by Nathan Hamm on 5/18/2005

A number of blogs have commented on Uzbekistan over the last couple days.

Daniel Drezner has posts his thoughts. Instapundit had two posts on Uzbekistan yesterday in which you’ll not only find Glenn’s opinion, but links to many other sites. Tim Russo responded to the first of Glenn’s two posts. Michael Totten says we should “dump Karimov,” and a later post by Tim seems to be saying the same thing. I say “seems to” because I can’t tell specifically what Tim or Michael are calling for. I don’t think either wants us to entirely sever relations with Uzbekistan and I get the impression the inter-governmental relationship is extremely poor at higher levels.

Much of the discussion I’ve read says that we should give more support for democracy in Uzbekistan. The assumption seems to be that we aren’t doing anything or enough or that our relationship is not sufficiently focused on human rights issues. Uzbekistan is a rarely-discussed topic in the blogosphere, and when it is discussed, it is usually to argue that Bush’s democratization policy is hypocritical or hollow.

There have been, of course, many such posts and columns in recent days. So many and so unoriginal that it’s not even worth finding any to link to. Gregory Djerejian deals with these “predictable narratives.” He points out that Uzbekistan is an extremely difficult environment for democratization work, and that the US is doing more than it is believed to be doing. I would add that many seem to totally misunderstand what kinds of things actually get support (or what is actually smart to support) with democratization dollars. He also says that the situation demands a high-level response:

Business as usual now, and this includes sending in Assistant Secretaries to rap knuckles, would not be good enough.

No, immediate regime change isn’t an option. But should a judicious investigation show that command authorization allowed for the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians–a fundamental reappraisal of our Uzbek policy will certainly be required.

My thoughts are at the end of this article I wrote for openDemocracy. To expand on it a little bit, I think that the US can make an enormous improvement to its Uzbekistan policy by ensuring message control across all agencies. I’m not the least bit concerned that the Pentagon gave river patrol boats worth $20 million dollars last year (after all, it’s hard to use them against the Uzbek people). I am upset that the Pentagon did so soon after the State Department decided to cut all direct aid to the Uzbek government. We can’t send mixed signals.

Policymakers also need to wake up to how the Karshi-Khanabad airbase can be used to achieve more than just defense goals. As close as Uzbekistan has been to Russia lately, and as receptive to warmer relations with Beijing as it has been, the Uzbek government is still far from eager to have the former master or the aspiring one too close. There’s something to be said for a no-b.s. discussion with Uzbekistan’s government about how much they value us as a partner. We shouldn’t have to bear all the costs in the relationship. Having US troops in Uzbekistan and participating in training programs with western militaries gives the Uzbek government a leg up in its relations with Russia and enhances its regional power. There’s no reason that Karimov should be getting that for free.

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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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