FiveThirtyEight: Clinton and the Asia Pivot

This week FiveThrityEight published an article Shannon and I have been hard at work on for some time. I’ve been fangirling (fairly secretly) for months about the piece. I’m a huge fan of FiveThrityEight and getting the email in December (December!) asking if I’d be interested in writing for them caused me to break out into giddy giggles on the Metro.


Much of what I write about daily is a touch obscure for most of my family and friends–far off places they don’t know much about and which don’t impact their lives in a noticeably measurable way. While I love that I get to write every day about Central Asia, I was very excited to get a chance to branch out (or really, reach back) into American foreign policy more broadly.

A year ago, when Clinton was launching (officially) her campaign, I spent a Sunday afternoon writing an article about what a Clinton presidency might mean for Asia for The Diplomat. I pinged the other editors for memorable Asia-Clinton moments–I’d only just started writing full-time for the site–and wrote the article up while sitting on my porch soaking up the spring sunshine. I suppose this is what led FiveThirtyEight to me.

I hope you take the time to read the article. Our aim was to explain Clinton’s record as secretary of state because it is a fundamental part of her pitch to the American people as to why she’d make a good president–and Asia, though a low-level issue in domestic American politics often simplified to CHINACHINACHINA, will nonetheless be something the next president will have to deal with.

Those with greater knowledge about Asian politics may be a little disappointed as we wrote the piece for a general audience. This meant leaving a great deal out. We don’t dive into the political nuances of Myanmar’s democratic improvements  or Thailand’s regression, for example. We explain the South China Sea conflict but don’t dip into FONOPs, nine-dashed-lines, or the Philippine arbitration case. We don’t make a judgement on the TPP’s domestic implications because it was an article, first and foremost, about foreign policy. I hope we made good decisions on what to include and what to drop, because it’s impossible to include everything.

I think the final product turned out wonderfully, in no small part because of incredible guidance and editing from the FiveThirtyEight staff. I swam through many a spreadsheet of trade data, Shannon waded through speeches on speeches, and our editors poked us with questions. They challenged our assumptions and pushed us to explain more clearly things the audience we normally write for takes as a given. This is the first article of significant size I’ve ever co-written, the first time a “quantitative editor” has reviewed my econ-logic, and it was all a great experience.

Fun closing fact: One of my favorite sentences made it through, virtually unchanged, from the first draft to the final run: “The TPP is one area where the policymaking record of Secretary Clinton diverges from the politicking rhetoric of Candidate Clinton.”




Bloggingheads: A Crash Course in Central Asia

Made my Bloggingheads debut this week, sitting down to talk to Natalie Sambhi about Central Asia. Natalie is a co-host, along with my old professor Rob Farley and Matt Duss, of the Foreign Entanglements Bloggingheads program. They essentially video chat with interesting people around the world about foreign policy issues. I’ve been watching these since grad school so it was super cool to get to do it myself!

Natalie asked me for a “crash course” on Central Asia and I did my best to provide that…


RFE/RL Podcast: Talking Nepotism in Central Asia

Talked regional nepotism with a crew of incredibly smart guys last week: Muhammad Tahir, RFE/RL Turkmen Service director and Podcast Host Extraordinaire; Alisher Ilkhamov, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London; Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch; and Bruce Pannier, who runs an excellent Central Asia blog for RFE/RL.

Check out Bruce’s write-up of the conversation here and get a good listen in as well.

Though perhaps too simplistic (I’m more comfortable writing than I am speaking, but I’m getting better at it the more I do!), I stand by my statement that seeding the government with your relatives works… up until the point it doesn’t. And when it falls apart, it does so in a grand fashion because while you’ve been making your sons and daughters ministers, the ministries have atrophied under them. Family is reliable (to a degree) in terms of loyalty but not always competence. As succession approaches in the next decade and a half across the region–Uzbekistan’s Karimov is 78, Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev is 75, and Tajikistan’s Rahmon is 63–eyes are on their offspring as potential successors. Uzbekistan is a prime example of how it can all go wrong.

Anyhow, listen to the podcast and read Bruce’s article (well, all his articles but definitely that one).

A Week of Central Asian Politics and Politicking

Another week in Central Asia:

Last Sunday, Kyrgyzstan held successful parliamentary elections. The Diplomat published a wonderful photo essay of election day in Bishkek, a real glimpse at polls in the capital.

Kyrgyzstan also reopened its embassy in Belarus after a 3-year hiatus. Long story short, Belarus has refused repeatedly to extradite the Kyrgyz president deposed in 2010–he’s living a fairly comfortable life as a Belarusian now.

In Turkmenistan, the US broke ground on a new embassy. The US is using the construction as a metaphor. “This is not just another building project in Ashgabat,” the US Ambassador said at the ceremony.

Wednesday was Vladimir Putin’s birthday and the celebrations were as ridiculous as you can imagine: a hockey game, a special rap song release, bombing Syria. But Putin also made time to meet this week with both the Tajik and Kyrgyz presidents.

Kazakhstan’s president met with the president of Ukraine this week as well. Nazarbayev, for all his autocratic faults, is an extremely deft politician. Nowhere is this more evident than in his balancing of relations between Ukraine and Russia.

Mutabar Tadjibayeva, a well-known Uzbek human rights activist who now lives in France–as a political refugee–says she was subject to torture, gang-rape and forced sterilization at the hands of Uzbek authorities. This week, Uzbekistan was essentially ordered by a UN body to investigate her allegations. I’m not terribly optimistic it will lead to any concrete investigation or improvement but I do think it’s important to keep putting these stories in the public space.

And for something different: I wrote about Megadeth’s first concert in China (they were a little censored, which is fairly common). I’m a closet metalhead. Never really thought that corner of knowledge would come in handy professionally.

End of a Central Asia Summer

I’ve been quite delinquent of late with regard to updating this, but I’ve been busy and it’s been nice out. Since last I posted, I’ve written 51 things. I’ve bolded the ones you should definitely read.

I’ll try to be more diligent about posting–and I’m going to try to branch out in this space. For work I’m Central Asia half the time and Magazine things the other half; I have a great number of interests beyond what’s represented here and want to keep pushing myself to be a better writer, journalist, editor.