Saturday, August 06, 2005

Uzbek refugees and base closings

Thanks goes to my dad for alerting me to this story (don't know how I managed to miss it).

As the article says, the airlifting of 439 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan to Timisoara, Romania was a great example of the U.S. putting human rights ahead of military convenience.

Although the operation was a UN one, believe it or not, for once, U.S. diplomacy played a big role in getting the refugees out of Kyrgyzstan.

Immediately after the refugees (deemed Islamic militants and terrorists by Uzbekistan's president Karimov) were sent to Romania, Uzbekistan gave the U.S. its eviction notice for its military bases.

Unlike the majority of the press and the international community, however, I'm actually not that surprised by the U.S.'s concern for Uzbek human rights. Despite the cynicism of the West towards U.S. intentions in Central Asia, the Uzbeks I have encountered (although few and far between) have expressed positive feelings about U.S. concerns regarding human rights there. The real question is why would the U.S. jeopardize its military installations.

Simple - Uzbekistan isn't worth that much to the U.S. Sure, not having the bases will make operations in Afghanistan a bit harder. But how much of our attention is focused on Afghanistan? More than that - having bases in a country where uprisings are brutally suppressed by a ruthless dictator could bring more questions about where the U.S. priorities vis-a-vis democracy lie. Shouldn't we be doing something to bring democracy to Uzbekistan? So we help facilitate the transport of refugees, knowing that we'll get kicked out, and get rid of another possibly questionable situation. (Or is that just my cynicism talking?)

Uzbekistan doesn't have much the U.S. needs. It's a rough environment, unfamiliar, remote and with few of the amenities we're used to. It's under the control of a dictator, but more importantly, it is within Russia's sphere of influence. And, well, Russia isn't our enemy anymore, right? Vladi-merr (as el presidente likes to call him) is our buddy. So why step on his toes? Particularly when we're really not getting that much in return. Let's do a good deed (and it truly was a good deed to facilitate the removal of the refugees from Kyrgyzstan) and get kicked out gracefully, boost our international reputation, please our buddy Vladi-merr, save money on a remote, expensive base, and divert needed resources elsewhere.

Now that's what I call a good move on the part of the intelligence community. Kudos to those who made the necessary extrapolations in this case - brilliantly executed, utterly unreproachable (if you still believe that ANY government really cares about human rights in remote locations then you're seriously naive), and a hopeful sign that maybe the administration is finally listening to its intelligence analysts rather than selectively adopting unverified information to base its actions on.

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