Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Democracy and the War on Terror (US, World)

The shocking reports that up to 500 protesters have been killed by government soldiers in Uzbekistan shines the spotlight on a situation which could have been Exhibit A in Bush's "stop terrorism by spreading democracy" strategy, but is looking more like Exhibit A in his foreign policy hypocrisy file (though Bush's relationship Pakistani President Pervez "I dissolved parliament and then got given fancy new planes" Musharraf might fight for top honours here).

Uzbekistan under President Islam Karimov has been teetering on the brink of an absolute dictatorship for a number of years. Its position in the heart of central Asia, bordering Afghanistan, and the presence of a number of Islamist groups also put it on the "front lines" of the war on terror. The increasingly authoritarian government has justified its consolidation of power by citing security concerns and the Bush administration has acquiesced in this by silencing state department critics of the abuses and providing money and support to the government in exchange for allowing the US to build a military base in the nation:

In exchange for U.S. use of an isolated air base in southern Uzbekistan, Karimov has received hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance and a free ride on human rights and economic reform... [T]he past year has seen the Karimov government's repression and economic mismanagement worsen. The response from Washington has been silence and more money. (source)


The recent protests, and other incidents of unrest over the past few months, have been reactions against authoritarian government actions, most recently the arrest of local businessmen on allegedly trumped up terrorism charges.

Due to the unrest and resentment of the government and its US allies, the country is in danger of becoming a breeding ground for terrorists. As the previously linked article notes:

But, far from helping in the fight against terrorism, this support is likely to spawn new extremists... while it is difficult to demonstrate links between terrorism and poverty or education, there is a close correlation between countries producing terrorists and having a poor record of political rights and civil liberties.


The foreign policy idea that Bush has been rhetorically outlining over the past few years - that security from terrorism in the West can best be achieved by promoting democracy throughout the Middle East - is a powerful, liberal, argument. Unfortunately it seems that the closer a country is to the war on terror the less the argument is applied (Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia) while it is applied most strongly, rhetorically and militarily, to countries on the periphery (Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt). Hypocrisy is nothing new in US foreign policy, it's a shame Bush seems to be following in this ignoble tradition.

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