Cowboy Diplomacy in Kyrgyzstan (literally): American-Kyrgyz cultural exchanges

Business Insider published an article showing that US is attempting to use cowboys as diplomatic ambassadors of America’s culture. This is awesome. It also makes a lot of sense, as Kyrgyzstan (as well as the rest of Central Asia) have a long history of horses being integral to development and society.

The cowboys are part of a cultural exchange meant to essentially win the hearts and minds of the Kyrgyz people as the battle for geopolitical control of Central Eurasia begins. Russia’s move: bribe the Kyrgyz government to close a US base. US Move: send cowboys in to win popular opinion. I’m going to go with the US winning on this one.

The cowboys held a rodeo which reportedly brought out 5,000 people.

This is actually not a new program. NPR covered in 2006, recording Hal Cannon of the Western Folklife CEnter visiting Kyrgyzstan with a troop of singing cowboys. YouTube videos dating back to 2007 show the cultural exchanges of a Wyoming family, ranch hands and country singers in Kyrgyzstan. It seems to be popular and effective in terms of cultural exchanges. BI reports that ‘everyone wanted a picture with the cowboys’. It makes sense to use cowboys as diplomats (not in the Bush doctrine sense) but because they are visceral symbols of America & American mythology.

Cultural exchanges are just one facet of America’s moves on the geopolitical chess board. There are currently over 2,000 Americans stationed in Kyrgyzstan, in a base on the outskirts of Bishkek. It is also a major transit hub, and will increase in importance now that Central Asia is the primary exit route for equipment and troops from Afghanistan.

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