A Promise I don’t have

by Nathan Hamm on 12/4/2003

A Promise
I don’t have time now, but I pledge to thoroughly criticize Lutz Klevelman’s article in Slate and the lessons for US policy he takes from Georgia.

I do want to comment on this real quick:

What are ordinary Uzbeks and the region’s other
impoverished people to think of the United States’ cynical alliances
with their despotic rulers under the rhetorical banner of
anti-terrorism and human rights? My research during extensive travels
in the region suggests that myopic U.S. policies are likely to
jeopardize the few successes in the war on terror because the
resentment they cause makes it ever easier for terrorist groups to
recruit angry young men as new fighters. The Central Asian stability so
important to Washington exists only on the surface, precariously
resting on a Kalashnikov crutch.

Well, aside from the fact that he never answers his own damned question, this is simply wrong. I sincerely doubt that this student of French Literature and International History
speaks Farsi, any form of Turkic, or Russian, so I’d like to know what
his “research” consisted of. Spending a few weeks in Uzbekistan with a
translator doesn’t put your finger on the pulse. I’ll admit that
spending over a year there, living in an Uzbek/Russian city, speaking
Uzbek and Russian, and making friends with locals who really opened up
to me still left me with a sense of the situation that’s lacking. It’s
hard to know what it’s like to be on the inside of a totalitarian
state, and even being within the borders of one, if you carry a foreign
passport you’re on the outside looking in. That being said, my entirely
unscientific “research” tells me that the average Uzbek likes and
respects the United States. The Uzbek media does a really good job of
making Uzbekistan seem to not rely on any other state’s assistance at
all, so I’m fairly certain that the average Uzbek doesn’t know the
extent of the relationship. I’m willing to be proven wrong though.
Still, Uzbeks always show themselves to be savvier than I and certainly
most journalists give them credit for. The ones who stay on top of
things realize that Uzbekistan is somewhat constrained in its choices
because of where it is and its lack of economic clout. They’re
basically faced with Russia or the US, and they didn’t exactly have the
best history with the Russians…
To be a little more direct to what Klevelman says, it’s not US policies
that cause resentment, it’s home-grown policies that cause resentment
of home-grown leaders. The Uzbeks I know that have contact with
Americans and American policies in the region (which include exchange
programs for students and teachers, medical aid and education, NGO
development and democracy promotion that ultimately undermines local
despots as it did in Georgia..) appreciate the US and its activities in
their countries. If Klevelman spoke their language and built a rapport
with the locals he would have seen the biggest, most beaming smiles
(full of gold teeth) when a foreigner speaks, not Russian, but Uzbek
(as a side note, you rarely see anyone but Americans speaking Uzbek in
Uzbekistan). He also would have heard things from Bukharan merchants
like “Why do the French lie?” and “Why are Germans mean?” alongside
“Australians and Americans are our favorites because they talk to us”
(and, well, we’re suckers too and spend a lot of money). If the Uzbeks
ever rise up against their leaders, don’t expect them to declare the US
enemy number one or to build a particularly religious state. Klevelman
is pretty much commiting the error of the naive who comment on
fundamentalism in Uzbekistan. He’s getting it confused with
Afghanistan. Fundamentalism is at the fringes of Uzbek society, and we
have the Soviets to thank for thoroughly secularizing Central Asians
who are now genuinely secular. Yes, the small numbers of
fundamentalists who join the IMU or HT do hold America accountable for
allying with Karimov, but these groups aren’t about to become the
bogeyman that local regimes make them out to be. And, well, to be
honest, we have the Saudis to thank for these people anyway.
Like I said, more later (this weekend at the latest).

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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