Given the choice between
a) Easing the pressure on the Uzbek government on human rights; or
b) Losing access to an important air base in Uzbekistan,
the Bush administration has done the latter.
That is: for whatever reason, it has done the right thing. Apparently because of a strain in relations caused by the Andijan massacre in May, the Uzbek regime has given the US 180 days to clear out.
The eviction, administration officials say, will be costly and inconvenient when it comes to US operations in Afghanistan.
The eviction notice came four days before a senior State Department official was to arrive in Tashkent for talks with the government of President Islam Karimov. The relationship has been increasingly tense since bloody protests in the province of Andijan in May, the worst unrest since Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union.
Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns was going to pressure Tashkent to allow an international investigation into the Andijan protests, which human rights groups and three U.S. senators who met with eyewitnesses said killed about 500 people. Burns was also going to warn the government, one of the most authoritarian in the Islamic world, to open up politically — or risk the kind of upheavals witnessed recently in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, U.S. officials said.
Uzbekistan has been widely viewed as an important test for the Bush administration — and whether the anti-terrorism efforts or promotion of democracy takes priority. “We all knew basically that if we really wanted to keep access to the base, the way to do it was to shut up about democracy and turn a blind eye to the refugees,” said the senior official, on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy. “We could have saved the base if we had wanted.”
The Bush administration has been far from consistent when it comes to backing up its rhetorical support for democracy with hard-nosed action– especially toward regimes that have served US interests. This time it seems human rights have trumped immediate strategic/military considerations.
Credit where credit is due?
David T adds: There’s an article on this development on the Popinjays’ website.
And former British Ambassador, Craig Murray, provides his own take on events in the comments thread below.
Update: As commenter Nathan suggests, now that the Uzbek regime has taken a brave stand against US imperialism by evicting the warmongers and their machinery of death, it can only be a matter of time before before some on the far Left start saying nice things about Karimov and company. Please keep an eye out for examples and email me the links.