Remember a couple of months ago when President Bush declared the following?
“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe. In the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”
As cynical about Bush as I generally am, I did support his decision to oust the brutal regime in Iraq. And when he spoke of a new approach to foreign policy that would put freedom and democracy ahead of illusory “stability,” I actually was prepared to give him the benefit of my doubt.
An editorial in Sunday’s Washington Post– about the Bush administration’s indulgence of Ilham Aliyev’s brutal regime in Azerbaijan– was a cold slap of reality:
Azerbaijan… might look like a good place for President Bush to start implementing his frequently declared policy of “spreading freedom” to the world — and in particular the greater Middle East. Instead he is doing the opposite. The president and his top aides have embraced Mr. Aliyev, excused his fraud and ignored his human rights violations — not to mention reliable reports of his personal corruption. The administration waived congressional restrictions to grant Azerbaijan $3 million in military aid and is winding up to give still more. The Pentagon is talking with Azeri officials about the possible use of bases for U.S. operations. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Baku last month to confer with Mr. Aliyev. When asked about the electoral fraud, he replied: “The United States has a relationship with this country. We value it.” Said Mr. Aliyev proudly: “The United States is a strategic partner.”
Human Rights Watch has issued a report documenting a recent series of abuses by the Azerbaijani government, including “hundreds of arbitrary arrests, widespread beatings and torture, and politically motivated job dismissals of members and supporters of the opposition following the October 15 presidential election, which was widely condemned by the international community as fraudulent.”
Why am I reminded of Rumsfeld’s visits in the 1980s with a certain dictator in Baghdad?
Yes, I know a 60-year-old approach to foreign policy can’t turn on a dime. But why the kid gloves treatment with Azerbaijan? The Washington Post– which supported the Iraq war and can hardly be called Chomskyite– suggests that, yes, it’s all about oil:
Over the last decade Mr. Aliyev and his father [the previous president] granted billions in contracts to such companies as BP-Amoco, ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil. He also has supported a $3 billion pipeline that is to carry oil from the Caspian to a port in Turkey.
If Bush had no intention of keeping his grand promises to stop indulging undemocratic and corrupt regimes, he really shouldn’t have made those promises in the first place. This was the one area where I had some hope for the President; I really thought he “got it.”
He’s letting me down.