A Game of Risk
The Brooklyn Rail, January 2004
by John Reed
What’s the next hotspot? Where will it be? A remote country
in the Middle East? In Central Asia? What war will drive the journalists
of the world to uncover the story? Will it be the diamond mines
in Africa? Will it be simple starvation, somewhere else? Where
will suffering suddenly erupt, disturbing the placid waters of
the New World Order?
Perhaps the silliest of assumptions in the present-day media
is the notion of "the story." There is the idea that
unhappiness and conflict represents a sort of brushfire in the
landscape of the world— one that the world’s firemen,
whether they be U.N. peacekeepers, or U.S. troops, or television
pundits, will rush in with their trusty hoses to quell. But the
fact is, there is a troubled reality to most of the globe, and,
as Lutz Kleveman points out in The New Great Game, the angry young
men of Al Qaeda make up only a fraction of the rage that threatens
all of us.
Oil, yes. Kleveman maps out an introduction to the impact of
U.S. and international strategies on Central Asia. The area, known
in the last century as "the black hole of the Earth,"
is an increasingly vital interest to those nations which make
up the four percent of the global population but that consume
twenty-five percent of global energy. Massive untapped oil reserves
in the area of the Caspian Sea make the region a constant focus
of international coercion and interference. Kleveman projects
that "by 2015 the Caspian region could reach a share of five
to eight percent of the world market." The final result of
this apparent wealth in oil is a bevy of damaged states in the
area of the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Kleveman, touring the region, documents nations that range in
aspect from the oppressive legacy of Stalin in Georgia, to the
often surreal megalomania of the Turkmenistan president, Sapamurat
Nyazov. In a creepily entertaining chapter called "Stalin’s
Disneyland: Turkmenistan," he describes the small nation
Appointed life-long dictator by a rubber-stamp parliament, Nyazov
is convinced of his own divinity, and has reinvented his country
as a gigantic theme park, with the only theme being himself. Almost
every street corner in the capital has multiple portraits of the
sixty-year-old stocky man with a soft and somewhat simple face.
On some he looks like Burt Reynolds, on others like a genetic
blend of Leonid Brezhnev and the German politician Franz-Joseph
Strauss. All public buildings were decorated with banners proclaiming
the state slogan Halk, Watan, Turkmenbashi (‘One People,
One Fatherland, One Leader’).
Kleveman brings lucid witness to these incomprehensible realities.
Flowing easily from the big picture to the small, The New Great
Game dimensionalizes peoples and crises that have often exceeded
the reach of popular consciousness.