May 18, 2005

Bush's Long Shadow: In Uzbekistan?

We've all now heard of the despicable massacre of hundreds in the town of Andijon:

Uzbekistan acknowledged Tuesday that its crackdown last week on an antigovernment demonstration and a prison break had been far more violent than it previously described, saying 169 people had been killed, including 32 government troops.

President Islam A. Karimov said Saturday that only 10 soldiers and a larger but unspecified number of "rebels" had been killed.

Despite the big increase in the casualty figures, announced at a news conference in Tashkent by Mr. Karimov and Prosecutor General Rashid Kadyrov, the government's total still was far below the estimates of survivors and witnesses, who have put the death toll in the hundreds.

One opposition party, for example, said Tuesday that it had compiled a list of 745 dead.

While Mr. Karimov and Mr. Kadyrov offered a more complete picture of the disorder than before, they also insisted that government troops had not deliberately fired on or killed any civilians. Their assertion contradicted the accounts of many survivors, who have said troops and armored vehicles rushed a public square in the northeastern city of Andijon and fired indiscriminately.

As soon as I heard about this story, after my initial shock at the bloodshed, I next thought that some on the left would grab on it to point out Washington's hypocrisy in being, shall we say, selective in picking its democratization venues. Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, certainly doesn't let us down on this score:

When crowds demonstrated in Lebanon, Ukraine and Georgia, the Americans welcomed it as "people power". But the brave stand in Uzbekistan brought a different response. Washington called for "restraint" from both sides, as if the unarmed civilians were just as guilty as those shooting at them. In the past couple of days, the tune has changed slightly. Now the state department wants Tashkent to "institute real reforms" and address its "human rights problems". It is at least possible that Washington may soon decide Karimov has become an embarrassment and that he should be replaced by a new, friendlier face - but one just as reliable. Less of a sonofabitch, but still ours.

Sonofabitchism has always been an awkward business, even in Roosevelt's day; it hardly squares with America's image of itself as a beacon in a dark world. But the contradiction - some would call it hypocrisy - is all the greater now. For this is the Bush era, and the Bush doctrine is all about spreading democracy and "the untamed fire of freedom" to the furthest corner of the globe. If that's the rhetoric, then it's hard to reconcile with a reality that involves funneling cash to a man who boils his enemies.

It's a predictable narrative, of course, and I want to point out a few issues with Freeland's thesis. Before I do that, however, let me remind readers that I too have called for stronger U.S. democracy advocacy vis-a-vis Uzbekistan in the past.

This said, here are my issues with the Guardian piece:

1) The U.S. has supported democracy initiatives throughout the post 9/11 period in Uzbekistan--not solely focusing on security cooperation;

2) For instance, note the State Department awarded its 2004 Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award to an individual active in just these types of efforts:

Michael Goldman of Embassy Tashkent was selected as winner of this year's award for exceptional achievement in the field of human rights and democracy. Mr. Goldman was selected from an impressive group of nine candidates nominated by their Ambassadors in a year in which issues of democracy and human rights moved even further to the forefront of the foreign policy process.

In the challenging human rights environment of Uzbekistan, Michael Goldman succeeded in advancing the U.S. human rights agenda. Ambassador Purnell wrote: "the fact that there has been progress at all is a testament to Mike’s energy, creativity and diplomatic skills." Michael’s cables on wide-ranging abuses, arbitrary arrests, renewed harassment of the opposition and imprisonment of political and religious leaders led to the Secretary’s determination in July that Uzbekistan had not made sufficient progress in meeting its obligations under the 2002 Strategic Partnership Declaration. His reporting on female members of the banned Party of Islamic Liberation and other developments provided the United States with insights into the complexity of the Government of Uzbekistan’s handling of democratic issues. Mike facilitated a series of lunches between Freedom House’s director and the Ministry of Internal Affairs that led to an unprecedented roundtable on torture between law enforcement officials and human rights advocates. His efforts also led to the release of independent journalist Ruslan Sharipov, and he is currently working on the establishment of an inter-ministerial investigative commission on human rights.

3) Nor was the U.S. democracy advocacy in Uzbekistan solely limited to relatively low ranking diplomats at the Embassy in Tashkent. The Acting Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, for instance, has even visited the city that was the site of the slaughter:

In promoting human rights, the United States has sought to engage with Uzbekistan on two levels. On the first level, the United States maintains a vigorous bilateral dialogue with the Uzbek Government on a host of issues, from democratization to religious tolerance, and from legal and penitentiary reform to advocacy on behalf of specific prisoners of conscience. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) Michael Kozak visited Uzbekistan in November, meeting with officials in Tashkent, Namangan and Andijon to highlight ongoing U.S. concerns about human rights and democracy. Human rights and democracy also featured prominently in the July visit of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) Beth Jones and the November visit of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for EUR Laura Kennedy. The Ambassador and his staff treated the promotion of human rights and democracy as a major U.S. priority in Uzbekistan and incorporated these goals in discussions with officials at all levels of government. In Washington, then-Assistant Secretary for DRL Lorne Craner and Assistant Secretary for EUR Beth Jones twice provided Congressional testimony on U.S. efforts to engage the Government of Uzbekistan on U.S. concerns about human rights and democracy.

The second level of the U.S. strategy focuses on the development of civil society. Working with NGOs and individual Uzbeks, the United States seeks to expand the ability of local organizations to affect positive change in society, to develop the foundations of a free press, and to create space for human rights activism and independent political expression. The United States places particular value on exchanges and training, in order to provide the next generation of Uzbek citizens with the tools necessary to move their country’s politics and society out of the shadow of its Soviet past. All programs operated by the Open Society Institute (OSI) were forced to close when the Uzbek Ministry of Justice (MOJ) refused to reregister OSI, effectively shutting it down. In February, the Government issued a decree making it more difficult for foreign entities to fund the activities of their local NGO partners. The United States has devoted considerable attention to this issue and is working to ensure that local organizations are able to continue their work. [emphasis added]

4) Finally, at least for tonight, there is this tantalizingly interesting story floating about the American-expatriate-in-Russia-blogosphere . Can it really be that Karimov himself, aside from blaming Islamist agitators for the carnage, has actually blamed Bush too for causing some of the rumblings of domestic discontent?

Karimov thinks that the sources of this operation are outside of the country, and that there are forces which have an interest in destabilizing the situation in Uzbekistan. These are not only Hizb ut Tahrir, but the United States as well. Karimov made it clear that the "leader of a large superpower, who just completed a tour of the CIS nations" is inclined to forcibly implant democracy in the post-Soviet space..

Hmmm. I wonder who the "leader of a large superpower [ ed. note: don't miss the plausible Karimovian phraseology that appears crafted to not offend the, er, 'other' superpowers, that is China and Russia] who just completed a tour of the CIS nations" is?

Regular readers may recall that I speculated things like the Tbilisi stopover might have wider regional implications. Frankly, I don't think it's too much of a stretch at all to assume some of the increased civil protest in the air in Uzbekistan is a result of Bush's forward democratization strategy including his high profile visits to places like Georgia. All this said, of course, we've had a massacre of perhaps upwards of 700 individuals in Uzbekistan this past week. Business as usual now, and this includes sending in Assistant Secretaries to rap knuckles, would not be good enough. It would be too perilously close to Freeland's "sonafabitchism." Which means we need to, likely in tandem with Jack Straw, force Karimov to allow for a full unfettered investigation of the killings (with international observers), free movement of journalists, and more. No, immediate regime change isn't an option. But should a judicious investigation show that command authorization allowed for the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians--a fundamental reappraisal of our Uzbek policy will certainly be required. To be a bit more blunt, Condi will have to ratchet up the pressure more than this:

Nobody is asking any government to deal with terrorists," she said Tuesday evening at a news conference in Washington. "That's not the issue. The issue, though, is that it is a society that needs openness, it needs to reform, and again, I think if you look at the record, we have raised that with the government of Karimov for quite some time."

That's true, but if the massacre that occurred looks to have been a purposeful Uzbek Tiananmen-style massacre, we're going to have to be quite a bit more forceful in our criticisms than this. Developing, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at May 18, 2005 03:20 AM | TrackBack (4)

The bloodshed is to be condemned (and needless to say condemned especially and roundly because Karimov has been an American ally).

And maybe the cases are similar and maybe they're not. But one question you won't find Freedland touching with a barge pole is whether there might be any vestige of a hint of a resemblance between the position of Karimov now and the Shah of Iran in 1977.

See also, Stephen Schwartz.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 18, 2005 10:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great post, Gregory. I especially like the small print "a full unfettered investigation of the killings (with international observers), free movement of journalists, and more. No, immediate regime change isn't an option."

Right, no regime change.
Demand an investigation? Yes.
Free movement of journalists? Yes.

How about Free Press, including critical of the gov't?
Uncontrolled access to the Internet?

Lots more on Michael Totten's site, or a bit more on mine

I also like Sonofabitchism, though I've been using "our bastard".

Too bad the Guardian is still so soft with Kofi and Darfur.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at May 18, 2005 01:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Washington called for "restraint" from both sides, as if the unarmed civilians were just as guilty as those shooting at them. "

Woah, talk about hypocrisy. When Palestinian terrorists target and kill unarmed civilians in Israel, and Israel responds by attacking the terrorists, leftists are all about Washington "urging restraint on both sides."

When the civilians being killed are not Jews, however, "urging restraint on both sides" is suddenly 'Sonofabitchism'. Nice.

Posted by: Captain Wrath at May 18, 2005 02:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OK, Greg, but there's a bit of sophistry going on here -- there are all sorts of reasons to believe that our ability to influence Karimov's behavior is limited, and thus our support for civil society initiatives is circumscribed. And there's the grand chessboard argument. But surely you noticed that when State yanked its, what, $17 mil, the Pentagon turned around and tripled its funding, yes?

Posted by: praktike at May 18, 2005 04:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike, do you have a link to an article describing the funding changes? I'd like to understand more about that.


Posted by: just me at May 18, 2005 05:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I spent a few days in Uzbekistan once. My impressions of it were absolutely wonderful. The Registan in Samarkand is especially magnificent. There's a clash between my human impression of the country and the neocon impulse to see it as another democratic domino falling.

Saddam's Iraq was an easy call. The regime was repressive and evil, and also disastrous for the welfare of his people, who became impoverished under his rule. It was so murderous that whatever civil peace the regime may have provided was more than offset by systematic and sustained official violence. It was worth overturning the regime because, even though the democratization-alloyed-with-military-colonialism which we had to offer was not likely to turn out very pretty, the Iraqis just had nowhere to go but up.

Uzbekistan is different. Karimov is pretty bad, not only on human rights but on economic policy and development generally, but he's no Saddam. He's not bad enough that what we could put in his place would be likely to be any better.

Can we really do any good just by promoting civil society and human rights through foreign-aid channels, with the Karimov regime's consent? Maybe. That's the easy way out. But I suspect that Karimov knows his turf better than we do. And there's a risk that civil society and democracy programs will just legitimize him.

The trouble is that we've gone so far towards making everything in the world our business that we can't just reprimand Karimov without seeming insincere. The Bush Doctrine is a beautiful idea but in practice it has a lot of blind spots. Particularly because the world has, and will continue to have, a lot more Uzbekistans than Iraqs.

However, there's an outside chance that a velvet revolution in Uzbekistan will relieve of these dilemmas. For now.

Posted by: Lancelot Finn at May 18, 2005 06:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

just me, here's a piece by Ahmed Rashid, one of the best journos around. I think I was wrong about the tripling, btw.

Posted by: praktike at May 18, 2005 06:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Also wrong about the significance, praktike. As Rashid points out:

"As Karimov clamped down at home, the strategic importance of the Karshi-Khanabad base, the cornerstone of the US-Uzbek alliance, was dramatically declining. Today, many of the functions performed by the base could be easily shifted to Afghanistan. Indeed, Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants permanent US military bases in Afghanistan and the Pentagon is spending US $83 million this year to build permanent facilities at its large bases near Kabul and Kandahar."

Not very likely that the US will prop up Karimov much longer. No need for a base in Uzbekistan.

Posted by: thibaud at May 18, 2005 06:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's not clear how that contradicts what I said.

Posted by: praktike at May 18, 2005 08:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike - Rashid's assertion of "strategic importance ... dramatically declining" refers to the declining importance of the Uzbek military base to the US. Hence declining importance of Karimov to the US.

Posted by: thibaud at May 18, 2005 10:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

prak: "a bit of sophistry..." a reference to my post; or your dubious number-crunching?

Posted by: greg at May 18, 2005 11:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"praktike - Rashid's assertion of "strategic importance ... dramatically declining" refers to the declining importance of the Uzbek military base to the US. Hence declining importance of Karimov to the US."

which contradicts what I said ... how? I was wrong about the numbers, I'll grant you and Greg that. Woe is me.

Posted by: praktike at May 19, 2005 01:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Praktike, the point is that since we will have bases in Afghanistan and need not use bases in Uzbekistan, our future incentive to coddle Karimov may be reduced.

Even if we do a full-court press on Karimov to apologize, reform, stand down, whatever, I'm sure we will sock money into the country proportionate to our needs (e.g. 100 flights a day, 10 million dollars; 1000 flights, $100M).

As these needs approach zero, the aid and tolerance can approach zero. Thus, you don't have to give any credit to the US for 'doing the right thing,' since it won't conflict with our self-interest.

Posted by: Nichevo at May 19, 2005 03:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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