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.