Friday, December 30, 2005

time for a new posterboy

i was about to post about something else, but a couple of liberal bloggers (all of whom i link to and like) wandered into an issue that always gets me excited. here's what happened:

craig murray, former uk ambassador to uzbekistan (and major thorn in the side of the british government ever since) has published on his blog secret memos documenting the british government's extraordinary rendition of suspects to uzbekistan for torture. to assure that murray's site doesn't get shut down, kos and other bloggers have transferred the documents to their server.

the problem i have is not that those documents are being published online, but rather with how some of the bloggers i respect have reacted to them. for example, kos' post about the matter ends with the following:
The US marriage of convenience with Uzbekistan, perhaps the most repressive regime in the world, gives lies to all the bullshit post-WMD justifications for invading Iraq ("evil regime" and all that jazz). Among other atrocities, Uzbekistan boils its dissidents alive. And no, that's not from Amnesty International or other "do-gooder" organization, but from the State Department's 2004 human rights report.
what kos writes is technically correct, there was a marriage of convenience between the u.s. and uzbekistan despite uzbekistan's atrocious human rights record. but kos implies that the marriage still exists. it doesn't.

the u.s. and uzbekistan had a major falling out after uzbek security forces open fired and killed hundreds of civilians in andijon last may. the bush administration (to their credit, IMHO) called for an investigation which the karimov government in uzbekistan did not want. the u.s. insisted, and relations between the two countries have gone downhill since then. in july, uzbekistan announced that it was evicting u.s. forces from its territory. notably that meant the loss of american access to the karshi-khanabad airbase--a major staging ground for operations in afghanistan. the u.s. scrambled to find a replacement, later getting assurances from kyrgyzstan and tajikistan that the u.s. could use bases there to replace K2 (as karshi-khanabad is called). since then u.s.-uzbek relations have been quite different. these days, the bush administration regularly criticizes uzbekistan over human rights issues. at best, relations between the two countries are called "strained." uzbekistan simply is not the close bush ally it once was.

the problem is that since 2001 uzbekistan has served the liberal blogisphere as a posterboy of the bush administration's toleration of despots and human rights abusers provided that they are considered to be on the right side of the "war on terra." there are plenty of examples of such despotic and abusive countries, and uzbekistan was among them at least until may 2005. but these days, it simply is no longer a good example for the bush administration's realpolitik. if left blogistan is to be a responsible critic of the administration, it has an obligation to at least acknowledge the changes that occurred this past year.

one problem is that news from central asia can, at times, be obscure and hard to follow unless you're trying to pay attention. longtime readers know of my obsession with uzbekistan ever since i bought my plane ticket to visit the country in 2001 (my plans were foiled by 9/11, but i managed to go in 2003. the two year delay only deepened my obsession) but not everyone is obsessed with the place and so it can be easy to miss developments there--even major developments like andijon and its fallout. so even though the only technical inaccuracy of the bit i quoted from kos above is its use of the present tense in the first sentence, that is enough to create a misleading impression to others who look to kos for information.

a case in point: greg saunders posting at this modern world picked up the craig murray torture memo story from kos and atrios later linked to the saunders post. at the end of the saunders' discussion of the issue he says the following:
But to take things back to square one, it should be repeated again and again that this would all stop if the President wanted it to. With a phonecall to the Uzbek government, he could threated to eliminate foreign aid until human rights abuses ceased.


Why he hasn’t done any of these things leads us back to the eternal debate about the presidency of George W. Bush. Is he so isolated from bad news that he has no idea about the abuses that are happening on his watch? Is he a callous monster who thinks the torture of innocents is justified by the “greater good” of whatever the hell he’s trying to accomplish? Or is it a combination of the two? Either way, I don’t know how much longer we can afford to have the reputation of the United States tarnished while we ponder the endless “idiot or asshole?” debate.
while i am always happy to consider the timeless "idiot or asshole" question, saunders is simply wrong about the present state of u.s.-uzbek relations. bush has made that phone call to the uzbek government, or at least members of his administration have. it has threatened cuts in foreign aid and other punitive steps since the andijon massacre.

obviously i am a big critic of the bush administration. but i'm not against everything they do simply because they are the bush administration. on those occasions that they get things more right than wrong, we should give the administration credit. when it came to uzbekistan after the andijon massacre, the administration surprised me, and i really do think they deserve credit for the pressure they have put on uzbekistan since then.

besides, there are plenty of other examples of the administration coddling tyrants and human rights abusers in their foreign policy. i think it's just time for a new posterboy.

CORRECTION: i misspelled saunder's name in the original version of this post. oops. i'll try harder next time i criticize someone to at least get their name right.