Really, Josh?

by Nathan Hamm on 7/8/2004 · 6 comments

Gregory Djerejian thoroughly critiques one of Josh Marshall’s latests. I highly reccomend it as I feel it does a superb job of going after the consequences of a superficial understanding of US policy in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Inaccuracies indeed, Gregory.

I don’t want to repeat Gregory on Georgia. He’s right–the Rose Revolution is something the US can take a huge chunk of credit for. Let me just add that back in November, Georgians knew what Josh doesn’t (look for the “thank journalists” link).

From TPM,

In Central Asia the administration has strengthened ties with coalescing autocracies like Uzbekistan, supporting and facilitating the intensification of domestic repression. No one even disputes this.

Really? Most of the much more qualified Central Asia hands at the CSCE hearing would. Martha Brill Olcott is pretty clear on the shaky, but visible improvement of the situation.

Although at first glance it may seem simple, the question of whether or not Uzbekistan has made progress in human rights is really a very complex and highly subjective one, particularly if the conclusion reached determines whether or not Uzbekistan is barred from receiving congressionally-allocated U.S. foreign assistance funds.

The conclusion one reaches very much depends upon the chair on which one is sitting.

I will not sit before you and pretend that Uzbekistan has a human rights record worthy of either praise or emulation. Certainly no non-partisan observer of the situation in that country would claim either to be the case.

Uzbekistan is quite obviously not a democratic country, nor is it not progressing towards becoming a democracy in what I would see as a satisfactory pace. I say that as a professional observer of Central Asia and as a life-long student of political development more generally.

In my opinion, the human rights situation in the country is improving slowly, and the improvement is an uneven one.

If Josh wants specific examples, he can read the whole testimony.

Part of me would love to get into the whole “show me the money” debate on US aid, but I tire of it. It’s very hard to criticize where the aid is going in Uzbekistan if you understand the structural problems of the Uzbek government and the need for someone to help them overcome them. NGOs are not going to be too effective in improving certain aspects the police and judicial systems, for example. Having our government involved in teaching Uzbek detectives investigative techniques (to decrease the need for confessions gained through torture to prove a suspect’s guilt) cannot fairly be called “supporting and facilitating the intensification of domestic repression.” Consider further that only $20 million of the money we give to Uzbekistan is direct aid, and the case gets even shakier.

I would love to know what Josh is calling for. He does acknowledge that the decisions made in the cases he covers, of which Uzbekistan is just one, are not necessarily the wrong ones–a glimmer of him admitting that a hit-and-run criticism devoid of context is a meaningless exercise.

I think that this is the heart of his prescription,

Remember, the key here is the advancement of democracy not only as a good thing, a humanitarian gesture, a form of state-imposed meta-philanthropy, but as a way of advancing American national security. But for that to mean anything one would have to point to cases where we, or in this case, the administration made short-term geopolitical sacrifices to advance our longterm interest in democratization.

And I cannot think of a single case whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Russia or China or Uzbekistan or anywhere where that has happened.

I think what he doesn’t realize is that this is a case where we can have our cake and eat it too–if we play our cards right. The security concerns that we share with Uzbekistan can be a powerful lever to gain the access needed to support democratization. That was the case in Georgia. And that case also taught us that the change doesn’t happen overnight. I’d go further and argue that we shouldn’t push too hard for the people to rise up at all. What the Georgians initiated is something we helped build. They took the risk and we supported them. Taking the initiative, they are building a more legitimate and stable government than we could if we took the lead.

Josh’s final point–that Bush foreign policy isn’t all that different from Clinton’s and potentially Kerry’s–is one I partially agree with. Bush’s Caucasus policy was largely a continuation of Clinton’s. The Central Asia policy is different, but partially due to circumstances. I do have to point out importance of rhetoric in diplomacy and foreign policy. And here, Bush stands apart from Clinton and Kerry. In the former Soviet Union at least, Bush’s State Department has been much more vocal and active in support of democracy than Clinton’s or than Kerry’s would be (I’m extrapolating from his general tone–the cautious realism of Bush I). Josh seems though, to say that Bush’s rhetoric is empty because he appears not to have followed through. What is the measure though? How aggressive should he be? Is the “Human Rights Watch freak-out” the way to go or is it the Georgia method (which Josh thinks we had no hand in)?

The best thing that the State Department can do is stay on course in the region–despite the pundits and critics. Engagement is making things better and many of the programs supported by US aid are laying the groundwork for a democratic tomorrow. It may be a decade or more in coming, but the present course is paying dividends.

UPDATE: I was thinking about this a little more and my central question to Josh would be, “How do you measure that democratization is a priority for the Bush administration?” I think that he, rather understandably, is using results as the measure. I don’t think though, that any serious person who knows their foreign policy would say that you are going to see the end result of diplomatic democratization initiatives within three years. It’s not only an unfair expectation, it’s an irresponsible way to think when you are coming up with policy.

I firmly believe it’s a choice between engagement or turning our backs. I don’t like where Josh leads us. Bush hasn’t made all the decisions I would make or built the results I would hope for, but it’s generally the right direction.

Many others are weighing in on the piece too.

David Adesnik chimes in. Pretty much all I have to say is that I don’t agree that Bush “embraces dictators in Russia and Central Asia” beyond the diplomatic ass-chapping that normally goes on in public statements. The lower level officials have been pretty blunt in public not only in the US, but in Uzbekistan.

Both Robert Tagorda and Dan Drezner give particular cases that show Josh is misguided. Tagorda has a follow-up post on how the debate is framed.

One of the commenters to Joe Katzman’s post makes a point similar to mine about the similarities between Bush & Clinton foreign policy.

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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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praktike July 8, 2004 at 12:36 pm

I think this is a pretty good critique of Marshall’s argument. He’s kind of a lightweight I think; better at developing Democratic talking points than conducting serious analysis.

Until you and Laurence took me a little bit more in depth, I had largely been in agreement with Josh regarding Uzbekistan. I still have some concerns about IMET, but I’m open to more persuasion on that score. And I have to agree that US help is far superior to the Russian variety.

And you’re certainly right to suggest that there is less of a difference between Clinton and Bush’s approach to foreign policy. So I would hope that, as I say here, Kerry and his team aren’t just posturing for campaign kudos.

Nathan July 8, 2004 at 1:20 pm

I think that the Russia/US comparison is important–striking at my larger interest in putting foreign policy debates into a broad, rather than a specific, context.

I have ideas about IMET bouncing around in my head–mostly that a strong and competent military with a large and confident mid-officer corps is a strong counterweight to overbearing military influence in a post-totalitarian situation. But, military dictatorship has never been a problem in post-Soviet states really.

I wish that I knew more about how the training was conducted so I could make a strong case for or against it.

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