Feelgood Foreign Policy? (Updated)

by Nathan Hamm on 10/12/2005 · 5 comments

Justin Logan appears to think the only reason why we might be liking Rice’s statements on Uzbekistan is because of how it makes us feel.

I would hope that it’s abundantly clear from my archives that the last thing I seek in foreign policy is emotional satisfaction. And while Justin clearly implies that’s what I’m looking for, I would certainly hope (and am inclined to believe) that Laurence does not think I am seeking that.

So as long as we are in this territory, let me suggest that as opposed to our supposed moral satisfaction, the driving force in Mr. Logan’s conception of foreign policy is meekness. Because obviously there’s no other possible suggestion for criticism of Rice’s statements on Uzbekistan and US policy in the region. And how else to synthesize a don’t get in bed with them stance with a don’t criticize them when they accuse you of funding an Islamic uprising in their country stance?

No other possible explanation. As long as foreign policy ends up showing the United States on its belly. Because really, that’s what it’s all about.

Of course…

Such silly exaggerations wouldn’t be necessary if there were, you know, an actual critique of the foreign policy other than saying it’s too moralizing. (Which is kind of absurd to say about a position that amounts to “We’re not going to have anything to do with them so long as things remain the same” policy.)

I am also confused where all this gnashing and wailing about Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan is coming from. Dr. Rice did say in the stories I linked that Kazakhstan needs to improve. She recognized that Kyrgyzstan isn’t “there” yet. As far from perfect as they are, neither is as stubborn in its refusal to implement reforms. And really, I expect that US policy will favor economic and legislative reforms in Kazakhstan well before insisting that all be perfect in the civil and political rights realm. (Hell, if Uzbekistan had delivered there, we’d probably have a much better relationship with them and Andijon very well might not have happened.)

One might be tempted to think that Justin would favor such a policy approach.


Justin has responded. I’ll try to be brief in my response.

  1. I don’t think events in Kyrgyzstan are particularly encouraging. I think there were some good reasons to be happy for the protests against Akayev, but I was never thoroughly optimistic about the situation. I agree that the results have been negligible at best. And I also agree that forcing democracy where there aren’t institutions to support it is a bad idea. Good thing we aren’t doing that, right? (I mean, we do all agree that the Kyrgyz have free will and that the protest leaders used democratic rhetoric, right?) Our democratization policies do pay attention to the values of institutions. I’m not saying we necessarily do a great job at it, but our government is apparently sufficiently of the opinion that democracy cannot and should not be delivered overnight that all manner of folks weep and gnash about failing to immediately make reality out of an ideal.
  2. I wouldn’t call it meekness either. Just for effect and because someone else actually accused me of being overly moralistic recently. (Happened to be a lefty, so it came as a surprise.) But, let’s narrow the terms to Uzbekistan. Laurence’s comment was excessively broadly worded, but we are talking about Uzbekistan. We no longer have a broad relationship with Uzbekistan. So Justin’s got that one delivered. And as far as the administration is signalling, the new policy isn’t a moral crusade against Uzbekistan. Reporters salivated at the Page Sixesque dimension of the US snubbing Uzbekistan. They got an answer.
  3. “National interest” is a quite nebulous concept. For example, I think it is in our national interest to maintain an image of credibility and strength. Therefore, when Uzbekistan decides a couple days (before we’ve said much one way or the other on the matter) after it’s shot down a few hundred people in the streets that all signs point to the US seeking to build an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia and then follow it up with a going-on five month campaign in the press listing every last detail of how wicked we are, then hell yeah it’s in our interest to fire back, treat them as irrelevant to our needs, and turn them into a pariah. Further, I think it’s in our national interest to encourage the integration of newish states into the (*cough* US-dominated *cough*) international system. Additionally, it is in our interest that these states–especially in the Muslim world–build institutions that make them less brittle. Their collapses do present actual security threats to us nowadays.
  4. To kind of extend the last point, of the a or b, at the bottom of Justin’s post, it’s really neither. I don’t think democratization is vital to our national interest, but it’s worth promoting when we can. It costs fairly little, and as I said above I do think that the short term instability that it can create is worth the long term stability it is likely to create. (And, it’s hard to argue that US-supported printing presses, for example, are a more fundamental cause of social unrest than state repression.)

Though other issues have been getting all the press, I’m sure Justin will be glad to know that security issues are a major component of Rice’s trip. And, I’m sure he’s happy that she made a token visit to Pakistan.

OK, that wasn’t so short, but there it is for what it’s worth.

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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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Brian October 12, 2005 at 12:41 pm

Laurence and Justin are acting like we were the ones pushing Uzbekistan away. It seems pretty clear that even before Andijan, Uzbekistan was gradually distancing itself from the USA and Europe. Right now, Uzbekistan has cooled to the US so much that short of sanctions, we really don’t have much clout in Tashkent anyway.

So does that mean Rice should just keep her mouth shut? That the state department should just wring their hands and say “Can’t we still be friends?” No way – and it has nothing to do with feeling good. Many people, including me, have always considered the inconsistencies in America’s foreign policy as a weakness.

Trying to isolate Uzbekistan for killing hundreds of its own people, lying about it (and blaming the USA), strangling its ecnonomy and destroying all political opposition certainly won’t remove inconsistancy in American foreign policy, but it’s a step in the right direction! Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and (to a lesser extent) Tajikistan certainly have huge problems, but they have one thing that Uzbekistan doesn’t have at the moment: hope.

Denzil Uz October 12, 2005 at 11:02 pm

Dear Nathan,
I can’t object what you wrote in point 3, because it proves my conviction – what we have now in the Central Asia is a rude Realpolitik. As soon as global power went this way, what else left for the regional ones?! Moreover, relations here never reached the “nebulous” post-industrial level – it couldn’t, when under the screen of democratization rhetoric we always hope to see “coinciding interests”..
That’s why I understand when you write that democratization isn’t so vital, but it worth to be promoted (for the national interests, of course). But bit unsure that “the short term instability that it can create is worth the long term stability it is likely to create” – LIKELY means another socio-political experiment? like it occurred in Tajikistan, Yugoslavia, etc.? Hmm…
And I agree with you that economic development matters more for the Central Asian stability than civil and political reforms (if you, of course, mean that – forgive me for being a bit “broad”). And from this point –

Dear Brian,
I do understand your emotional stance, but like it or not – hope is always there. Perhaps some fellow Americans get hopeless with Uzbekistan, but it seems strange when at the same time they talk about Iraqis or Afghans as “nations full of hopes”. Excuse me for such comparison, but “trying to isolate Uzbekistan as step in the right direction” doesn’t mean that people have no other hopes. Your problem (probably) is to regard the regional paradigm as a field activity of the US and “few other bigs”, for whom CA states just the chess-pieces. You can’t accept the possibility of these pieces to play their own game together and with common hopes.
Nathan, imho, hinted to one of these hopes – economic cooperation. I already hear scornful sniffs, but for me the perspectives of formation of the common customs zone under ЕврАзЭС make more sound..
And as soon as we consider American-Uzbek relations from geometrical point of view – how deep do you think relations with Kazakhstan would go before “distancing axiom” will make its job?

brian October 12, 2005 at 11:29 pm

I’m mainly talking about the the hope that Uzbeks have for their own country. Based on what I have heard from rather average people in Uzbekistan, there’s very little hope people have for the future of their own country right now.

david_walther October 13, 2005 at 5:17 am

I agree the the common customs zone could provide a lot of hope for Uzbeks in particular, whose economy is punished by exremely high tarriffs and very narrow domestic production (cotton products and shitty little cars)… but the hitch to that is, unless something has changed, Uzbekistan isn’t planning on joining said economic zone. Has that opinion changed? I thought I just read that as of the summit in Petersburg last week, Uzbekistan was still out.

Matt W October 13, 2005 at 5:18 am

Of course, a REAL feel-good foreign policy would involve us vacating the base by marching everyone North via Tashkent… Not do anything, just give them a good scare. THAT would feel good. Comparatively, responding to their propaganda campaign against us in a restrained way and looking to other countries in the region that are less completely abusive of their citizens for allies doesn’t feel all that great.

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