Policies & Principles

by Nathan Hamm on 10/26/2011 · 1 comment

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.


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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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{ 1 comment }

R. Phillips October 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Nathan, it’s great to have principles but in the grand scheme of things, pragmatism is called for. There is such a thing as cutting off our own noses to spite our faces. Two points:

1) We currently NEED decent relationships with the Central Asian states because – well – Afghanistan is land-locked and we have no other way in or out. The only way to accomplish that without cooperation would be to launch yet another war for the express purpose of blazing a path from Afghanistan to the sea in whichever country best suits for that. Not a real great alternative! So – cooperation it must be.

2) I agree with Clinton’s recent statement that when we do not engage at all with distasteful regimes, we lose a lot of opportunities for influence, and that opens the door for our opponents to wield their influence instead. Look at China in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, for example, handing out assistance and military equipment like party favors everywhere that we impose restrictions on the same.

Why engage with some regimes and not others? Well – back to Point #1.

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