Here at Registan.net, we’ve almost made it a sport to poke fun—sometimes gently, sometimes not—at the ridiculous antics of the family members of the Former Soviet Union states. It should come as no surprise that many of the dynasties currently choking Central Asia are, in fact, rotten to the core… though, as Steve LeVine points out, the Wikileaks cables give us some depressingly precise details:
The cable, sent January 27 by Charge Donald Lu, is an impressive profile of Aliyeva. One section relates a story regarding her “substantial cosmetic surgery.” During a 2008 visit to Baku by Lynne Cheney, the wife of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the youthful-looking Aliyeva and her two daughters mingled with White House, U.S. embassy and security staff while they awaited the arrival of the Cheney vehicle. “Which one of those is the mother?” a puzzled U.S. Secret Service agent asked of his colleagues, referring to the three Aliyeva women. No one could figure it out on sight, before one finally decided, “Well, logically the mother would probably stand in the middle.” On the other hand, Lu found a downside to the facelift: “On television, in photos, and in person, she appears unable to show a full range of facial expression.”
Oh, snaps. Steve goes on to detail some digs taken by Tashkent-based diplomats at our favorite social punching bag, Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator, Islam Karimov. It’s all pretty standard stuff—outrageous acts of vanity, hints and the occasional outright example of shocking thuggery propping it up, floating on a veritable sea of corrupt-to-the-core business deals enriching single families at the expense of their entire countries.
It’s easy to go overboard with this stuff. Yes, these are bad people—not just the worst sort of tacky post-Soviet new money but capricious, petty, and even violent criminals in many cases. But there’s no need to exaggerate, which is all too easy to do if you’re not careful. For example, Der Spiegel ran a story similar to Steve’s, claiming to detail shocking examples of American-coddled excesses in places like Kazakhstan. The problem, as Christian Bleuer notes, is that big chunks of it are, in essence, faked.
Let’s not forget the U.S. isn’t the only country actively trying to secure its access and influence in the region. The Wikileaks cables also detail French companies (abetted by French diplomats) indulging the excesses of Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, for example (whose excesses are, sadly, not so different from his predecessor’s). So America, while possibly the most visible, is not the only Western country feeding into the familial excesses of Central Asia.
So yes, let us wring our hands that foreign policy involves dealing with bad people; but please—maintain a little perspective too.
(Before you even start: this does not prove the “value” of Wikileaks. None of this is new, at all, for long-time watchers. All Wikileaks provides is a convenient hook for talking about it again. Nothing more, nothing less.)