Thursday, June 23, 2005

Blogging is a Force That Gives us Meaning

Unfortunately, the diplomatic situation in Uzbekistan continues to deteriorate. As has been covered here, here, here, here, here and here on Exit145, the May 13 Massacre at Andijon has created a great deal of tension between the Bush administration and the Karimov regime. While Uzbekistan has been a critical ally throughout operations in Afghanistan, it appears that past military support may not be enough to save the friendship. Secretary Rice spoke out publicly on the issue late last week.
"We have arrangements with the Uzbek government and we continue to hope that we can use those arrangements," Rice said, referring to the Karshi-Khanabad base. Rice went on to say that the Bush administration for the last several years has been "urging the Karimov government to do something about the openness of its political system. The answer to the potential threat of extremism in a country is not to close the system down, but rather to open it up to legitimate and more moderate voices in the political system."
However:
In would appear that the Karimov administration is not willing to listen to such calls for domestic policy changes. Recent comments by top Karimov administration suggest that they are profoundly disillusioned with the US-Uzbek strategic alliance, apparently feeling that the United States has not provided the expected level of security. For example, Azizkhojayev, during his June 15 television interview, turned noticeably bitter when discussing US-Uzbek cooperation. "Those who regard themselves as members of the anti-terror coalition sometimes support such people [Islamic militants] in the [current] information war [surrounding the Andijan events]. As a result of this, although the threat posed by international terrorism is common knowledge, the fight against it has not shown any results."
The fluctuating relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan is fascinating. First, the external political situation is a microcosm of the potential contradictions within the Bush doctrine. The Karimov regime is repressive and undemocratic, factors that don't jive with the standard policy of international democratic reform that the administration has championed. On the other hand, elimination of Islamic terrorist threats remains the primary focus of Bush's foreign policy and Uzbekistan has helped to implement that agenda to some degree.

Second, the manner in which the U.S. addresses Karimov's government will show to what degree internal power has shifted between the State Department and the Defense Department. The Pentagon initially attempted to play down the May 13 massacre, or at least play down the effects the massacre would have on our military relationship with Uzbekistan. When the administration did not take much of a stand immediately following the killings, some observers were led to believe that the DoD's views would continue to dictate policy. However, as Rice and Bush have both spoken out against the massacre and it appears that Karimov's regime is not backing down, it looks as though Rice's shop is calling the plays more and more. Perhaps this is a coincidence or perhaps Rumsfeld is losing influence in the White House.

Few people on either side of the debate believe that regime change can happen at this time, largely because of the lack of viable options beyond President Karimov. However, that may be changing. "Sunshine Uzbekistan" seems to be the opposition group of the moment and despite rumors that its leader is somehow being manipulated by Karimov himself, it can rightly be said that any news is good news.

--Frank

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