2005/06/18

Uzbekistan teaches how the world works

Sometimes journalists don't cover something that seems obvious because it "has a low news value". Now, I don't agree with this policy but if they wanted to be consistent, an article titled "Uzbek Ministries in Crackdown Received U.S. Aid" would never have been printed in The New York Times.

Because anyone who knows anything about the USA's history of training other countries' militaries and the nature of Uzbekistan's government would simply assume that people who have studied under US direction would participate in atrocities. The very substance of that training, which generally runs under the euphemisms "counterinsurgency" or "counterterrorism", involves disproportionate use of violence and targetting of civilians.

Uzbekistan's "counterterrorism" unit Bars is the latest in a long line of US-trained special forces that have committed atrocities. From the brutal Atlacatl brigade in El Salvador, responsible for massacring whole villages, to Indonesia's elite Kopassus, which has abducted and murdered dissidents for 40 years, to countless others, American training has been put directly to use in committing terrible crimes. And this is in addition to the more general military, diplomatic, and economic aid the USA habitually provides to repressive governments.

The article is useful in documenting the deep ties America has forged with Uzbekistan over the past 15 years and the probable direct involvement of recipients of American training in the massacre of protesters in Andijon on 2005 May 13. But the journalists simply repeat the formulaic explanation for why the USA is working so closely with such a repressive government - Uzbekistan is a key ally in the war on terror. Yet as the article itself goes on to say, the USA-Uzbekistan relationship long predates 9/11 and the American attack on Afghanistan. And it remains unclear why the USA has established permanent military bases in the country even tho their original need - to base warplanes attacking neighboring Afghanistan - is long gone.

In fact, the American alliance with Uzbekistan has little to do with terrorism and much to do with the struggle for big-power control in the key region of Central Asia. By taking the Afghanistan war as an excuse to establish military positions thruout the region, the USA not only pushed back Russia's traditional sphere of influence and made a step toward preventing the possible expansion of China's, it also moved to gain control of the major energy resources of Central Asia. Uzbekistan, tho its energy resources are much smaller than those of its neighbors, has the largest economy, the largest population, and the greatest military potential of any of them. It is an important prize, and the post-9/11 outright alliance with Uzbekistan represents a huge step forward for the American strategy of surrounding both Russia and China with client states and military bases.

It's important to go beyond the easy partisan points to be had from criticizing Bush's hypocrisy in aiding Uzbek autocrat Islam Karimov while earnestly condemning human rights violations committed by less docile rulers. Only by understanding the structural roots of military aid to despots - something that every American president, Democrat and Republican alike, has provided since World War II - can we hope to eliminate it.

The issue is not communism or terrorism, it's not immorality or myopia. The source of these policies is the defense of an international system that places power and wealth in the hands of a few countries, generally the same ones that colonized the world 100 years ago. Those who might challenge this order, whether petty tyrants in تهران/Tehran or 평양/Pyoengyang, or major players in 北京/Beijing or Москва/Moscow, must be contained or destroyed. Any means to that end is justified, including teaching our friends how to kill their innocent enemies.

1 comment:

mischa said...

how seriously do you take the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's challenge to the US position in Central Asia? is it still contested ground, or do you think Karimov et al will decide they like US bases after a few rounds of security deals, development cash and arms sales?