the Disillusioned kid: Mea Culpa
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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Mea Culpa

Part of the reason I started this thing and try and keep it going was to develop my analytical and writing skills. For the most part I don't think I've done to badly on the writing part, the analysis is perhaps not so strong. Most of the best analysis is either borrowed from others' ideas or heavily based on them. When I decide to come up with my own stuff it isn't always as successful. What I'm trying to say, is I think I got something wrong. Rather than consigning it to the Memory Hole I thought I'd have a go at writing a correction. So here goes.

Back in mid-June I wrote a post about the US decision to reduce aid to Uzbekistan's. My basic thesis was that the reduction only constituted a small part of the money. I based this on figures for 2003, which was all I could find at the time. While looking for information on the country in the aftermath of Friday's bombings I stumbled across this article from May which states:
Of the $55 million Uzbekistan assistance program for Fiscal Year 2004, three-fourths is for programs not involving assistance to the Uzbekistan government. The rest is for programs with the government and could be affected if the Secretary does not certify progress.
This poses several questions. Uzbekistan is an increasingly centralised country. According to the Guardian, "Tashkent has begun shutting down private businesses, ensuring all economic activity - from the cotton picked by child labour to the gold mines - lines the presidential elite's pockets." This being the case you might suggest that it would be very difficult to be involved in the country without assisting the government. Additionally the $55 million figure seems quite low. The same Guardian article reports that "in 2002, the US aid budget to Uzbekistan was $220 million in total". Is there money coming from another source? Perhaps as part of the "Strategic Partnership and Co-operation Framework". The truth is I don't know, but however I cut it, it looks a lot like I got it wrong.

What I should have said was that the move was a welcome development, but emphasised Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division's comment that, "This decision has been long in coming." I should then have pointed out the conclusions of Maria Brill Olcott, a Central Asia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who argues, "This is a sign that Central Asia is less important (to the Bush administration) than it was three years ago," because US access to Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase, which was crucial during US actions in Afghanistan in 2001, is less significant now that Washington has established several bases in Afghanistan.

I should also have pointed you in the direction of Rahul Mahajan's analysis, dating from January when the idea of reducing aid to the country was first touted, in which he suggests that the idea "looks like another move in the interminable drama of State vs. Defense, realist vs. neocon, rather than a sudden access of concern for human rights." I should then also have pointed out that he notes further, "Termination of aid to Uzbekistan is likely a reasonable sacrifice right at the moment, when the country's immediate significance is not great and the empire is stretched thin anyway."

I should also have directed you to the statement by Richard Boucher US State Department spokesman, noting that it could hardly be described as unequivocal and doesn't even use the word "torture", citing instead vague concerns about the "lack of progress on democratic reform and restrictions put on U.S. assistance partners on the ground."

I could even have pointed out the differences between US treatment of dictatorial regimes which serve its interests, like Karimov's, and those which don't, like Castro's Cuba.

But of course I didn't do any of that. I'll try harder next time.

Just as an afterthought, it will be interesting to see how the US-Uzbekistan relationship develops in the aftermath of the bombings. It is possible that the US will use the threat of terrorism against US interests in the country as a justification for increasing aid to Karimov's regime. However, this would surely be embarrassing and politically inept. The comments of Avi Pazner, an Israeli government spokesman suggest a possible way of avoiding this. He noted, "The world is confronted with a wave of terrorism. There is an absolute need to unite all efforts to combat this scourge." It is possible to conceive of a situation where the US increases its support for the regime using Israel as a proxy. A situation which echoes Israeli involvement in certain Latin America countries in the 1980s when the political cost to the US government became serious. That's something I hope I'm wrong about.

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