasn’t around then.
    The media and Clintonite thinking has led many to believe that nothing is worth fighting and dying for, that all can be settled with passiveness and diplomatic speak.
    Clinton hurled a few cruise missiles at Bin Laden and would not risk the possibility of non-combantents being casualities. I believe had Bush been president, even without 9/11 and just the attacks that led up to 9/11, Bush would have done more.
    The move to the Stans and deeper in the Gulf are also being persued due to the European mentalitity and the end of the cold war. My feeling is the Europeans will be sorry if and when more incidents such as the Van Gogh murder continue to happen due to terrorists and our presence is next to nothing.

  • Justin B says:

    Our presence is necessary for a variety of reasons. We think in terms of there only being “one superpower”, but reality is that there are several potential superpowers that are building momentum–China, India, and a re-emergence of Russia. While I do not think this translates into open conflict or a WWIII type mentality, or even a military conflict at all, we have to recognize that these nations are all competing against us and against the likes of France, Japan, and Germany for economic dominance.

    The days of imperialism are not over, the methods have simply changed. Russia once controlled the ‘Stans to provide resources and a buffer against invasion, but the bigger issue is the need of India and China for Oil. We have seen a willingness to exchange nuclear secrets for money (AQ Khan) and a willingness in India to form alliances with Iran over a need for oil. The desire for nationalistic growth among our competing nations is such that we need boots on the ground and intelligence efforts in these nations to guard our interests.

    I don’t feel threatened or intimidated by these other nations, but I certainly think that it is better to have resources in place, people in place, and alliances in place well in advance to deal with the next crisis that emerges. This area is GOING TO BE AND ALREADY is of critical strategic value in both the GWOT and the global economic war that is being waged via global competition. This region is of vital national interest and as long as we can maintain a presence peacefully and with their consent, we are all the better for it.

  • Enigma says:

    This has got to be one of the best discussions I’ve read on this blog…
    If you look at the US military posture from Eastern Europe to Japan, you will see that we are well-positioned to deal with any strategic threats arising in that area of the world. That’s a pretty good game plan considering that since the 1930’s most of our threats have arisen in Asia.
    It’s also instructive to notice how the Caucasus fits in all this. Georgia and Azerbaijan are already in the US camp, and a recent STRATFOR analysis indicates that Armenia may soon be switching its stance from pro-Russian to pro-American. Along with our NATO ally Turkey, that lets us keep a good eye on Iran and the Persian Gulf. It also keeps us well-positioned in case the Russian Bear decides to reawaken, as it has done in the past.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Great points, everyone. In my mind, I keep going back to India. Securing a real alliance with India is a perfect fit for both countries. Bill Rice at “By Dawn’s Early Light” (see the blogroll) has done some interesting posts on the weapons sales to India and Pakistan which I highly recommend reading.

  • Cheryl says:

    Isn’t it interesting how all of the former Soviet states, the former terrorists states all want the US presence? Just this week there was an announcement that President Karzai is looking to partner with the US and that $83B will be spent to improve the Bagram Airbase.
    I think these countries KNOW that WE are no longer looking to continue with imperalism, but partners in both economic partnership and defense partnership.
    As Bush has stated many times, democracy creates free nations who are more likely to be peaceful nations. Bush has proved we are willing to shed Amercian blood to help countries throw off the yolk of tyranny to help them become free — first for our own strategic defense, with the ultimate payoff for their country (Afghanistan and Iraq) forming “their kind of democracy”.
    His vision has proven amazingly accurate as Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Stans and other ME countries moving, albeit slowly in somecases, towards representative government.
    I don’t think we have to fear, at least in most cases, the people choosing a tyrant for a leader.
    The changes we have seen are truly amazing and it is exciting to continue to watch.

  • Marlin says:

    Bill –
    Great post as usual. It’s always a pleasure to visit. Just have a couple of questions about Kyrgyzatstan. How much, if any. do you think the American presence at Manas fueled the overthrow of President Askar Akayev? Do you think the American presence there made Akayev reluctant to confront the protestors?

  • Enigma says:

    I think you’re right about India. We’re going to see more of China and the US in a competition to win India over. IIRC, China has already made overtures to India in recent years. I think the PRC would definitely like to nail down their southwestern flank with some kind of accomodation with India.
    I think our big difficulty with closer ties with India is—hold your breath—Pakistan (duh). We still need Pakistan in the GWOT, and so, for the short term at least, we find ourselves walking a tightrope between those two countries. I think we’ll see in the near future even greater US efforts to mediate peace between India and Pakistan.
    Condi Rice may be a Soviet Union expert, but I bet she brushes up on India-Pakistan REAL quick (if not already).

  • Justin B says:


    It is a perfect storm on Kyrgyzatstan. The combination of Lebanon, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the US presence locally emboldened the protestors. I think it is best to speak about all the influences that affected things, but it is clear that our increasing presence in the region is demonstrating our values and our other actions are demonstrating that we will support democracy. If we are already there AND we are saying we will support democracy AND we are demonstrating thatour words, our ideals, and our actions all are consistent, it emboldens the people to stand up.

    The real question is whether these same forces and the same actions by us will change the situation in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. We cannot forget that Pakistan IS NOT A DEMOCRACY and that sooner or later the same forces that we use to spread democracy next door will eventually lead to calls for democracy in Pakistan and within many of our allies that are dictatorships.

    We have no plans to invade China or North Korea or Iran. Our presence may be enough to bring about the changes that they need without bloodshed. If it is true that our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan are the catalyst for democracy in Lebanon, the Ukraine, Kyrgyzatstan, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq, then the 1700 lives are well spent. I am not going to say that invading Iraq brought about all of these changes, but I am also not going to be ignorant enough to deny that the actions in Iraq had no role either.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I cannot find the source, but I read a well-written and credible article that stated the US invested a good deal of cash in Kyrgyzatstan in supporting freedom movements, publishing, etc. I think this and the issues Justin mentioned above are the real origin of the pressure.
    I mentioned Bill Rice at “By Dawn’s Early Light”, check out his posts on the India & Pakistan arms sales. Pakistan is definitely somewhat of an anchor in this war, but the other option is to have them work against us. They have yielded some al Qaeda HVTs and cannon fodder. I think India understands and is willing to sacrifice in the short term for the long term benefits. India has a vested interest in the destruction of al Qaeda as it funds and trains their enemies in Jammu and Kashmir. (Call it a hunch, woman’s intuition….)

  • Enigma says:

    That is interesting that India quietly welcomes the F-16 sale to Pakistan. If true, that indicates that India clearly is looking to the long-term. I’ve often wondered where India’s vision is focused. But I have to wonder how much of their attitude is determined by the offer to sell India F-16s. Or is that reversing cause and effect?
    I also wonder how India’s out of power parties view this. I don’t know Indian politics that well (I’m still trying to figure out our own politics), but I do wonder if the next Indian election could bring to power a government with a very different attitude towards the US.
    I’m hoping we did in fact strike an alliance with India to contain China. Looks like Condi really did her homework. I have no doubt that Rice is WAY ahead of the MSM…and me, of course.

  • ricksamerican says:

    Greg a BD posts a NYT story on “cash in Kyrgyzatstan in supporting freedom movements, publishing” today P
    erhaps that was your source–or the NYT itself
    Best regards,

  • Bill Roggio says:

    That was the one, read it in the NY Times. Many thanks. Interesting that this was the same role played in Georgia. A very suble and effective tool used by a supposed lightweight of a president.

  • Peyton says:

    It could be (is?) effective in Iran, as well. However, there there is even more sensitivity to the label “funded by the CIA” than elsewhere, I’m sure. The Iranians are very nationalistic, and even the student demonstrators would likely resent foreign dabbling in their affairs.

  • Patrick says:

    Heard just now that India said no to the F-16 offer. Disappointing to me. India has cold war anti American baggage that still influences policy it appears.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Not neccesarily so, see this post from Bill Rice. The F-16 deal was not turned down, as is being reported.

  • Patrick says:

    Thanks for this,I had read a “Guardian” article indicating they had. Together we’d make a heck of an alliance it seems to me.

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