Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Modeling Democracy

For a while, now, Mongolians have become much sought after in the modeling world, what with their sleek lines and high cheeks. Since about 1990, however, the people of Mongolia have been modeling something new: democracy. And they're doing it with considerable flair--and consistency.

Philip Dorsey Iglauer of the The Korea Times writes a sterling op-ed today about Mongolia's great strides since the fall of the Iron Curtain and how it is shaping up to be a prototype to the region and beyond. This article comes as a welcome relief after the Moscow Times's cynical treament of the Mongolian elections yesterday.

Note: this panoramic, "big-picture" article is great for those who want a quick run-down of Mongolia's last 15 years of history.

Two highlights:

Iglauer hits upon something that I think is crucial to understanding Mongolia and its stability amid a sea of Eurasian confusion:
It could transition to democracy as smoothly as it did, because it was already sovereign with established national institutions and with internationally recognized borders. Mongolia held its first free elections in July 1990, about two years after South Korea held its first democratic presidential election.
Mongolia's history and what it means for today's stability is something I'd like to write about later. Stay tuned.

Iglauer also addresses the unity of purpose that has become the hallmark of Mongolian politics:
The newly elected president [1990], Punsalmaagiyn Orchibat, sold off state assets and liberalized the economy. But the parliament and prime minister of the opposition former communists were crucially in general agreement on the liberal trajectory on which to set the country toward capitalism and democracy.
It's this abilty to smoothe over differences and come to a common vision on the future that has staved off the revolutions that have necessarily taken place in Mongolia's post-Soviet neighbors to the west.

Anyway, this and much, much more in the rest of the article.


Globalization Has Its Ups, Too...

From a Baltimore Sun article. Backstory: US limits on imports from China are forcing Chinese companies to make their products in other countries. The result is that some jobs that were in China are now being exported to places like Mongolia. Tatered trade relations, it seems, is good for Mongolian workers.
Trade tensions are now the lifeline for Mongolia's textile industry. Chinese manufacturers and other companies are rushing back to Mongolia or expanding operations to fill orders for American clothiers and retailers such as Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne, Sears and J.C. Penney.

Just months after laying off workers, factories are scrambling to hire, but the pool of textile workers here, about 30,000 people, has remained relatively small. A bidding war among factories for workers has begun, factory bosses say, and salary packages that once hovered around $100 to $120 a month, including food and transportation, could double for some workers.

"We have to pay more to get those workers back," said Zheng, who hopes to hire more than 100 workers soon and add others when he can find them. "There's competition between us and other factories. We have to pay as much as them and get as many workers as we need."
Is globalization bad for the third world? Ask Mongolian textile workers.


Monday, May 30, 2005


A not-to-be-missed blog on all things Central Asian. But then you knew that. Registan.net.


Reprint from The Atlantic: Mongolian/US Cooperation

This is a great article that is no longer available over at the Atlantic. Fortunately, I saved it some time ago. Here it is. I'll let it speak for itself.

The Atlantic Monthly | March 2004

The Man Who Would Be Khan

A new breed of American soldier—call him the soldier-diplomat—has come into being since the end of the Cold War. Meet the colonel who was our man in Mongolia, an officer who probably wielded more local influence than many Mongol rulers of yore

by Robert D. Kaplan


In the early spring of 2003, as U.S. troops in Iraq were consolidating their hold over Baghdad, few people had their eyes on Mongolia. And yet what was happening at the time in that country—90 percent of whose foreign military training and assistance now comes from the United States—was critical to the extension of America's global liberal influence. "Mongolia is a vast country completely surrounded by two anti-American empires, Russia and China," S. Galsanjamts, a member of Mongolia's national-security council, told me recently. "It is therefore a symbol of the kind of independence America wants to encourage in the world." Today, more often than not, the United States is encouraging that sort of independence not by intervening militarily on a grand scale but, rather, by placing a few quietly effective officers in key locations around the globe.

Last year I traveled to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, to meet Colonel Tom Wilhelm, one of the best of this new breed of American soldier-diplomats. Wilhelm's official roles at the time of my visit included serving at the U.S. embassy as the defense attaché, as the security-assistance officer, and as the liaison for the military's Pacific Command (PACOM). The embassy is a small building and somewhat less imposing than other posts, befitting the low "threat assessment" assigned to Mongolia. The country lived under virtual Soviet domination for seventy years, a generation longer than the satellite states of Eastern Europe, and public opinion is staunchly pro-American. At the time of the Iraq crisis the Mongolians staged no anti-war demonstrations. Indeed, they deployed a contingent of 175 soldiers to Baghdad last year, to help with policing efforts—a move that marked the first entry of Mongol troops into Mesopotamia since 1258, when Hulagu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan's, arrived and exterminated most of the population of Baghdad.

The morning I arrived at the American embassy in Ulan Bator, Wilhelm, newly promoted to colonel, greeted me wearing a gray suit, a white shirt, a tie, and suspenders. Born in 1959, raised in Orlando, Florida, and given formative military training at West Point and the Army Ranger school, in Fort Benning, Georgia, Wilhelm had risen through the ranks of the military as the Cold War order was falling apart. On the ground in several theaters of military operation, he had witnessed the messy collapse of communism in Eurasia. Known to warlords in Bosnia as "Mean Mr. Tom," and to colleagues in Tajikistan as "Aga Tom," he became the ultimate area expert on the former Soviet empire and its shadow zones, from Yugoslavia all the way to Mongolia.

Wilhelm's plans for the morning I arrived were typical in their variety: he had to deliver personal thanks to the parents of a Mongolian-born U.S. Marine fighting in Basra, Iraq; he had to plan for a visit of the chief of the Mongolian military, Major General Tsevegsuren Togoo, to Washington; and he had to make arrangements for a visit by fourteen American brigadier generals. Also due to arrive was Lieutenant General Wallace Gregson, then the commander of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force ("III MEF" as it's written, and "Three MEF" as it's spoken). That last visit was the most important: if there were ever a land war in Asia—on the Korean Peninsula, for example—III MEF would play a role just as prominent as that played during the invasion of Iraq by I MEF, which marched from Kuwait to Baghdad.

In his office at the embassy Wilhelm kept two saddles and a tent. He likes to hunt and fish. He owns a World War II-vintage motorcycle with a sidecar. On his travels in Mongolia he took with him a bottle of Tabasco sauce, which he used liberally. I once saw him popping hot green peppers into his mouth at a Mongolian border post, while talking up the benefits of the Harris Falcon-II Series tactical hand-held radio to a Mongolian colonel.

Of average height, with a sturdy, fireplug build, Wilhelm is an explosive, energetic man. He has a maniacal laugh. His forceful and enthusiastic manner communicates Ready, aim, fire! with each sentence. He walks fast, and his trains of thought move faster still; on foot and in conversation I found it hard to keep up with him. He can quote from memory Robert Service's poetry of adventure and wanderlust. In e-mails he sent me before I arrived, he wrote about Central Asian history and the medieval traveler William of Rubruquis before closing with "GO ARMY, BEAT NAVY! CHEERS FROM THE STEPPE, TOM."

Wilhelm's assignment to Ulan Bator occurred against the following backdrop: Mongolia, with one of the world's lowest population densities, is being threatened demographically by the latest of Eurasia's great historical migrations—an urban Chinese civilization is determined to move north. China—which ruled much of Mongolia from the end of the seventeenth century until the early twentieth century, during the Manchu period—covets the oil, coal, uranium, and empty grasslands of its former possession. Given that a resurgent China has already absorbed Tibet, Macao, and Hong Kong, reabsorbing Mongolia—a country that on the map looks like a big piece of territory bitten away from China—seems almost irresistibly a part of China's geopolitical intentions.

Only three full-time defense attachés serve in Ulan Bator—representing Russia, the United States, and China, the three countries with past or future imperial interests in Mongolia. Americans, of course, are uncomfortable with the idea of having or running a global empire, but that responsibility is being thrust upon them nevertheless in Mongolia as elsewhere. And unconventional men like Tom Wilhelm, largely out of sight, are the ones carrying the load and transforming the world order. I went to Mongolia to see him in action.

U lan Bator is a composite of any number of ex-communist capitals I have seen in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, with an additional bone-chilling bleakness. The city is dominated by gray cement and brown dirt, with barely a tree in sight. Soviet-era apartment blocks abound, and resemble penitentiaries. The stench of lignite for heating buildings lasts deep into spring. Yaks feed on weeds in garbage-strewn lots on the city's outskirts, where people inhabit traditional circular felt-lined tents, known in Mongolia as gers (and in Turkic countries as yurts). Underground utility pipes house the homeless, and shipping containers function as kiosks. When I was there, people went around with white masks over their mouths and noses, because of the SARS epidemic, and this added a strange, futuristic element to the cityscape.

There is romance, too. Ulan Bator was once the Sacred City of the Living Buddha. The Buddhist lamaseries of Gandantegchinlen Khiid and Dashchoilon Khiid, revived since the fall of communism, are cavernous, dusky-red, gilded worlds of chanting saffron-robed monks and hammered-brass prayer wheels. Sculptures of frightening deities sit in dilapidated wooden cases sanctified by dust, reminiscent of faded black-and-white photos in an antiquarian's library. An eighty-foot-tall gilded statue of the Buddha at Gandantegchinlen Khiid, which was built to replace one destroyed by the Communists, is a gaudy spirit of beauty and wonderment. It is a welcome contrast to the austere surroundings, dotted still with statues of local Communist bosses that, curiously, have not been torn down, and that people pass in silence.

When Wilhelm arrived in Mongolia, in 2001, U.S.-Mongolian defense relations had no focus. All that existed was a hodgepodge of unrelated aid and training programs that had not been staffed out in detail in Washington or in Ulan Bator. Mongolia's post-communist military had no realistic vision of its future. It wanted a modern air force but wasn't sure what such an air force would do, or how it would be sustained, or its aircraft maintained. Wilhelm, with the active support of Ambassador John Dinger, quickly provided a sense of purpose. He and Dinger developed a "three pillars" strategy for the country and persuaded the Mongolian military to sign on. The three pillars are:

1) Securing Mongolia's borders not against a conventional military threat from China (such security would be impossible) but against illegal border incursions, criminal activities to finance terrorism, and transnational terrorism itself, particularly by the Uighur separatists of western China. Aided by the Chechens and the broad militant Islamic network, Uighur extremists represent the future of terrorism in Central Asia.

2) Preparing the Mongolian military to play an active role in international peacekeeping, in order to raise its profile in global forums and thus provide Mongolia with diplomatic protection from its large, rapacious neighbors. The dispatch of Mongolian troops to post-Saddam Iraq elicited shrill cries of annoyance from Russia and China, but it was the first building block of this pillar.

3) Improving Mongolia's capacity to respond to natural disasters, most notably drought.

Wherever he is, the mission is everything for Tom Wilhelm. In his eyes, to avoid taking bureaucratic risks, or to shade the truth for the sake of a diplomatic advantage, is unmanly, the worst of offenses. "I'm the guy who gutted the [Department of Defense] environmental program for Mongolia, because it was unimplementable, and I didn't see what DOD was getting out of it," he told me almost as soon as we had met. One of Wilhelm's early moves in Ulan Bator was to scrap many existing military-assistance programs and replace them with new ones—including a humanitarian dental project in a key Mongolian-Chinese border area—that would support the three-pillars strategy. "I chose to come here and not to work at the JSTAFF [Joint Staff] at the Pentagon, because in Mongolia I knew that I could make a difference," Wilhelm told me. Even as a military officer he was a policymaker by another name.

I arranged to accompany Wilhelm on a nine-day trip along the Mongolian-Chinese border. On the day we left for the train station, Wilhelm wore a baseball cap, suspenders, and cargo pants. He had slipped Oriental prayer beads into one of his pockets for good luck, and had stuffed a battle dress uniform (or BDU, for "battle-dress utility") into his Army kit bag, for use at our upcoming meetings with Mongolian officers at the border.

The train station in Ulan Bator is a poured-concrete, neoclassical pile that for a Third World installation is surprisingly quiet and well organized. Our Russian-built train reeked of lignite; a female conductor, wearing a white mask against SARS, had a stove going for tea. Joining us in the compartment was our interpreter, Major Dabarch Altankhuu ("Golden Sun"). Altankhuu, dressed in jeans and a work shirt, was a young, stocky, clean-cut officer who had learned English at the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

As the train slipped out of Ulan Bator, Wilhelm took from his rucksack some black Russian caviar, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, pickles, and a bottle of red wine, and we had ourselves a feast. He then proceeded to pump Altankhuu for information on the up-and-comers in the Mongolian military. Looking out the window as we left the last of the city's scrap-metal junkyards behind us, I saw in the distance bark-brown and tungsten-hued ridges streaked with snow.

Mongolia is a spectacular emptiness. Two and a quarter times the size of Texas, the country is home to only 2.7 million people—and nearly a million of them live in the capital. Here geology matters more than civilization. Mongolia is dominated by a basinlike plateau, much of which lies from 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level. Looming to the north are the Khangai Nuruu and Altai mountain ranges, with peaks rising to 14,000 feet. The climate is one of the world's most extreme: in Ulan Bator temperatures range from 100° in summer to -40° in winter.

Today's Mongolia, the former Outer Mongolia, has the elongated shape of a sheepskin. We were headed southeast—and downhill—from Ulan Bator, near the center of the country, into the warmer lowlands of the Gobi Desert, to Zamyn-Uud, on the Chinese border, close to where Marco Polo passed in the thirteenth century, en route to China.

Soon not a tree or even a scrap of scrub was in sight—and no sign of habitation, not even a ger. But then, at sunset, we saw a signature image of Mongolia's nomadic spirit. Galloping across the hard-baked steppe was a lone horseman, who for a time kept up with our train. He stood upright in an unpadded wooden saddle, and wore a pointed fur cap. "It's like the Great Plains a hundred and fifty years ago!" Wilhelm exclaimed. Repeatedly during my time with him Wilhelm would refer to Mongolia as "Injun country"—an analogy that in fact goes far in Mongolia. The Plains Indians are descended from the peoples who migrated from this part of north-central Asia, across the Bering Strait and down into North America. The Mongolian "long song" is echoed in the chants of the Sioux and the Apaches. Helping matters are the cowboy hats that Mongolians wear along with their traditional robes. "Injun Country" was a term I heard not only from Wilhelm but from U.S. Army officers in Yemen, Colombia, the Philippines, and Afghanistan over the past few months, describing the ungovernable parts of those nations. The choice of words was not accidental: whereas American civilians tend to hark back to the struggles against slavery and fascism, in the Civil War and World War II, to find patriotic glory, the Army itself harks back to the Indian wars for its defining moments, especially now that it is engaged in the war on terrorism—a classic counter-insurgency against small clusters of combatants, as in the Wild West.

Later, when darkness reduced the world to the rumbling sound of the train, Wilhelm began to tell me his life story. As a young Army Ranger, in 1981, he was appointed platoon leader of an air-assault infantry unit in the 101st Airborne Division, stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. These were the final days of the old Vietnam War Army. Robbery and drugs were still rife in the barracks. Disciplining soldiers was a big part of Wilhelm's job. In 1983 he was sent to helicopter flight school, at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and afterward served as a pilot and commanded an Arctic infantry company in the 172nd Infantry Brigade, based in Fairbanks, Alaska.

During his time in Alaska, Wilhelm patrolled the Aleutian Islands with Eskimo scouts, occasionally spotting signs of SPETSNAZ (Soviet special forces) units that infiltrated remote parts of Alaska—a little-known aspect of the Cold War. The Arctic demanded a unique set of infantry skills. "When the temperature is forty below," Wilhelm said, "you can't afford to break a sweat, because once you stop sweating, you'll turn into a Popsicle. You've got to stay dry, even when you're pulling a sled loaded down with gear. Therefore, everything has to be planned and carried out far more methodically than in temperate climates. It was the best job of my life." Wilhelm describes all of the jobs he's had in the Army that way.

In 1985 Wilhelm was sent to study at the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College, in Kingston, Ontario—a bastion of British colonial tradition, where one wore a tie after six and was given a personal napkin ring for use at mess. "There was a lot of esprit," he told me. "Everything was deliberate, meticulous, with a fierce sense of a warrior ethic, despite the lack of opportunities Canada had to prove it. I get angry whenever someone belittles the Canadian military."

About this time Wilhelm decided to become an Army foreign-area officer for the Soviet Union and its environs. He took a Special Operations course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, underwent total immersion in Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and got a graduate degree in Eastern European studies at the University of Kansas. Then, on his own initiative and with his own money (and with only a wink and a nod from the U.S. Army), Wilhelm applied and got accepted to Leningrad State University, where in the mid-1980s he slept in the dorms with Soviet students, and queued at neighborhood buffets for sticky rice, black bread, and sour milk.

Still not yet thirty, Wilhelm was acquiring a battery of specific skills—the Russian language, Arctic survival, helicopter piloting. And there was no letup.

By the time the Berlin Wall came down, in 1989, Wilhelm was an Army captain stationed in Germany. The fall of communism changed his life. For the next decade he spent his time deployed in the former Eastern bloc and in war-torn Tajikistan, Macedonia, and Bosnia, where he developed experience, in active combat and in nonmilitary operations, that he never could have developed during the Cold War.

I went to sleep in the dark and rattling train compartment. When I awoke, to a full moon, it was dawn, and snow was glinting on the desert's wrinkles. Now we were in the real Gobi (Mongolian for "gravel-covered plain"). A Bactrian camel, hairy from the long winter, stood silhouetted at a lonely station platform. Wilhelm, playing with his prayer beads and adjusting his ball cap after a few hours of sleep, said, "Now, where would you rather be? Here, or stuck in traffic, staring at the car ahead on I-395, going to work at the Pentagon?"

Eventually we pulled into Zamyn-Uud. The station building was new, and sat like a stage prop against the gravel flatland. Waiting for us at the foot of the platform in the freezing morning were three Mongolian officers wearing dress greens, leather coats down to their ankles, and ridiculously large Soviet-style service caps, often known as "satellite dishes." The officers shunted us into a Russian-made jeep called a UAZ (pronounced wahz), an acronym for its Russian name.

Our hotel was two hundred yards farther along the railroad tracks, a poured-concrete blockhouse with hard beds, hideous furniture, and cracked windows. Wilhelm quickly changed into his BDU, adorned with Ranger and paratrooper insignia, and put on his new U.S. Army black beret. We all gathered in Wilhelm's room. Colonel D. Battsengel, the leader of the Mongolian delegation, ordered breakfast brought up: buuz, or mutton-ball dumplings in goulash; fatty cold cuts; and salty camel's-milk tea. We cleaned our plates.

"The American military will eat anything, anywhere, anytime," Wilhelm announced to our hosts. Major Altankhuu translated. (Though Wilhelm's Russian is fluent, his Mongolian is more rudimentary.) Everybody laughed. After asking the name of a Mongolian officer a second time, Wilhelm, apologizing, said, "I always ask for a name twice. When I remembered a woman's name the first time, I knew she would be my wife." Laughter again. Wilhelm's friendly banter and broad smile never faltered.

After small talk about wrestling and martial arts, Colonel Battsengel told us he was from northeastern Mongolia, where Genghis Khan was born and probably is buried. Formally welcoming us to East Gobi Province, Battsengel said that the tempo of development there was about to pick up dramatically, with the establishment of an economic free-trade zone, manufacturing plants, and a Chinese casino on the border. The population of Zamyn-Uud, he said, would soon increase from 10,000 to 30,000. The Chinese were pushing hard to establish casino gambling in Mongolia, an enterprise that favored their business acumen and organizational skills.

The Chinese had other plans, too. They had their sights on the mineral deposits in the Gobi Desert. They also wanted to start large-scale animal-husbandry operations elsewhere in southern and eastern Mongolia, which would have the unintended effect of ruining the earth's last great uninhabited steppe. And they wanted to build a modern road network from Inner Mongolia into the Gobi. Meanwhile, northern Mongolia was being deforested. Every other freight train we saw was filled with logs headed for China.

Despite seven decades of virtual Soviet occupation, Mongolians are less afraid of the Russians than of the Chinese. Russia's empire is disintegrating; China's is rising. The Chinese are migrating in large numbers into adjacent Russian Siberia. We could see the Chinese border post from our hotel: a brightly lit, well-engineered arc, symbolizing the Sino-industrial encroachment on Zamyn-Uud's sprawl of felt tents and scrap-iron huts.

"In my blood I don't like the Chinese," a high-ranking Mongolian official declared in an interview I conducted in Ulan Bator. "China is not interested in developing Mongolia's economy, but in exploiting our natural resources. The Russians dominated our politics for seven decades but did not incorporate us into the Soviet Union. The Chinese have the possibility to utterly absorb us."

Greater than the fear of a strong and expansionist China, however, is the fear of an internally weak China, or even a fragmented China. A weakened China, along with continued instability in the neighboring, formerly Soviet Turkic republics and in the North Caucasus, would spell trouble for Mongolia. It conjures up the prospect of Central Asian terrorism and drug trafficking, spearheaded by Uighur and Chechen militants and organized criminals.

Colonel Battsengel drove us beyond the last border checkpoint. Here, in no-man's-land, only a post marked the frontier. A Chinese officer a few feet on the other side of the post watched silently as Colonel Wilhelm, in his BDU and black beret, went right up to it, careful not to step beyond for fear of provoking a diplomatic incident. Cameras clicked at our party from a window on the Chinese side.

It was a border that mattered, and soon will matter more. If we look beyond the present conflagrations in the Middle East, China looms as the greatest challenge to American power.

W e returned to Zamyn-Uud. In a nondescript house we found a long line of Mongolians in traditional robes, waiting in a hallway. Many were children accompanied by their parents, who wore hopeful expressions. In an adjacent room U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Dan Elliot, of Huntington Beach, California, greeted us. He was the chief of a four-person dental mission dispatched to this part of the Mongolian-Chinese border by PACOM. By treating an average of a hundred patients daily in this and nearby border towns, Elliot and his colleagues were demonstrating the local benefits of American self-interest.

Sergeant Elliot briefed Colonel Wilhelm. "The goal here, sir," he said, "is load-light, low-tech, small footprint." He meant that here in the Gobi more good could be done by traveling with minimal equipment; using the most basic technology, which is least compromised by power outages; and keeping the mission as unobtrusive as possible. "We stay low-key and crank out patients, sir," he added, pointing out the cheap hardware lamps for illuminating patients' mouths, and the locally bought gas burners for hot-water sterilization. The dental chairs came from nearby shops and offices. The team had advertised its services to the community on the local radio station. All the equipment fit into six small trunks, including presents for the kids treated along the way. It was like battlefield surgery.

The impressive thing about the high-tech American military is that it knows when to be low-tech, and how to be good at it, the same way that guerrilla fighters do. Each war, each training mission, each deployment, brings with it new lessons that have little to do with technology. And because America under all its post-Cold War Presidents has been militarily active overseas, its armed services are improving tactically with every passing day.

Wilhelm complimented Elliot and the rest of the team—members of America's superb cadre of noncommissioned officers—on their good work. As we were leaving, Wilhelm said, "Noncoms are the secret of the American military's success, and it can be openly acknowledged, because few can copy it. It's a reflection of America's relative social equality."

Later, after a lunch of camel's milk, greasy mutton, and horsemeat in Colonel Battsengel's office, we piled into our UAZ and continued along the border, inside no-man's-land. The terrain was flat, featureless, gravel-strewn, and utterly disorienting. It all looked the same—and yet it was here that I got my first intimation of the abundance of wildlife in the Gobi. We saw swarms of finches, ruddy drakes, and black-tailed gazelles, the latter of which we chased down, barely catching them at 45 miles per hour. On a one-foot rise not far from us—the highest point in this flat emptiness—we saw a golden eagle about two feet tall. Next we came upon herds of goats, horses, and Bactrian camels, guarded by a few Mongolian border police. The goats, enclosed in a corral made of piled sheep dung, were a source of food; the horses and camels were used for patrolling.

Near the corral was a ger inhabited by a family of nomads, who invited us inside for camel's milk and homemade vodka. We were careful not to step on the door sill as we entered; doing so is said to bring bad luck, and was a crime punishable by death in Genghis Khan's time. Continuing with the prescribed etiquette, we walked to the left, or clockwise, around the side of the tent to the back, the place for honored guests. This made sense, because the kitchen—a few pots on a stove fueled by dried dung—lay off to the right of the door. From the center of the roof, which was partly open to the sky, hung a ceremonial blue scarf. Spokes radiated from the center of the roof frame, representing the wheel of life. An altar behind us, fragrant with juniper incense, included a small carpet with a portrait of Genghis.

"I'm culturally at home," Wilhelm announced to the gathering. He sprinkled vodka in the air three times, in Mongolian fashion, before swallowing a small glassful. "I'm in the Gobi, among Mongolians, and among soldiers." The statement, like so many others he made, endeared him to our hosts.

The next morning, back in Zamyn-Uud, we woke to rain and freezing cold. The day before, we had driven on well-worn desert tracks made by other UAZs. Now, headed on a lengthier excursion along the border, we left them behind. Here the Gobi was a vast ocean of stubble fields so bumpy that my head was constantly banging against the roof. After an hour we came to a Mongolian border fort, or zastaf: a few single-story barracks with distempered white walls and lead-green roofs.

A young soldier wearing a fur hat and a greatcoat, with signs of frostbite on his cheeks, saluted smartly as we entered. Then came the dress parade, with a dozen or so soldiers, a few officers and their wives and children, and the post dog all standing at attention for review. It was like a frontier fort of the Old West. This was not merely a military base but a small community in the wilderness. Protecting a remote borderland is seen in Mongolia as a vocation, a way of life. Such an outpost would not be considered complete without at least some women and children.

In a bare and icy room the officers' wives served us tea mixed with salt, mutton fat, and camel's milk. Wilhelm took notes as the officers complained about how the cold weather shortened battery life for their Kenwood walkie-talkies, about the shortages of spare parts and diesel fuel, and about how their solar panels didn't work in bad weather. Wilhelm said he would try to get them new radios. In place of solar panels he suggested wind generators.

The barracks were lined with maps and shamanistic designs. The border guards used old-model Kalashnikovs, with wooden stocks rather than collapsible metal ones. Outside, about eighty horses stood stoically in the sleet; the afternoon desert sky was dark and dreary. A network of concrete trenches and pillboxes indicated the closeness of the Chinese border. In Ulan Bator, Major General Purev Dash, the chief of staff and deputy commander of the border forces, had told me that his men used camels and horses for patrols "not because we are poor and primitive but because such animals offer the surest means to scout the desert." Wilhelm's plan for policing the border was a mobile force that would mix fast ponies and Bactrian camels with light, high-tech communications gear.

D riving back to Zamyn-Uud, Wilhelm talked about his experiences in northeastern Macedonia, in 1995, when U.S. and various Nordic units were patrolling the border with Serbia.

"I was a major; my bosses called me an 'iron major,'" he said, referring to the middle managers so crucial to the U.S. military's operations in the post-Cold War world. "I had a damn great job. I was the second-in-command on the ground of what was the Super Bowl of American military operations at that time. 'We're in a war zone'—what all soldiers live for. There were American generals saying the Balkans were a waste of time, that we should have been doing Bradley-combat-vehicle exercises in Germany instead. What a bunch of crap! Finally, we're actually using our training, and these Cold War dinosaur generals want us to train for a war that would never happen. I'll bet you the re-enlistment rate for the soldiers who served in the Balkans was greater than that of those who stayed in Germany. The Balkan deployments were the best thing for the morale of U.S. soldiers at the time. And they paved the way for how we fight now."

Wilhelm's men monitored the smuggling of fuel across the unmarked Serbian-Macedonian border. They tracked Serb patrols. They learned to integrate themselves with the Finns, who were part of the Nordic battalion but not part of NATO. They patrolled in full kit several times a day. "We were defining real peacekeeping," Wilhelm said, "which is like war-making, since you monopolize the use of force in a given area. It was paradise after Germany. Somalia was over. Bosnia for us hadn't started yet. Macedonia was the only game in town. Majors and master sergeants were defining national policy at the fingertip level."

The full flowering of the middle ranks had its roots in the social transformation of the American military, which, according to Wilhelm (a liberal who voted for Al Gore in 2000), had taken place a decade earlier, when the rise of Christian evangelicalism had helped stop the indiscipline of the Vietnam-era Army. "This zeal reformed behavior, empowered junior leaders, and demanded better recruits," he said. "For one thing, drinking stopped, and that killed off the officers' clubs, which, in turn, broke down more barriers between officers and noncoms, giving the noncoms the confidence to do what majors and colonels in other armies do. The Christian fundamentalism was the hidden hand that changed the military for the better. Though you try to get someone to admit it! We never could have pulled off Macedonia or Bosnia with the old Vietnam Army."

On December 14, 1995, Wilhelm, who hadn't seen his family for the better part of a year, was on leave in Peoria, Illinois. He had just finished cutting down a Christmas tree with his father-in-law when he saw on television that the Dayton Peace Accord had been signed. He was summoned the next day to the Balkans by Major General William Nash, who was about to assume command of Task Force Eagle, with responsibility for the northeast sector of Bosnia.

"Bosnia was a cold, muddy place," he said, "and the people were cold and muddy too. There wasn't much brotherly love. They had just shot the hell out of each other, and were living in the rubble they made for themselves. They seemed tired, though. Their morale was low. And that was all good news. Those were things we could exploit."

Wilhelm got wind that the diplomats had worked out a deal for the Russians to join the peacekeeping force. The Russians would be subordinate to Major General Nash, who assigned Wilhelm the role of integrating them with the NATO peacekeepers. "The reason you're here, corporal," Nash told Wilhelm (then a major), "is to keep the Russians out of trouble." Nash had meant the word "corporal" as a generic term for all lower- and middle-ranking officers. "Nash had given me a one-sentence mission," Wilhelm told me, "which implied that he trusted me to figure the rest out. He knew that I knew that the Russians were professional and well disciplined, and would work well within the brigade. My job was to incorporate them into this complex, fast-moving machine of ours, and to protect them from our own media, which were constantly looking for mistakes."

T he next morning, in Zamyn-Uud, Colonel Battsengel introduced us to Colonel Ranjinnyam, a bearish, scruffy, and friendly-looking man who would be our guide on a northeasterly journey along the Chinese border, into an area where Mongolia sticks out into Manchuria. Ranjinnyam's UAZ followed ours until we had driven a few miles beyond Zamyn-Uud. Then we got out and, in the middle of the desert, toasted farewell to Battsengel with a few glasses of Absolut—the only good vodka we had on the trip. We then piled into Ranjinnyam's UAZ and set out over a tableland of sagebrush and tumbleweed. The landscape kept shifting. We drove past small glaciers and glinting streams; past horizonless uplands of igneous rock; past vast dirt expanses that gradually shed their green stubble. By dusk we could see nothing but sand.

We stopped for the night at Ulan Uul (Red Rock), a regiment-size encampment for the border force. Wilhelm and I shared a small, icy room, where he continued his reminiscences of Bosnia.

"The Russians were in Uglevik, Republika Srpska," he said, "to patrol their sector for the U.S.-led division. They had American brigades on either side of them. Again, there was no doctrine for this. Daily patrols were the guts of the Dayton agreement, and I went on a lot of patrols with the Russians, enduring their combat rations of tinned fish and buckwheat.

"We went to one village where the church had been destroyed and the Serbs had their headquarters on the wrong side of the street. They had had twenty days to move it to the right side of the street, as stipulated by Dayton, and they hadn't. I took out the copy of Dayton that I carried around with me, and read it out loud. The Russian lieutenant with me repeated it to the Serbs. I told the Serbs we would bomb their headquarters with an Apache if they didn't move it. I called in an Apache to do a flyover. The Serbs were in disbelief that they couldn't drive a wedge between us and the Russians. 'Let's go now,' my Russian companion told me. 'Let's give them their own space to absorb the bad news.' An American would have stayed and drunk tea with the Serbs. But the Russians live more in an ambiguous world of negotiations without rules, especially because of their experience with civil wars in the Caucasus and Central Asia. They have a better sense of these things.

"My Russian lieutenant and I seized weapons that were hidden in haystacks. We destroyed anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks. We called in Apache missions. The Serbs began calling me 'Mean Mr. Tom' because I kept threatening them with Apaches if they didn't abide by Dayton, by disarming and dismantling their checkpoints. I've logged more hours in a Russian ACV [armored combat vehicle] than in an American one over my lifetime. I was taken in and accepted by a brotherhood that had seen exceptional combat in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and listened to them bitch about lousy chains of command and problems in Russia.

"Many national armies in Europe wouldn't fight when push comes to shove. I've seen them corrupted by too much UN work and not enough real combat. But hell, the Russians would fight! Nothing about the American military in Bosnia impressed the Russians so much as our sergeants' whipping out GPS [Global Positioning System] devices—which the Russians didn't have—and calling in Apache strikes. Through us, the Russians learned the real power of technology, not the false power of it."

The real power of technology, Wilhelm went on to explain, is that it provides an objectivity that even an enemy trusts. It has a calming effect. Because of the GPS devices the Americans were using in Bosnia, for example, there were no arguments about whether this or that outpost was on the wrong side of the cease-fire line.

The false power of technology, Wilhelm believes, was exemplified in the Cold War nuclear chains of command, which were elaborate theoretical constructs never intended to be put into actual use. "The Cold War wrought a whole bureaucratic culture that had no battlefield reality," he said. "The Cold War armies were not great armies, because all the decisions were made by generals and politicians. In great armies the job of generals is to back up their sergeants. That's just my opinion, but I know I'm right."

In the Russian military calling in an air strike is a decision that no one below a colonel can make. Yet in Wilhelm's opinion, the Russians have mid-level officers almost as good as those in the U.S. military: the result of combat experience in complex environments like Transdniestria, Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Tajikistan. And because their empire is collapsing, the Russian military today frequently finds itself in combat situations that encourage reform at the lower and middle levels. "I would have followed Colonel [Alexander] Lentsov into combat anywhere," Wilhelm said, referring to his Russian commander in Bosnia. "On a tactical level we have more in common with the Russians than with a lot of our allies." And yet the general staff in Moscow remains locked in a Cold War mindset.

In the spring of 1996 Wilhelm left Bosnia. By the fall he was in Tajikistan.

T he day after leaving Zamyn-Uud we entered a landscape of perfectly rolling hills speckled with scree and yellow stubble. Between the blackest shadows, grazing in an ethereal light, was a herd of exceedingly rare bighorn argali, or "Marco Polo" sheep. They were almost as large as horses. Wilhelm was ecstatic. "All we need now is to see a snow leopard," he said. In our UAZ we followed the sheep to the edge of a range of clay hills, where below us the great Mongolian plain fell away into the sky.

That day Wilhelm and I had to endure large meals at six zastafs, with vodka toasts at every one. This was in addition to drinking the blood of a black-tailed gazelle that Colonel Ranjinnyam had shot with his Makarov pistol from the UAZ. Having swallowed a glass of blood and eaten the animal's testicles and eyeballs, Wilhelm turned to me. "Like I said," he announced, "this is better than rush-hour traffic on 395 en route to the Pentagon." He never tired, never stopped laughing and slapping his fellow officers on the back. Major Altankhuu confided to me at one point, "Colonel Wilhelm is a great man. He makes us like America so much."

Later I asked Wilhelm to tell me more about his past, this time about his posting to Tajikistan. It began in October of 1996, when he became America's first defense attaché to the country, which was then a newly independent post-Soviet republic in which a four-year civil war was finally beginning to wind down. In neighboring Afghanistan the ethnic-Pashtun Taliban had just captured Kabul. Central Asian leaders, not to mention Russia and the Shiite clergy of Iran, were fearful that the Taliban, aided by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, would now try to spread their brand of Sunni fundamentalism throughout the region. They were therefore trying to negotiate an end to the civil war, because Tajikistan was now needed as a rear base to help the ethnic-Tajik guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud recapture Afghanistan.

Wilhelm spent much of his time in Tajikistan keeping up with the activities of a colorful cast of warlords: Rakhmon "Hitler" Sanginov, Jagga "the Sweeper" Mirzoyiev, Mahmoud "the Black Robin Hood" Khudoberdiev, Abdumalik "the Shark" Abdullojonov, Khurshed "Tyson" Abdu-shukurov, and Yakub Salimov, who played the theme song from The Godfather whenever he received guests at his home. Wilhelm did see combat, however. Three times he attended the "final" fall of the town of Tursunzade, near the border with Uzbekistan, once lying in a ditch during a vicious firefight. The victorious army had a handful of T-72 tanks with stereo speakers blasting Jimmy Buffett's "Last Mango in Paris." That, Wilhelm told me, was "postmodern war, or whatever you want to call it."

Wilhelm's wife, Cheri, and their two young children, Parker and Daley Alice, had come with him to Tajikistan. "I had been separated from them for so long," he said, "because of the deployment in Bosnia and other assignments. We were all finally together in a war zone. There was no electricity, no heating; it was so cold we all slept together in the same bed to keep warm. The tap water was the color of Coca-Cola. We shared a toilet with our armed guards. I went boar hunting occasionally. It was the greatest time of our lives."

As the war ended, a spree of Western-hostage taking began. The Wilhelms were evacuated two times. During one of the evacuations Wilhelm was sent to Tampa, Florida, the headquarters of Central Command, which was about to incorporate the formerly Soviet Central Asian republics into its domain. Wilhelm was summoned to meet the CENTCOM commander-in-chief, Marine General Anthony Zinni.

"I found Zinni in the weight room," he said, "pumping iron. A typical Marine general, I thought. He had only one question for me: the big one. Given that I was a force-protection risk (after all, my family and I had to be evacuated), what was I doing in Tajikistan in the first place that made me so necessary there? I told him that I was mapping out the personalities of the Northern Alliance, next door in Afghanistan, and that I was the only observer on the ground in a major civil war transforming the Russian military. 'Fine,' he told me. 'Go back to Tajikistan then.' That's a good general. If he gets the right answer to the right question, he's finished with you. He trusts you to figure out the rest."

C olonel Ranjinnyam accompanied us in his UAZ for the long drive to the town of Choir, in central Mongolia, southeast of Ulan Bator. Outside Choir was a deserted Soviet air base that Wilhelm wanted to inspect, with an eye toward its future use by the United States.

The air base was home to a two-mile runway that needed only modest repairs and could handle any kind of fixed-wing aircraft in the U.S. arsenal. Beside it was a long line of hardened aircraft shelters: reinforced-concrete bunkers in the shape of semi-pyramids, designed to protect fighter jets from aerial bombardment. A gigantic sign proclaimed, PRAISE TO THE COMMUNIST PARTY CENTRAL COMMITTEE. The base had been built in the 1970s, a consequence of the Sino-Soviet split a few years earlier. It constituted a forward front for the Soviet Union in a possible conflict with China. Choir itself was nothing but a series of skull-like concrete tenements surrounded by steppe. A building complex that once housed 1,850 members of the Soviet military and their families—and had once included a theater and shops—had been stripped of all its windows, window frames, and heating pipes. "It used to be so lively," Altankhuu said. "It was the place where all Mongols wanted to go in the evening."

One might wonder why the United States would ever need an air base in Mongolia. In the 1990s Wilhelm wondered the same thing about Tajikistan. Then came September 11, 2001, and suddenly back-of-beyond Tajikistan, with its southern border facing Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, became a crucial staging area for American operations. "That's when I learned never to say 'never,'" he told me. With Mongolia's eastern border only 500 miles from North Korea, and with the strategic environment unpredictable and fast-changing, an air base here could be an important asset.

Nobody was thinking of transforming Choir into an American base, the way it had once been a Soviet one. Rather, for a relatively small amount of money the runway and a building or two might be repaired and kept up, so that American planes and Air Force personnel could use them at any time. Given the political instability throughout Central Asia, the Pentagon was intrigued by a Eurasian "footprint" strategy, in which the U.S. would have basing options everywhere without a significant troop and hardware presence anywhere.

Overlooking a field of broken glass, where the last tenement block met the flat and empty Gobi, was a gargantuan concrete statue of a generic Soviet commissar, fashioned in the sneering, aggressive image of Lenin. The statue had begun to flake and crumble, but its size and substance meant that it might well be around forever, like the abandoned statue in Shelley's "Ozymandias." It brought to mind ideas not just of brutality and domination but also of cheapness. "Everything the Soviets built looks like it was constructed by a high school shop class," Wilhelm said, laughing.

"We should be careful of our own ambitions," I said. "We don't want to end up like the Soviets."

"There is nothing we need to build here," he answered, "except relationships."


The future of Mongolia, with apologies to Lenin. We couldn't get these kids to stand still for a picture until we told them that we'd show the picture to people in America. When we said that, they started yelling to all their friends to come and line up for the picture Posted by Hello


Leftovers from a distant past.  Posted by Hello


Mongolians saying 'No' to the Free Market?

I'm posting this, but my fellow-blogger Nabetz has edited it substantially for grammar and the like. Just so you know!

Thanks to Jacob (view his blog here) for directing us to the Moscow Times op-ed about the recent election of Enkhbayar, a Communist, to the presidency in Mongolia. The article is by two American Russia-experts, Ethan Burger and Marc Greenfield, who believe they hold insight into Mongolia's success in the world. Whether they actually do or not, they're certainly glad Mongolians are, as they see it, thumbing their collective nose at American-style democracy and capitalism.

Let's start with at the beginning of the article
Promoting democracy and free-market economics around the globe may be a laudable undertaking, even when the beneficiaries of U.S. assistance freely chose another course. Thus, there might be a lesson to learn from remote Mongolia. In an apparently free and fair election, the Mongolian people have chosen as president the head of the former ruling Communist Party.
What lesson might this be?
Nambariin Enkhbayar of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, or MPRP, received 53 percent of the 927,586 votes cast on May 22. Like their counterparts in Poland and Hungary, the Mongolian Communists have successfully morphed into a modern social-democratic party. Enkhbayar is unlikely to be seen with trepidation by the West. His victory cannot be attributed to any single factor, but it seems that Mongolians may want a more egalitarian society than one built on private ownership and free markets.
I think that these people are talking about something they don't know enough about. First of all, Mongolians chose him because he was the best of the four candidates. The name of the party he is affiliated with doesn't mean much (see nabetz's previous post). Mongolians know that the MRPR (aka Communist Party) is more reform oriented and democratic than some outside observers think. They keep the name MPRP keep their party name simply for sentimental reasons. Mongolians are very pleased to take the way that the USA has taken, even though it is admitedly fraught with challenges and difficulties. If you ask any Mongolian whether they would go back to the Communist system, nearly all would say a resounding "No!"

Observers should not confuse the traditional name of the party with the system that the party is advocating. Mongolia has gone too far to go back. People have seen too much, tasted too much, learned too much about the free market to ever go back to the old Communist system.

People who think that Mongolia is regressing to a communist past need to go to Mongolia and talk to the people. Everyone in Mongolia wants the free market to work and want to live in this kind of system. To this end, many, whether well-off or poor, want to see more foreign investment, more available capital, and more privately owned businesses. This is because they believe that the free market is the best way to improve the foundering economy. The fact that they voted for the MPRP does not mean that they're going back. It means that the MPRP is finally matching people's desire for a more open economy free-market based economy.

I have lots of friends and family members that are solid members of the MPRP. Incidentally, they are also private business owners who are gunning for a more western-style economic system. They send their children to study in the USA, England, Japan, and other well-developed countries, hoping that they can pick up up-to-date ideas on politics, economics, and the like. If the MPRP were really stressing economic egalitarianism of the communist sort, these people would be the first to leave it for the liberal parties.

The article continues:
The MPRP's platform seems more in tune with the views of the majority of the Mongolian electorate. In its strategic plan 2004-08, the U.S. Agency for International Development identified two central strategic objectives in Mongolia: to accelerate and broaden sustainable, private sector-led economic growth, and to achieve more effective and accountable governance. While few will quarrel with the latter goal, at times it seems Washington is incapable of understanding that the U.S. model is not readily transferable to countries as diverse as Iraq and Mongolia.
My goodness! Well, first of all, the writers shouldn't put Iraq and Mongolia in the same sentence! They're two different worlds. True, the USA model may not be readily transferable to Mongolia; however, we Mongolians do want these changes. Mongolians welcome changes and policies that will result in something approximating the American model. The situation is very different in Iraq, where some portions of the population are utterly opposed to an American-style democracy and/or economy.

It hasn't been an easy transfer to capitalism, but this is the direction that Mongolia taking, and this is the direction that the people want it to go in. There are no signs of people wanting to go back to the previous economic model.

Burger and Greenfield continue:
The MPRP is a well-organized political party. Its well-developed social program is intended to "provide conditions for human development and ensure a comfortable and prosperous life for every household." Its social program calls for improving educational quality, strengthening the public health system and reducing the unemployment rate. It says nothing about privatization, which in the view of many modern social-democratic parties leads to social inequality.

I'm not trying to cover up the fact that the MPRP is strongly socialist, but it has also incorporated a free market principle. If we study the MPRP's program, we will find that open markets are central. In fact, a visit to the MPRP's own website demonstrates just how deeply free market principles have penetrated the party's ideology (scroll down; near bottom):

Today, the MPRP, which irreversibly adhered (sic) to basic principles and concepts of democracy and free market economy, is fully open to international organizations and expands and develops relations with political parties around the world. (Italics mine)
Besides, as I mentioned above, all the MPRP members are private business owners. Need I say more?

Back to the article:

The implications of the Mongolian elections could far outweigh their geopolitical significance. In a former communist state, the free election of a political leader who does not share all of the principles touted by the United States is a very positive statement.

I think that the authors are still confusing what the MPRP was with what the party is today. The party no longer has an anti-capitalist platform. Rather, it is open to capitalism and takes the free-market as a given. The free market is here to stay. The MPRP not only recognizes this, but it also supports it. To say otherwise is to betray a certain level of ignorance concerning Mongolian affairs.

The MPRP is in constant flux. It is in constant contact with other parties that are overtly capitalist and to a large extent is learning from those parties. Outsiders should realize that Mongolia hasn't been on its own two feet for too long. For years, it was essentially in the sphere of Russian control (as much as it galls the Mongolians to hear it). As such, it derived much of its subsistence from the Russian political machine. The Mongolian politicians who were in power during the time of the USSR have only recently been exposed to democracy and the free market. Indeed, most of the older Mongolian elite were educated under the Russian system and were raised with communist ideals. However, the elites have been constantly been engaged with the reform-minded youth, and, in the process, have become quite reform-minded themselves. One could say that the old MPRP elite are learning from their younger and more liberal compatriots. Democracy and a free market are permanent fixtures in Mongolia today as a result of the MPRP's and most other parties' having assumed them into their party platforms. If there are any true communists left in Mongolia, nobody knows where they are.

Burger and Greenfield conclude:
Let's hope that the international community will be united in supporting policies to improve the lives of average Mongolians, along with their new Communist president.
If the international community understands what the MPRP stands for and does not misunderstand the voice of the Mongolians in electing one of the MPRP members as president, it will find that it can completely support the Mongolian people and the new president. The USA has supported so-called communist presidents in the past; it will continue to support them today. I hope that the international community will support us and help us as we seek to improve our lives.


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Two little kids inside a ger. Posted by Hello


The Communist Name Game

J.P., commenting over at Publius Pundit on the recent election , wrote
I always have mixed feelings about elections in Third World or former Communist nations. If a candidate wins a free, fair, and democratic election, but his plan of action is something that painful experience has taught us won’t work (like socialism), is the country better off than it was before? At this point in the development of nations like Mongolia, it’d be a lot better for them to have stable leadership that was sure to follow free market policies. Have we forgotten that “the people” don’t always choose wisely, and that a majority can just as easily vote themselves into economic oblvion as they can choose wisely?
Robert Mayer responded:
I know what you mean, but it seems that these communists are just communists in name only. Judging from the platforms and situation of the country, all of the parties want to make the country better instead of serving as a vassal state to Russia or the like.
I'd like to second Robert on this one, more or less. During our recent trip to Mongolia in January, we had the opportunity to lunch and converse with a former member of the Mongolian Parliament. He was (and remains) a member of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP, the erstwhile Communist Party). During the course of our conversation, I asked him about the party and why in the age of free-markets and democracy the party hasn't changed its name to something more, well, free-market/democratic. His response was enlightening.

The MPRP is the "legacy" party of Mongolia. When Mongolia gained its independence from China and underwent its Communist Revolution in in the 1920s, the MPRP became the dominant, and eventually the sole, party. As the only party, every aspect of communism, good and bad, became associated with it. While Mongolia certainly suffered its share of the bad, things there weren't quite as horrific as some of us in the free world believed at the time. In fact, my fellow blogger, Mongol, has said that stability, security, peace, and provision were hallmarks of the latter history of Communist Mongolia. That said, people were still not happy in the thrall of communism. Peaceful and well-fed they might have been. But free they were not.

When the country became democratic in the early 1990s, the Mongolians streamed to the polls to vote for the fledgling democratic parties. The new parties held power or at least significant influence more or less through the end of the decade. While many of the laws they passed opened the country to capitalism, a free market, and further democratic reforms, the politicians themselves were poorly educated as to the true meaning and practice of democracy. Corruption became rampant as the reformers took the reins of government.

In light of the few ups and the many downs that the people on the street (and the steppe) associate with a nascent democracy, a majority of Mongolians have turned back to the party that they nostalgically remember from more stable and prosperous times. Not only so, having suffered defeat at the ballot box for a number of years, the MPRP had recast itself as a a party supportive of democratic reforms and a free market. While performing a radical ideological overhaul, they maintained some of its socialistic underpinnings the revered historic name. This has allowed the party to have the best of both worlds. On one hand, they retain a name that the older generations associate with pleasant memories and will vote for. On the other hand, they voice a number of the democratic and free market ideals that have swept the nation and in so doing have garnered the support, of many younger people.

The decision to keep the name "Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party" was thus mainly a political one. And, if the recent election is any indication, a successful one.


These are the folks that are having the wolf problem. They also gave us two sheep. Unfortunately, the gifts wouldn't fit in the overhead storage compartment on the way back to the states. Posted by Hello


Nabetz and Mongol riding into the Mongolian hills. The folks we were staying with said that these particular hills were full of wolves which had recently been creating havoc with the livestock. Sain yavaaraa. Posted by Hello


Friday, May 27, 2005

More Election Commentary

Publius Pundit on the recent elections.


Since you're asking...

We got back from Mongolia not long ago to visit our family. The memories are still fresh, so we thought we'd put them down to give people a bit of a window into the country. In fact, I did just that when corresponding with Andrew Stuttaford of NRO, who is soon to be in Mongolia (if he isn't there already). Any non sequiters here are probably references to his own blog entry linked here:

"Mongolia is amazing. It’s perhaps the last truly wild place on earth. No fences, and eternal sky and steppe. They say that the only difference between Mongolia and Siberia is that Siberia is warmer. Having said that, we survived quite well without all the pricey high-tech gear (the Mongolians do, too), and we went in the deadest of winter (January). We did bundle up, though.

"Culture tip: the people are racially Asian but don’t think or act anything like the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, or anyone else in that part of the world (although Asian culture is on the rise there what with foreign investment). They’re nomads at heart—fiercely independent and non communal (except within the family). If anything, the place reminded me more of eastern Europe than of the far east. The Soviet fingerprints are still very evident. In fact, one of Mongolia’s biggest problems right now is struggling back onto their feet after 70 years of forced dependence on Russia. Nomads living in Russian-constructed cities without the Russian infrastructure to keep them going like it once did—the Mongolians are still learning how to do it and are trying to get as much foreign help as possible.

"You’ll love the Mongolian people, and they’ll love you if you let it happen. They’re by far the most hospitable people I’ve ever met in my life, and I’ve done a fair bit of traveling. I’ve never received so many gifts from people who were so poor (by American standards). I felt like a thief they were so generous. Everywhere we went, we were showered with gifts as guests are always given gifts, hospitality, food. In fact, I doubt you’ll ever visit a place without being given a meal.

"If you’re going for the out-of-doors—which is one of the main reasons folks go, unless they're trying to invest there (please do—they need it!)—there’s plenty to do. Hunting (wolves, game, etc.) , fishing, as well as wandering through the tundra, taiga, and Gobi are what lots of westerners do.

"As far as food and amenities are concerned, they were sorely lacking (again from an American perspective). We didn’t, for example, find real coffee until our third week there, and that at a German bakery in Ulaan Baator. Food consists mainly of two things: red meat and some kind of bread. The four most popular dishes there are some variation on a bland beef dumpling which is either fried (khoorshor), boiled (baanch), steamed (boodz), or chopped (tsuuven). Once you get used to the food, it’s great. But until then, get used to uneventful cuisine. But then you’re English, so you’ve had decades to get used to it ;)"



Thanks to Andy at Siberianlight for linking to our new blog. We know, at this point it's bleaker than January in the Gobi, but keep checking back. In time, we hope to be the one-stop blog for all things Mongolian.


New Book

"Women of Mongolia" by Martha Avery here.
The professor from Columbia University writes, "the stories are wonderful and will interest both the general reader and those concerned with the role of women in society; the difficulties faced by societies transforming from nomadic pastoralism to a modern economy, and the hurdles in moving from communism to a more democratic system."


Government Organizations of Mongolia

President/Parliament/Government/Supreme Court

Important website to know: http://www.pmis.gov.mn/indexeng.php


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Travel Blog

Here's a cool blog about a guy's wanderings through Mongolia.


Siberianlight.net Blog

Siberianlight is a great blog that follows events in the Russian and near-Russian world. Alas, the mentions of and links to Mongolian-themed material are scarce. But it's still a fascinating blog for those who are interested in Central Asian affairs.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Mongolian News Link

The site mongolianews.com seems to post news that has the word "Mongolia" somewhere in the article. Other than that, it's not that specific. Still, though, a news source.

UPDATE: Inside Mongolia is a much more cogent source for Mongolian news.


Enkhbayar Promises Stability

More from The Australian.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Enkhbayar victorious in Presidential Election

Presidential elections were just held in Mongolia (5/22). CNN's coverage of the outcome is here. Enkhbayar, the winner, won with over 50% of the vote, eliminating the need for a runoff election with the number two finisher.

And with this announcement we start our blog, New Mongols.