by Nathan Hamm on 4/24/2006

elevate — v 1: give a promotion to or assign to a higher position; “John was kicked upstairs when a replacement was hired”; “Women tend not to advance in the major law firms”; “I got promoted after many years of hard work” [syn: promote, upgrade, advance, kick upstairs, raise] [ant: demote] 2: raise from a lower to a higher position; “Raise your hands”; “Lift a load” [syn: raise, lift, get up, bring up] [ant: lower] 3: raise in rank or condition; “The new law lifted many people from poverty” [syn: lift, raise]

Quoth Jackson Diehl in his latest column, which concerns Ilham Aliev’s visit to Washington.

With both Aliyev and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev planning elections last fall, Bush dispatched letters and senior envoys with a message: Hold an honest vote and you can “elevate our countries’ relations to a new strategic level.” The implicit converse was that, should they fail to deliver, there would be no special partnership — no military deals, no aid, no presidential visits to Washington.

Was that really the implicit message? The way I read it–based entirely off of the agreed-upon meaning of the verb “elevate”–the implicit converse if there is one is that there would be no elevation of relations in the event of a dirty vote. Threatening to abandon the relationship and spurning an ally [You know, those things columnists always say we don’t have enough of?] is the last thing any reasonable policymaker would have in mind when there are bigger fish to fry in the Caspian region. Also, I am not entirely convinced that inviting Aliev to Washington necessarily means that relations are not in a holding pattern.

Anyhow, the quotation to which Diehl refers comes from this October 20th speech delivered by Daniel Fried. The full quotation is as follows.

In 17 days, Azerbaijan has the opportunity to hold the most free and fair elections in the history of this country. Such an election could unleash the creative energy of the people of Azerbaijan, lay the foundation for long-term stability, and elevate Azerbaijan’s relations with the United States and the Euroatlantic community to a new level.

I understand that to be the offer of a carrot and not the threat of a stick that, if brought down, would strike away the following.

On our security cooperation, the United States is deeply, deeply grateful for Azerbaijan’s contributions to fighting terrorism. We are grateful for Azerbaijan’s troop contributions in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Cooperation on Caspian maritime security, de-mining, and border security are all essential pieces of regional security and our cooperation.

Diehl calls Aliev’s White House visit a “tipping point” that signals the Bush administration has turned away from its efforts to promote democracy. He suggests that the United States props up Aliev’s government. He also says that Azerbaijan’s is the kind of government that spawns Islamist extremism. Seems to me that it would do fine without US backing and that the most powerful forces it creates that opposes it are pro-Western democracy activists.

Reading the rest of the piece leaves me wondering what Diehl’s point is. On the one hand, he seems quite convinced our relationship with Azerbaijan (and Kazakhstan to boot) is a very bad thing. Surely he wrote something about President Hu’s visit to the US recently then, right? Not for the Washington Post he didn’t… But he did write about Russia, energy, and democracy.

How to save democracy in Ukraine, and the chance it will someday spread back to Russia? As in the Middle East, the Bush administration faces some difficult choices. If pro-Western parties lead the next government — something that is far from certain — President Bush could press them to scrap the gas deal as a condition for taking the first step toward membership in NATO, a “membership action plan.” But that would probably lead to a new face-off between Ukraine and Putin, in which Kiev would require U.S. and European support — at a moment when those same allies are pleading for the Kremlin’s help with the Palestinians and Iran.

Or the administration could decide to sidestep Putin’s gas-fired imperialism, leaving a complicated issue to its present obscurity. The Ukrainians might eventually find a way to free themselves from Russia’s chokehold. But they also might allow one of the signal democratic breakthroughs of the Bush years to suffer a crippling reverse.

Difficult choices? Russia using energy is a threat to democratization? What’s going on here? All that seems consistent is that Diehl is wise and the Bush administration is not. But, that is the columnist’s trade I suppose.

Diehl does acknowledge that both Iran and the expansion of Russian influence into former Soviet states through energy deals are issues of great concern to the West that make the relationship with Azerbaijan important. I think he is still saying that the relationships with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are not worth maintaining. Diehl is a smart enough guy to acknowledge that interests compete. And one would hope that he understands that the failure to exhaust every last option to realize a foreign policy goal as quickly as possible does not equal abandoning those goals. So, it would be wonderful if he explained why the US should downgrade its relationship with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

(I should probably mention as an aside that I am also not entirely convinced that inviting Aliev to the White House is a great move unless there is something awfully big in the US-Azeri relationship in the offing.)

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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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