Saturday, July 30, 2005

Uzbek Base Eviction - Rumsfeld's Dirty Hands

There's a scandal out there that no-one is talking about.

Uzbekistan formally evicted the United States yesterday from a military base that has served as a hub for combat and humanitarian missions to Afghanistan since shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pentagon and State Department officials said yesterday.

In a highly unusual move, the notice of eviction from Karshi-Khanabad air base, known as K2, was delivered by a courier from the Uzbek Foreign Ministry to the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, said a senior U.S. administration official involved in Central Asia policy. The message did not give a reason. Uzbekistan will give the United States 180 days to move aircraft, personnel and equipment, U.S. officials said.

Now the US will, according to the report, decide:

whether to withhold as much as $22 million in aid to Uzbekistan if it does not comply with provisions on political and economic reforms it committed to undertake in a 2002 strategic partnership agreement with Washington. Last year, the administration withheld almost $11 million. U.S. officials expect the Uzbek government will again be ineligible for funds.

That's a big stick and carrot, $22 million.

But don't forget the $21 million for "bioterror defence" that came days after one State aid package was cancelled, the $15 million airbase rent and the $33 million in arms sales the US DoD and Pentagon had already given the Uzbek government, almost always over the protests of both Colin Powell and later Condi Rice. Or the pressure from Rumsfeld back in June to alter a NATO statement on the May massacres so as not to offend the Uzbek leadership - when he claimed to be unaware of State's policy!

There's a scandal here as Rummie and his people happily ignored US State Dept. (and presumably his boss Bush's) policy right up to the end but no-one in the attention-deficient US media - blogosphere AND MSM - is saying so.

Some samples from the blogosphere:

It's unfortunate that we didn't see this coming and try to leave on our own initiative rather than theirs. At least then it could have been done as a political statement. Liberals Against Terrorism

All of this is one more indication of a stark reality: the post-911 world has increasingly been less clearcut as it appeared on Sept. 12. There are often complications that policy-makers face, due to the fluidity of events and domestic factors at play in various nations. The Moderate Voice

The loss of the K2 airbase will, no doubt, create some logistical difficulties in Western Afghanistan -- but it isn't anything we can't overcome.

Bottom line: It's a small price to pay for distancing ourselves from a real thug.
Citizen Smash

The senior official quoted by the Washington Post noted that Bush could have saved the base simply by remaining silent about the refugees and democracy. Bush and his administration just passed an important test by choosing decency and democracy over the convenience of the moment. Captain's Quarters

See what I mean? The last mentioned above, Captain Ed, should be furious that Rumsfeld and Myers were, quite obviously, not singing from the same music as the State Dept. all along. And moreover had no intention of ever doing so right up until the whole issue exploded in their faces. Just two months ago the Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman called access to the airfield "undeniably critical in supporting our combat operations" and humanitarian deliveries. The administration may have just passed an important test but Rummie most certainly failed it. He wasted $72 million in military aid to a regime that boils it's own people alive and consistently tried to derail State and stated Bush administration policy in preserving a little corner of his feifdom. When the end came, he was caught entirely flat-footed and left State, who had plans to send a senior official to Uzbekistan in four days, looking foolish too.

Surely that's a firing offense? If not, then one would have to ask whether Bush secretly condones such actions while allowing State to present happy rhetoric as a public face to the world.

Update 31st July

I would like to direct your attention to the post on this subject at Harry's Place blog, and to that post's comments where former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has this to say:

Let us hope that finally the Bush administration will now recognise the true nature of the Karimov regime. It is symptomatic of the complete failure of Western policy in Central Asia that rather than withdraw with some dignity, the US has managed to hand the dictator Karimov the propaganda coup of kicking out the World’s greatest power.

This is not about the response to the Andizhan massacre. To the end the US was muted on human rights in Uzbekistan and still has not called for full elections including the opposition. This is about the Karimov regime’s decision to turn to Gazprom and the Russians, not the US, to develop Uzbekistan’s oil and gas fields. This deal involves Uzbekneftegas and was brokered between the President’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova, and Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek born Russian oligarch who bought 27% of Corus (British Steel).

The Karimov regime are determined to keep complete control of the economy so they can continue their massive looting for personal enrichment. They were concerned that Western companies could build centres of wealth not under their direct control. They have therefore decided to turn to Russian and Chinese state companies for investment. These companies operate the system of oligarch corruption that the Karimov regime understands.

This is the explanation for Central Asia’s “Diplomatic Revolution” as Uzbekistan turns decisively away from the USA towards Russia and China. There will now be massive pressure by Karimov on Tajikistan and Kirghizstan – both tiny countries dependent on Uzbekistan for energy supplies – to follow suit.

Now isn't that interesting?

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