Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why Mongolia (4)

To continue this thread and perhaps clarify what I seem to have left ambiguous, let me note the following in response to the always thoughtful Yan:

The other day, I wrote: "As should be known by now, I'm with Double Toothpicks here: there are reasons for the US's cozying up to Mongolia that are for the US's own national interests." I didn't mean to imply that the airbase angle is the SOLE reason that the US is friends with Mongolia. Obviously, there are several reasons:

1) Support for Mongolia's contribution to the War on Terror

2) Building friendship with a country, an alliance with whom would add considerably to the US's own regional and global positioning.

3) Support for Mongolia as a new and successful democracy in that part of the world

4) Giving Mongolia a shot in the arm by giving it good press and bringing it into the international spotlight.

But note: the two dominant ones (#1 and #2)--those without which Bush wouldn't have visited Mongolia in the first place--are strongly American interests. If it weren't for #1 and #2 on the following list, #3 and #4 would never have been sufficient to earn Mongolia a presidential visit. In other words, American self-interest (which may be and are shared by other countries) are the driver of American foreign policy. This is the case with just about every country everywhere (one notable exception is Europe, where countries are apparently giving up on their own national interest for those of a greater Europe), so I don't see why this should be a surprise to anyone.

Of course, there are also altrusitic motives that the US apparently has with re: democracy and freedom. But even then, if democracy and freedom abroad were sharply against American interests, I sincerely doubt that America would be quite so involved in promoting them in the world. Eventually, everything in politics (and perhaps beyond) boils down to some kind of self-interest. I'm not saying that this is the way things should be, but that's the way I think they are. There you are. I hope I'm clear this time.

Note: This response is also posted in the comments section of the post that prompted it.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Why Mongolia (3)

Double Toothpicks fleshes out what he thinks could be Bush's idea in making friends with Mongolia:
Look at the map again. Mongolia is just a KC135-tanker-load away from North Korea for any of our jets. If we make nice with the Mongols, we might gain a non-Japanese strategic basing option that could be used to keep Kim Jong Il in check. Thus, the President continues to place his chess pieces to cover the three key points on the Axis of Evil. The guy's no dummy.
I'm not part of the crowd that thinks that the reason Bush went there was to give an "emerging democracy" a pat on the back. Neither do I run with the folks that say that Bush went to Mongolia to make positive headlines in the face of "disaster" at home--you know, "wag the dog." And, for that matter, the idea that Mongolia is Bush's next stop on a path toward World Empire is good only for a laugh. As should be known by now, I'm with Double Toothpicks here: there are reasons for the US's cozying up to Mongolia that are for the US's own national interests.

And, by the way, the idea that Mongolia may figure in the US's thinking re: North Korea is not a new idea. Col. Wilhelm, America's man in Mongolia, said as much in Robert Kaplan's article in the Atlantic (original link here):
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.
Whatever the reason, we think that America's increased involvement in Mongolia is a good thing for all involved--and perhaps for the North Korean people as well.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Elbegdorj: In His Own Words

Prime Minister Elbegdorj penned an editorial for the Washington Post a few days ago. I'm late in linking to it, but here it is in its entirety. I'll refrain from editorializing, for reasons of temporal exigencies, except to bold a few things that caught my attention and in general met with my approval.
Mongolia: Moving Mountains
By Elbegdorj Tsakhia

Monday, November 21, 2005; Page A15

ULAN BATOR -- Mr. President, welcome to Mongolia. Welcome to freedom.

Those are the words with which I will greet President Bush when he arrives in Mongolia today. They represent an extraordinary odyssey for my country, one that has taken us from totalitarianism to free-market democracy in just 15 years.

When Mongolia shed the yoke of communist rule, thousands of us took to the streets and rallied outside our government building demanding democracy. Never again did the Mongolian people want to suffer under a system of government that oppressed the people and denied the fundamental rights provided to each of us at birth: the right to life, individual liberties and freedom of expression.

We enshrined these principles in Article 2 of our constitution: "The fundamental purpose of state activity is the ensurance of democracy, justice, freedom, equality, and national unity and respect of law." Many of us had tears in our eyes when we voted to adopt our constitution in 1992. Without a bullet being fired, without tanks in the streets, we laid the groundwork for building a new society based on democracy, the rule of law and free-market economic reforms. It has served us well, as Mongolian voters have used the ballot box to transfer political power in several parliamentary elections. Our people are working hard to consolidate our freedom. They have made Mongolia an open, free and vibrant society.

Since our transition, Mongolia has faced many difficult hardships. Thanks to support from the United States, as well as from other countries and international financial institutions, we were able to make the transition to a free-market economy. More than 80 percent of our gross domestic product is derived from the private sector. This is critical.

The national security of our landlocked country has less to do with military power than with economic growth. Last year, through unleashing the potential of foreign investors and our business community, Mongolia experienced a growth rate of more than 10 percent. We need this to continue. I want to move forward and expand our relationship with the United States by implementing a free trade agreement between our two countries.

This is a good start, but much more remains to be done. Without question among the greatest challenges facing our democratic institutions are poverty and corruption. Parliamentarians in both parties of our ruling Grand Coalition are working to provide the legal framework and resources to ensure that civil servants remain exactly that -- servants of the people.

With a population of just 2.5 million, many of whom are nomads, our strategy to fight poverty is through education. My government is seeking to use wireless communications -- the Internet, cell phones and data transmission -- to build an information bridge to the outside world. It is now not uncommon to see a satellite dish outside a herdsman's ger -- our traditional dwelling. Exploring educational opportunities through U.S.-Mongolian educational exchanges and student scholarships will be an investment in our greatest resource, our youth. To give our students an advantage in international business we have made English our official second language.

Further strengthening our development efforts is the inclusion of Mongolia in the Millennium Challenge program. When we sign our compact to begin project implementation, it will add a new level of transparency, "sunlight" and public participation to this critical poverty alleviation program by supporting economic growth. The mechanics of putting together our Millennium program have involved public input and solicitation of proposals from the people. This is grass-roots governance at its best.

Mongolia's experiment with democracy is far from finished, but perhaps there are already lessons for others in what we have accomplished. There is no reason or excuse why economic and political reforms cannot go hand in hand. The concept that democracy is a Western value is a fallacy. It is a universal value inherited by each and every person in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America.

How we share those values abroad is as important as institutionalizing them here at home.

Mongolians are standing shoulder to shoulder with their U.S. and coalition colleagues to create free societies and fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. The recent bombings in Jordan and attacks in Iraq are a warning that defeating terrorism will take international cooperation and dedication.

Mongolians are justifiably proud of the country we are building. Many within Asia can find examples in our economic and political successes as well as learning from our failures.

President Bush's historic visit to Mongolia will give us much-needed encouragement. It will also help us recall our past while rededicating our efforts to build peace, freedom and prosperity in the volatile regions of Northeast Asia.

The writer is prime minister of Mongolia.


Dilbert on Mongolia

Posted without comment except to say that Dilbert has never once been funny to me. Link.


First-hand impression of Bush in Mongolia

Carrie has a few interesting comments, especially about the event itself. She has a few editorial comments as well. Her anti-Bush comments leave a bit to be desired. Regardless, the post is worth the visit for a first hand account.


Mongolian Blogging Universe Expands

...and given the quality and frequency of yan's comments at our own blog, ...yuu bna? ("What's up?") may well become the brightest star in it. Everybody, do yourself a treat and check it out.

I've bloglined you, yan, and will check in frequently for your always insightful comments. Best of luck.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bush Visits and We're Off-line

Oy. We're out of town and have been forced into ultra-light blogging due to our Internet access. It's a bummer, since Bush just visited and there's lots to be said. In the mean time, here's Registan and Mongolian Matters with some news/blog roundups. We hope to weigh in later. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Greener Pastures

Summer evenings like this are a distant memory now that the steppe has given way to sub-zero temperatures. Posted by Picasa



It's understandable that more folks don't really know what's going on in Mongolia. It's not like it's in the news (mainstream or otherwise) every day. So it's good to see when reporters with a broad readership travel there and share their revelations with a bit of wide-eyed wonder and genuine surprise. George Lewis, correspondent for NBC News is there now in advance of Bush's visit, and he's pretty astonished that Mongolia isn't a failing state in which people surpress their women, loathe America, and wish to be secluded from the rest of the world. Surprise!

And thought it might be news to NBC (see headline), none of this is likely to surprise Mr. Bush.

Re: Mr. Lewis's first point, though, a gentle correction: Yes, Mongolians are quite friendly toward Americans. But as any foreigner who's been to Mongolia can tell you, Mongolians give warm hospitality to just about anyone who happens by their ger regardless of the traveler's passport.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Critiquing the Critic: Bikales on Rossabi

Mongolia Web prints a blistering review by William Bikales of Morris Rossabi's book Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists (via Mongolian Matters). Well worth the read for its brief economic history of Mongolia and its point by point criticism of what he judges to be Rossabi's underlying point:
Rossabi...arguesthe foreign donors who came to Mongolia’s aid following the 1991 termination of Soviet support forced the country to follow “pure market” policies of shock therapy, minimal government and privatization. The disastrous results, supposedly, were poverty, corruption, environmental degradation, cultural decline and economic dependence on China.
He also sums up (and dismisses) Rossabi's proposed solution to poverty.
The government must pay higher wages and pensions, maintain other social expenditures, and hold down electricity and heat prices. Environmental degradation? Hire lots of park rangers and enforce those laws. Industrial decline? Support companies with budget funds and low interest bank credits, and with high import tariffs and export bans on raw materials. Difficulties in the lives of the herding population? Maintain the heavily subsidized herder cooperatives of the communist era. And so on.
That's some plan. Just thinking out loud here, but perhaps Rossabi would be interested in a reconstituted USSR to fund such a project.

Anyway, like I say, the entire review is exceedingly interesting. While you're at it, please check out Mr. Bikales's informal yet important addendum to his review at Mongolia Matters.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Spelling Disaster?

This is the second time I've heard about this, so I thought I'd post a quick link to it--though there must be a more complete treatment of this somewhere:
The [Mongolian] government also is working with the United States on a project to change the Mongolian language from the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet.
I mentioned this to Mongol, who was outraged about the whole thing. I must admit I'm scratching my head about it, too. I mean, I'm a dyed in the cashmere conservative (with a small c). Change doesn't come easy to me (read my thoughts on land-privatization in Mongolia here and here to see what I'm talking about). If it works one way, why tinker with it and in the process blow everything up?

From a purely practical standpoint, I can forsee any number of problems tied with this: Everything in modern Mongolian history/government/society/culture, etc. is in the Cyrillic alphabet. Switching to the Roman alphabet seems like a recipie for a disaster of discontinuity between Mongolia's past century and the years to come. How much will quite literally lost in translation? How does one bridge the gap that will inevitably open? What will happen when older people can no longer read the "new" Mongolian? For that matter, what will happen when young people can no longer read the "old" Mongolian? Mongolia was robbed once of their history when the USSR russified everything. Is Mongolia going to lose it again when the most recent 100 years of history become locked behind a Cyrillic alphabet that no-one but older generations and scholars can decipher? Besides, hasn't Mongolia already tried to make a switch to the classic Mongolian script, only to have it founder and for the most part disappear?

This isn't to say that I don't understand the arguments in favor of the switch. Indeed, those arguments are formidable, especially from a pragamatic standpoint. Let's face it--English is the new lingua franca of the world, and anything a country can do to make its language accessible to English speakers, so much the better. Success (economic, political, etc.) is in large part due to how integrated one is with the world as a whole, and the world speaks English. Still, though, the whole idea seems too dismissive of heritage (no matter how recent, no matter how Russian, no matter how imperialist) and the way things are on the ground to be very appealing to me.

Having said all that, I hope with all my heart that the change is more successful than my admitedly narrow mind can imagine.

For another perspective, I'd be interested to read Mongol's thoughts about this if time permits posting.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

More American Visitors

Aparently, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is also on the way to Mongolia. Rumsfeld, Rice, Bush. Mongolia scores a hat-trick.


The Complete Bush-ETV Interview

From the White House website, here's the complete interview that President Bush did with Eagle Television. As everyone loves to remind everyone else, Bush is not the most nuanced man in the world. Frankly speaking, I think that's more of a positive than a negative. For one, it makes things like his his conviction about democracy and its importance in emerging nations such as Mongolia is as apparent as it is deeply held:
Q So, there are many developing countries in Asia. So why did you choose to visit Mongolia at this time?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I am really looking forward to going. This is going to be an exciting trip for me and Laura. Mongolia has got a certain fascination for me. I grew up in the west of the United States where there's -- where we like wide open spaces. And when you think about Mongolia, you think about a big country with a lot of space. But what's interesting about Mongolia is it's more than geography now, as far as I'm concerned. It's a people that have worked hard to become free, a democracy.

We kind of consider ourselves -- and we like the slogan, "the third neighbor" of Mongolia. And so I've chosen to go there because of the spirit of the people, and a leadership that shares our desire to let the -- to have a government of and by and for the people.

Q Great. So, Mr. President, let's talk for a moment about America's foreign policy.


Q Democracies change leaders every few years, so in that change often comes a change in a nation's foreign policy. So what steps has your administration taken to ensure that the foreign policy initiatives you have taken will continue to be guiding principles for the U.S. after you leave the White House?

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, that's a very interesting question. First of all, there are certain values that are inherent in our country that any leader will bring to the White House: the value of human rights, human dignity, freedom to worship, freedom of the press, freedom to speak your mind. And so foreign policy will have inherent in it those values.

The other thing is, is that once democracy takes hold -- it's hard work to make it work, but once it takes hold, it's hard to change it. Because democracy really speaks to the people and says, we listen to you, you're free, you can realize your dreams. And so one of the things my administration is doing is working in places where there hasn't been democracy. I think of the Palestinian Territories, or Iraq. We're working in places where there's a new democracy to help strengthen those democracies. Lebanon is a good example -- Georgia, Ukraine. We're working with countries that have dedicated themselves to democracy but want the friendship of the United States to help them even further democracy. And Mongolia is such a case.

And so one way you leave behind a foundation that others can't undo is to give people -- help people develop a form of government that just can't be unwound unless something catastrophic were to take place inside the country.

Q Okay, great. So as part of our new relationship, Mongolia has contributed our peacekeeping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. So in the future, if there are any military threats against Mongolia by its neighbors, would the U.S., under your administration also rise to our defense?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a very good question. We're close friends. And by being friends, I think we can prevent any potential military dispute from arising. But of course we would support our friends. We certainly would -- nobody anticipates over the next three years of my administration any force being used against our friend. But my visit should send a signal to the people of Mongolia that you've got a friend in the United States and a friend in George W. Bush.

Q Great to hear it. So during your visit to Mongolia, you will be addressing the nation in a wide televised address. So our nation is experiencing a crisis of corruption.


Q So you will be speaking to our leaders and our nation about the dangers that corruption poses to our democracy. Can you give us a preview about it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not going to give you a preview of the speech, because then people may not watch it if they get a preview, see. On the other hand, I will say on your TV screens, there should be no corruption in government, that one of the foundations of any government is the ability for the people to trust the government, itself. And a foundation of democracy, and a foundation of our foreign policy, and a foundation of our Millennium Challenge Account is that there be honest government.

Q Okay. The next related question is going to be to Millennium Challenge.


Q So how has the issue of political corruption affected Mongolia's status for the Millennium Challenge Account?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we intend to move forward on the Millennium Challenge Account with Mongolia. Mongolia is a friend. On the other hand, we will insist that as a condition of the Millennium Challenge checks being written that there be honest government, that there be investment in health and education of the people, that there be a dedication to rule of law and to the marketplace.

Q Okay, the last question is so important for our television. You might be aware that the Eagle Television was the first independent TV station established in Mongolia, with American Christians, and Mongolians are working together to advance freedom of speech, press and conscience in our country. So, first, how do you feel about the role of ordinary American citizens supporting this kind of work for Mongolia's democracy? And the second, what further role do you think the ordinary American citizens can play in helping to address faith and freedom in Mongolia through media?

THE PRESIDENT: Very good question. First of all, I believe in a free media, and I believe that people ought to -- and a media that is independent from government, like we have in America, is an important part of a society. In other words, government officials should not fear a free media, they ought to welcome a free media.

Listen, in my own media, I don't agree with everything that is said, but I strongly support their right to say it, just like I strongly support the right of people of faith to be involved with helping to spread this concept of freedom.

Secondly, I think investments will help the people of Mongolia. In other words, there's a way for people in America -- businesses, for example -- to invest in Mongolia, because that means jobs and stability and a good future.

But, no, listen, you'll find Americans are very compassionate people that love freedom. And they want to help people be free. And by the way, your form of government is democracy, but it ought to reflect your traditions and your great history. And I know it is.

Listen, I'm looking forward to going to your wonderful country. It's going to be a fantastic experience. I'm excited, I truly am excited to come.

Q Great. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, very good job. Thank you.


Condition for Aid: Eliminate Corruption

Bush told Mongolia's Eagle Television that American aid depends on the Mongolian Government's cleaning up its act:
President George W. Bush warned Mongolia that there "should be no corruption in government," if it wanted to receive American aid."

I will say on your TV screens, there should be no corruption in government, that one of the foundations of any government is the ability for the people to trust the government, itself," the president told Mongolia's Eagle television....

"A foundation of our foreign policy, and a foundation of our Millennium Challenge Account is that there be honest government," the president added.

"On the other hand, we will insist that as a condition of the Millennium Challenge checks being written that there be honest government, that there be investment in health and education of the people, that there be a dedication to rule of law and to the marketplace," he pointed out.

Millennium Challenge Accounts have been created by the Bush administration as part of reform of US foreign aid programs.

I don't know how much a televised call to clean up government will be, even if it's issued by America's president and is backed with a threat to withhold aid. Ultimately, the only way to clean up government is to clean up people. Still, though, the more light on the subject, the better.


Why Mongolia (2)

Guido at Mongolian Matters reports the word on the streets about Mr. Bush's visit:
I heard the joke that he is jealous at Rumsfeld for getting a horse, and wants one too. A more serious rumor I heard is that he might promise import tax exemptions for Mongolia, what could potentially mean a boost for the Mongolian economy. The return favor being most probably continued support in Iraq, because the official statement doesn't make much of a secret about that being the most important topic.
Re: the horse: he'll probably get one.

Re: the rumor: interesting, and exciting, and if true, a great idea.

Re: Iraq: right on.


New Blog Alert

Mongoliac is written by a Brit in Mongolia about everything and anything there that strikes her fancy.

Update: OK, OK, it's not all that new, but it is new to me.


Speaking of Slaughter...

The leftover knuckles could be used for this traditional Mongolian game. (From The Golden Road to Samarqand.)


Cuisine Mongolien: avec Photografs

There's my from the hip attempt at French. Which should be an indication of just how little I understood over at this page. But each of the pictures there are worth a thousand words (and ten thousand words in French). This should give you a good idea of how a goat or lamb is slaughtered in Mongolia, as well as different types of Mongolian food. Fascinating if you've never seen this kind of thing. Some pictures are definitely not for the squeemish.

Note: in case you're wondering about the first pictures (slaughter), the way they kill a goat is to make an incision in the animal's belly (picture 2) and then reach in and up to pinch a critical artery (picture 3). This (a) kills the goat, (b) insures that no blood leaves the goat's body, and (c) makes the slaughterer's arm exceedingly messy.

Mmmm....makes me hungry.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Presidential Travels: Why Mongolia?

Well, today just that question was answered over at "Ask the White House"--"an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House." Dr. Michael Green was doing the honors today, and this was his answer:
In Mongolia the President will congratulate the Mongolian people on the progress they have made to become a mature and stable democracy and he will thank them for their role in Iraq. Per capita only two other countries have sent more of their soldiers to help the Iraqi people establish a democratic and stable nation. It is young democracies like Mongolia's that often understand freedom the most, and the President wants to say thank you. He also wants to demonstrate that even remote countries have a strong friend in the United States when they embark on the path of reform and good governance.
Interesting note about the per capita involvement in Iraq. I hadn't considered that before.

In response to whether the American President will take in any cultural sights and sounds in Mongolia, Dr. Green mentioned that "the President and First Lady will visit a traditional Ger (felt tent) village to see Mongolian traditional throat singing, horse-head fiddle playing and other cultural events."

We look forward to the actual trip and to seeing what comes of it.

After all, it's not every day the leader of the Free World visits the Central Asian steppe.