Since we’re going that direction and all…

by Nathan Hamm on 5/31/2005 · 9 comments

Since Tim wants to more or less mock my interest in a policy discussion in favor of what looks to me like a political catfight, why should I let what was turning into a rather long response to his latest comment languish in my comments section?

Because hey, if Tim’s going to be a broken record, I might as well try it out too. When am I going to get some kind of explanation for what the value of making a stink of democratizing Uzbekistan is at this point? I did, after all, ask some questions in direct response to Tim 11 days ago.

If my experience is worth anything, democracy’s not a first-order concern for the vast majority of Uzbeks. They want more of it, but respecting their right to make a living and not have the state breathing down their necks is something they’ve always struck me as much more concerned about (to the bizarre extent that many strong critics of Karimov don’t want to see him go because the country has–seemed if not actually been–very stable during his tenure).

The “Oh, for shame, reality isn’t living up to rhetoric” schtick wears thin rather quickly no matter who is doing it. And when there’s nothing constructive, or at least some kind of acknowledgement that the issue might not be so easy, the schtick wears out its welcome even faster.

This is root cause #1 why the shredded remains of Nathan’s Democratic voter registration card is decomposing wherever it is Philadelphia garbage ends up. I just kind of figured that a party in which most members showed more concern for scoring political points than positing an alternative wasn’t where I needed to be.

Not that the criticism is without warrant. Sure, I’d love for Bush to talk about democracy and Uzbekistan. It would be super. I’m just not convinced it would do more good than harm to our increasingly slim chances of coming up with a policy that does work.

I think I’ve been a fairly consistent proponent of democratization. But I’m also fairly certain that I’ve rarely, if ever, brought up something I told Curzon and Joe which more or less went, “Ya, democratization is great, but that doesn’t mean you should be a fucking moron about it.”

Part of not being a moron is dealing with the facts. And, I just don’t see that there are millions of Uzbek ears waiting and waiting and waiting for a word about democracy from President Bush. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I do think that we have a chance at doing good for Uzbeks if we’re willing to accept much less than perfection.

But, hey, maybe I’m reading you wrong Tim. If you think we should throw in the towel on this one, fine. I disagree, but I can understand it at least. If that’s the case, then just say it. Because I still don’t know what it is you want to achieve.

Unless… And this strikes me as a distinct possibility from the way you’re going about writing this stuff. Maybe you’re more interested in making Bush look immoral or hypocritical than in talking about what US policy towards Uzbekistan should be.

Maybe I’ve misread you and I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Hell, you don’t even need to offer up an alternative. In fact, if you’re not going to, make it clear. I don’t blog about US politics for a reason and I’m not the least bit interested in being dragged into doing so under the guise of a Central Asia discussion. I don’t have time to waste on juvenile political mudslinging (well, most of the time anyway). If you’re really serious and really trying to make a point, it would impress me if you at the very least came off as at least half as concerned with determining the best reaction to the Andijon massacre is for the long-term as you are with criticizing Bush.

P.S. My feeling on the idea of an investigation that you find so laughable is that it serves only as a means to an end. Right now the Uzbek government is in the position of saying that it’s their word against the world’s and the world wasn’t there. Would a Red Cross investigation get to the absolute bottom of things? Probably not, but it would even the playing field a little bit and further weaken the Uzbek government’s position (plus it would be an account coming from a party with much less of an interest than the Uzbek government and opposition activists have). It’s an intermediate step Tim. We can’t have everything all at once.

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– 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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Curzon June 1, 2005 at 3:32 am

This is a pretty good summary of your previous arguments, and you’re totally right. It takes non-partisan (biased! but non-partisan) bloggers to have worthwhile debates about the legitimacy of partisan organizations. Tim describes himself is “irrelevant Democrat blogger guy.” Is it any surprise he criticizes Mr. Bush? Of course not. Indeed, he would most likely criticize Mr. Bush no matter what he did. Remember that article from Iglesias (?) back in February: “It’s important we be careful not to give Bush any credit for Kyrgyzstan!” Who takes these people seriously? Answer: only their fellow die-hards.

Nathan June 1, 2005 at 5:54 am

Well, I should mention that I do like Tim and take him more seriously than I do some partisans.

Tim Russo June 1, 2005 at 8:31 am

Nice response, Nathan. Couple points.

To accuse me of partisanship on this issue is a bit odd. I’ve been and still am a strong supporter of the Bush democracy doctrine. That support causes me a great deal of consternation in my own party.

The alternative I offer is, in fact, the stated Bush doctrine. I don’t think I need to state it, because Bush states it every single moment he takes breath. Except on Uzbekistan. Bush, Rice, et all, make a great flourish of marching into even Moscow (Moscow!) and talking their game. How they can clam up when the shit hits the fan in Uzbekistan, and call on some NGO to do an investigation, is simply beyond my comprehension.

Pointing this out is not political point-scoring. If a Democrat (like myself) is going to support a Republican on this policy, the more that Republican looks opportunistic and hypocritical, the harder it is for any Democrat, let alone one with a track record on democracy development, to support him.

I’ll repeat – the alternative to current Uzbekistan policy is stated Bush democracy doctrine. That seems easy enough.

Nathan June 1, 2005 at 8:35 am

Well as far as I understand the Bush doctrine, it’s talking about and promoting democracy. I’m not sure that means it needs to be done at all times and in every instance. I think this reveals the weakness of the policy–it’s hard to come up with actions to match the rhetoric in tough situations.

And all I gotta say about the point-scoring is the way you’re making your point and all…

I am a nuance-fetishist after all 🙂

upyernoz June 1, 2005 at 8:50 am

If my experience is worth anything, democracy’s not a first-order concern for the vast majority of Uzbeks.

well, yes and no (at least in my even more limited experience). a bunch of uzbeks i was talking to told me they wanted democracy. but when i asked them what they meant, it looks like what they really wanted was prosperity–they talked more about living standards than elections.

Nathan June 1, 2005 at 8:53 am

Ya, second or third maybe, but it’s prosperity and stability they always struck me as most worried about.

Tim Russo June 1, 2005 at 9:04 am

If the doctrine is simply talking about democracy, Bush hasn’t even met that test on Uzbekistan.

Nathan June 1, 2005 at 9:07 am

You’re right.

But as far as doing stuff, we have been, pretty quietly.

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