the Disillusioned kid: Realign Your Ass
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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Realign Your Ass

After yesterday's post on what I consider to be the strategic errors of much of the left in focusing overly on international questions at the expense of the domestic, it was inevitable that I would follow it up with a post which flew in the face of those insights. And so a post on the US's troop realignment plans.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, the Bush Administration intends to remove something in the order of 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia, primarily Germany and South Korea. The point of this post is not primarily to analyse the realignment itself or the motivations behind it. For those of you looking for such analysis I recommend Rahul Mahajan's thoughts on the matter. Instead, I'm interested in where the troops may be moved to.

Mahajan notes that the two favoured locations seem to be the "forward operating locations" set up over recent years in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Bagila Bukharbayeva, writing for the Associated Press in an article reprinted in the Marine Corps Times lists Poland, Romania and Uzbekistan as being among the "new allies" who would host increased numbers of US troops. Regular readers may recall that I have written previously about the political situation in Uzbekistan and it was news of the deployment to this country which piqued my interest in the story.

Bukharbayeva's story doesn't go into much detail about the likely specifics of any deployment, instead focusing on the political implications for the Central Asian republic. The article quotes Atonazar Arifov, leader of the ERK (Liberty) Democratic Party, a banned opposition group, who warns that a permanent and increased US presence might strengthen anti-American feelings among Uzbeks who are likely to view the deployment as a sign that Washington supports Islam Karimov's brutal regime. He comments, ?I welcome American democracy, but I cannot respect the use of force.? Continuing, ?Uzbekistan might turn into a center of anti-Americanism.?

Some have suggested that the terrorist attacks in the republic in March and April and the recent suicide bombings in Tashkent are the consequence of the Karimov regime's close relationship with the US. Following September 11th, US troops were stationed at the Karshi-Khanabad air base in southern Uzbekistan, 145 kilometers (90 miles) from the Afghan border - the first US deployment in a former Soviet country. Although the US insist that the base was intended to be temporary it currently hosts 1,000 troops and at times this number has been several thousand.

Nonetheless, as Bukharbayeva points out, critics argue the violence is likely to have been triggered by Karimov's brutal crackdown on dissident Muslims. I tend to prefer the latter explanation, but the targeting of the US and Israeli embassies in the recent suicide bombings suggest that opposition to US policies is a factor in the emergence of Islamic extremist groups and that an increase in troop numbers in the country can only exacerbate the problem. As Kamal Burkhanov, director of the Kazakhstan-based Institute of Russia and China, points out, ?One or two more American bases will hardly improve the situation there, which is very explosive."

Questions also arise as to how this squares with the State Department decision to reduce aid to the country, ostensibly to encourage the regime to improve its atrocious human rights record. Increasing the number of troops stationed in the republic seems a strange way to demonstrate your opposition to the regime's actions. In his assessment of plans to reduce aid to Uzbekistan in January, Mahajan opined that the move "look[ed] like another move in the interminable drama of State vs. Defense, realist vs. neocon, rather than a sudden access of concern for human rights." If he was correct, this may simply be the subsequent response.

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