We’re not sure what the coverage of current events in Uzbekistan is like in the US, but we haven’t heard much comment from the US government so far in the media to which we have access. Just a note of “concern” from the State Department. So in case you all aren’t aware, pro-government forces including soldiers and riot police seem to have killed over five hundred anti-autocracy protesters in Uzbekistan in the past couple of days. This is an event that should be roundly condemned by all parties.
From the perspective of US foreign policy, this is a problem. You see, Uzbekistan is a dictatorship led by an ex-Soviet named Islam Karimov. At the same time, the US maintains bases in Uzbekistan for use in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. For some time we have been able to pretend that Uzbekistani politics aren’t that bad, that the dictator may reform himself. After these recent events, such optimism seems misplaced.
These events bring to light a problem that US foreign policy has yet to address. It’s an old problem that we continue to find in places like Egypt, and explains our close relation to Saddam Hussein before 1990. You see, Islam Karimov says that he is protecting his country from Islamic radicals, even though available evidence suggests that fundamentalist militants comprise a small portion of the widespread anti-Karimov sentiment. It seems to us that Karimov is using our fear of Islamic fundamentalism to justify his increasingly brutal regime. If anyone else has a better interpretation, we’d like to hear it. What we really don’t want is a repeat of the Cold War, where “Islamic fundamentalism” becomes a code word that enables third world dictators to justify any excesses, just like communism used to be. We’d really like to avoid the creation of another Pinochet, another Ngo Dinh Diem, or another Soeharto. Our principled, pro-democracy foreign policy should compel us to be smarter than that.