Who Really Cares What We Do in Central Asia?

by Joshua Foust on 4/14/2008 · 6 comments

The U.S Congress certainly doesn’t. Joshua Kucera attended a recent hearing, and lo and behold:

Washington’s deliberate approach on encouraging democratization in Central Asian states is bearing some fruit, a senior US diplomat contended during an April 8 congressional hearing.

In particular, reforms demanded of Kazakhstan in exchange for its chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010, and a bill that could impose sanctions on Uzbekistan, are pushing those countries to take positive steps toward more open societies, said Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state in the Bureau for South and Central Asian Affairs. He testified on April 8 before the House subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment…

Only two members [of Congress] showed up to the hearing: Eni Faleomavaega, the chair of the subcommittee and a Democrat from American Samoa, and Ruben Hinojosa, a Democrat from Texas. Both showed shaky knowledge of the region, mispronouncing the names of many of the countries in the region and frequently digressing on issues that Boucher said were outside of his portfolio, including missile defense in Europe, the possibility of a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing, and excessive profits of oil companies. Several ambassadors of Central Asian countries were in attendance for the 90-minute hearing.

Fantastic. Boucher has a wonderful history of white-washing the issues of the region, choosing instead to try to insulate some short-sighted policy choices rather than highlight the messy work that still needs to be done (just in January he was proclaiming Afghanistan a rip-roaring success story, and his years of being a useless DoS spokesman yielded hilarious pressers, however meaningless they may have been).

The idea that either Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan have proved the utility of Bush’s “democratization” policy is beyond laughable: just before being selected for their much-vaunted OSCE chairmanship, Nursultan Nazarbayev modified his country’s constitution to effectively remove all if not most opposition parties from Parliament. And Uzbekistan’s government remains as recalcitrant and horrifying as ever—with nary a change post-Andijon (save the standard minister-shuffling), there is no reason to think a bill in Congress would have any more impact that the EU’s embargo did.

What’s even worse than a political appointee spewing meaning-free and mildly deceptive drivel, however, is the Congressional turnout: how pathetic! Of the 13 members on the Subcommittee, only two could be bothered to show up. And they not only didn’t know the countries they were discussing, they wanted to talk about things beyond the purview of Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment like missile defense. Argh!

Of course, the incredible hubris of such an endeavor seems to have drifted past everyone. This is no surprise, given Congress’ passionate concern over baseball steroids. Notice the language: we demand reforms of Kazakhstan in exchange for something we didn’t grant; we demand Uzbekistan modify its stance or we’ll slap them on the wrist; we demand Afghanistan right itself without us having to demonstrate more than a child’s attention span toward the place. It is arrogance of the worst kind. We can barely be bothered to pronounce their names right whilst demanding they cater to our every whim. It is all stick and no carrot—unsurprising, given the Bush administration’s view of diplomacy and foreign relations. But this sort of attitude will eventually blow up in our faces.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Narcogen April 14, 2008 at 2:40 am

Boucher’s claim of reforms “demanded” in return for supporting Kazakhstan’s successful bid to chair OSCE is particularly laughable in view of President Nazarbayev’s recent speech denying that any such reforms are or ever could be required.

Laurence April 15, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Thanks for the post. I found video of the testimony here: Central Asia: An Overview

Laurence April 15, 2008 at 5:56 pm

That didn’t work, I think, I clicked and nothing happened for the popup, so here’s the URL: http://video.state.gov/?fr_story=96871058c616d0f4d13a3948bf5f5516f855eadf

Laurence April 15, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Also, I found this VOA TV broadcast on YouTube from March 12th on the improving US-Uzbek relationship, which may be of interest:

Laurence April 15, 2008 at 6:14 pm

OK, couldn’t embed that, either–has Boucher and another State Dept. official talking (with Uzbek translation voiceover) at this URL: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4944698365700773009&q=boucher+central+asia&total=1&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0&hl=en

Jamie Maddox April 16, 2008 at 11:04 am

Wow… this willful ignorance of Central Asia blowing up in our faces is an understatement to say the least. Good post, just makes my blood boil every time this crap comes up though.

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