Thursday, June 02, 2005

Developments in ... Guess where?

Bloggers are not the only ones picking up on the rapidly developing events in Uzbekistan. Christopher Hitchens writes on the subject today in Slate.

I was not born yesterday or even the day before, and I can see perfectly well what is being implied here. How can America claim to be the protector of new liberties in Muslim lands if it acquiesces in Karimovism?
Indeed. Further, while there are rumors intimating that extremist elements were behind the Andijon uprising, the U.S. needs to verify these statements before lending them any credence. These rumors are, after all, being pushed by Karimov, Putin and Hu--three men whose words need be taken with a grain of salt.

Karimov is not morally equivalent to the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. He has not invaded neighboring states, or committed genocide, or subverted the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or hosted international gangsters. However, the fact remains that he is a nasty tyrant, and that American policy has come to adopt a position that post-Soviet states should be helped to overcome post-Soviet dictatorial malaise. The record here, in Georgia and Ukraine and Kyrgizstan and (soon, one hopes) Belarus, is not too discreditable. The president has changed the lazy manner in which he used to greet the appalling Vladimir Putin and has quite rightly criticized the post-Yalta settlement and its ancestry in the Hitler-Stalin pact. The defensible elements of this policy succeed only in making Uzbekistan an even more conspicuous and ugly exception. And one ought never to forget Chechnya, where the West in general has been amazingly supine in the face of Russian depredations.
As Hitchens points out, our relationship with Uzbekistan has been complicated by the growing number of newly formed democracies in the region and the precedent we have set by our policy in dealing with those states. Furthermore, Russia's support (and China's to a lesser degree) of the Karimov regime has put the onus on the Bush administration to pick a side. To the point, the role that the Bush administration plays here could impact future relations with Putin's Russia on on larger scale. Despite the slight gestures of friendship displayed between Putin and Bush last month that Bush will likely side against Putin. It would not be surprising for a diplomatic confrontation to occur on the issue of Uzbekistan's present and future.

Hitchens continues:

It has always to be remembered that such regimes will not last forever, and that one day we will be asked, by their former subjects, what we were doing while they were unable to speak for themselves. Better to have the answer ready now and to consider American influence in a country as the occasion for leverage rather than as the occasion for awkward silence.

This idealism is what drives many of Bush's foreign policy supporters. I have a hard time arguing against this point myself, particularly if that support translates to a friendly and profitable relationship years down the road.

UPDATE: After a safety warning earlier today, all U.S. citizens have been told to leave Uzbekistan within the next eight days.

UPDATE 2: An article on the subject in TIME.

--Frank

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