Mulling the debate over US engagement with Uzbekistan, it is probably fair to say that both sides are disappointed that the other fails to accept what seem to be glaringly obvious facts. The result seems to be that there’s a lot of talk past each other. I hope it’s fair to characterize the two sides of this debate as respectively emphasizing policy and principles. Critics like Russell Zanca, Andrew Stroehlein, and Steve Swerdlow, to name just a few, do argue that there are negative policy outcomes to be had in the Obama administration’s current policy of engagement with Uzbekistan. However, the foundation of the argument as I read it is that Uzbekistan’s government abuses its people and that we should have no part of it.
Rather than rehash disagreements over the assumptions and evidence for these various positions, this post is intended simply as a question. What do the critics of the administration’s engagement policy think the US (or EU or both) policy toward Uzbekistan should be? I don’t want to be overly prescriptive with considerations that I think should be taken into account, but I do believe that the presence of US troops and enormous quantities of US equipment that cannot stay behind in Afghanistan, regardless of one’s position on what the course of the war should be, is something that needs to be considered.
There’s no “gotcha,” trick, or argument intended here. I found it useful to make more explicit some of my positions and principles in some comments the other day, and I think this would be a useful exercise, at least for me, if anyone wants to play ball. There’s a gulf between policy, activism, and academia that probably will always exist, but I think that at least on this question, there’s an opportunity to push a little closer.