Joining the orange, rose and tulip club

Uzbekistan is an anomaly: a Muslim country where the vast majority of the people support the U.S. It is because the U.S. was identified with opposition to the communists in the past and today supports democracy movements in that country and throughout Central Asia. But funding NGOs and bringing people to the U.S. for seminars is insufficient. The Uzbek dictator, Islam Karimov is a man who learned his business in the old Soviet school. He is unenthusiastic about democracy and doesn’t shy away from using deadly force. We can talk at him, but he understands only sterner measures.

Uzbekistan is a key ally in the war on terror and Karimov plays his trump card well and often. The problem is he is not a sincere ally in the war on terrorism - merely an opportunist using us to further his own corrupt agenda. We can't let him. The Uzbek people are our true friends - not their current leader - and if we must choose between a long oppressed people and a bloody dictator, I don't think it is a difficult choice.

Karimov claims Muslim extremists oppose him. He knows which of our buttons to push. Muslim extremists are certainly among his opponents, but most are just people who want to have a better life with more democracy and a freer market. The current crisis started when thousands demonstrated not about the abuse of a Koran, but against high taxes and restrictive state regulations. The danger is that oppression might drive these good citizens into the arms of the extremists.

We need Uzbekistan as an ally. That is true. The politics and priorities are complicated, but when in doubt we should make the choice consistent with our values of freedom, even if it seems a painful choice. The U.S. is not respected in the Middle East, where our policy until recently has been to do what was expedient to maintain existing relationships. We are appreciated in places like Poland, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan where we chose a higher, albeit harder, road.

Those who sacrifice freedom for stability deserve, and usually get, neither. We have a chance to be on the right side. We have rhetorically condemned the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians and deeply regret any loss of life. What would be regrettable is if that was all we do. Let's make sure we do more and help Uzbekistan join the orange, rose and tulip club.

Posted by Jack at May 17, 2005 9:08 PM