Wednesday, June 15, 2005

As if Gitmo and Abu Ghraib weren't enough, it seems a new paradox is emerging in the war on terror:
A report that US defense officials helped block a NATO demand for an international probe into last month's killing of protesters in Uzbekistan is proving an air base there to be one of the more diplomatically costly "lily pads" in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's new lean, mean restructuring of the US global military presence.

Located in southeastern Uzbekistan near the border with Afghanistan, the Khanabad base is seen as key to the US war on terror, as a Q&A on the website of the Council of Foriegn Relations, a prominent Washington-based think-tank, explains. "Officially, the role of the troops in Uzbekistan is limited to humanitarian relief and search-and-rescue missions inside Afghanistan, but a joint US Special Forces command center at Khanabad reportedly played a key role in directing the activities of US Special Forces personnel during the early phase of the fall 2001 US attacks on the Taliban [in Afghanistan]. Information about current day-to-day activities of US forces remains shrouded in secrecy."

But continued access to the base means the US must tread carefully in its criticism of Uzbekistan's leader Islam Karimov, who has routinely been accused of brutally stifling dissent, including allegedly covering up the government's shooting of hundreds of protesters last month.
The Uzbek government has admitted that 173 people were killed on May 13 in Andijan but independent witnesses and human rights organizations put the number of victims at between 500 and 1,000. Human Rights Watch, for instance, has called the incident a "massacre." Karimov has portrayed the killings as a necessary response to a revolt by Islamic extremists.

Many countries and organizations, including the US, have called for an independent investigation. But The Washington Post reports that US defense officials – together with their Russian counterparts – "helped block a new demand for an international probe" last week.
Personally, I have to confess that I'm not entirely against this, provided that the Uzbek base is as vital as the military seems to think. Further, if used properly, we could use the aid we give Karimov to pressure him into making reforms more consistent with international human rights.

The main trouble arises when U.S. policies towards Karimov are compared with Bush's absolutist rhetoric. Remember his State of the Union address? All that lofty praise for freedom? It's hard to see how supporting one of the few dictators still around is at all accordant with Bush's democracy-at-all-costs doctrine.

In the end, Bush's problem is that, given the manifold exigencies of the world, there's no way to maintain a dogmatic approach to foreign policy and not expose yourself as either hopelessly naive or boldly duplicitous. So if Bush is going to take a nuanced approach with regimes like Karimov's, he had better cut out the rhetoric: as is, he's undermining American foreign policy as a whole.


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