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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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