The extremely low stakes of the New York
Fashion Week outcry contrasts very poorly with the decibels and tone of
the cries of horror thrown about Manhattan this week. Of all the many
things Uzbekistan participates in, like the UN, the human rights people
chose to protest a fashion show. And somehow, I'm wrong for telling them
to grow up and to focus their efforts better. Go figure!
understand that diplomacy isn't just about lecturing other
governments," Ms. Frye writes. "But that doesn't mean I want those
to stop." This is assuming I said things I did not say. Protesting a
fashion show is low stakes, meaningless, and ineffective. It is a waste
of time. They'd be better off organizing a global boycott of Uzbek cotton, for one example. Going after the country's finances is how you start
pressuring change, not trying to embarrass one of Karimov's shameless
But Ms. Frye seems to miss the point of this whole flap.
Here's what an unnamed State Department official told The Washington Post
at the time [of the 2005 Andijon massacre], referring to a group of
refugees who had just been flown out of Uzbekistan by the UN:
"We all knew basically that if we really wanted to keep access to the
[K2 base used to supply the war in Afghanistan], the way to do it was to shut up about democracy and turn a blind
eye to the refugees," said the senior official, on the condition of
anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy. "We could have saved the
base if we had wanted."
Sometimes even diplomats stop worrying about "blowback."
is wrong. Wikileaks cables relating to the U.S. embassy in Uzbekistan show
internal, textual evidence that U.S. diplomats in Tashkent, in fact,
did not give up the base because they love democracy. They actually believe the exact opposite of that. In one 2008 cable, a diplomat wrote:
"The main message we need to get across to international human rights
organizations like HRW is that having the EU or the United States
implement sanctions against the Uzbek government at this point would go
a long way to worsen, not improve, the human rights situation in
Uzbekistan. If sanctions are imposed on the government, the government
will respond by breaking off or severely restricting contact with the
West again, and the release of political prisoners and other recent
improvements will come to a screeching halt."
the Andijan incident, an unjustifiable massacre deserving of
condemnation, is not as simple as mean old Karimov killing sweet
innocent Uzbek peasants. Again, from the cables:
Turning to the Andijan events, the US diplomats conceded the Uzbek
government's version of events had "some merit." Meanwhile, a comprehensive investigation by HRW
found that the Andijan events had economic antecedents: the
government's arbitrary arrests of local merchants precipitated an armed
response by the traders' friends and relatives.
"There were armed extremists, they did seize a prison and government
buildings, they did take hostages, and they did kill government troops,"
a US diplomatic cable said. "What the [Government of Uzbekistan's]
version leaves out is the fact that security forces at the very least
panicked and over-reacted badly, killing hundreds of people."
The embassy then proposed it might be better to offer Uzbek troops
training "so they have more options than to shoot or run away should an
Andijan-like scenario emerge again."
reflexive desire to whine and complain and publicly shame the
regime of Uzbekistan has been a long-standing topic of consternation for me and my coauthors at my blog, Registan.net. In the immediate
aftermath of the Andijan massacre, Registan.net founder Nathan Hamm
raised a series of important questions
that human rights activists should ask themselves when they accusingly point
their very moral fingers at us policy analysts seeking how to
materially change the human rights situation:
- What should U.S. policy towards Uzbekistan have been from 01/01/92 to
5/12/05? Explain how that alternate policy would have either resulted in
the liberalization of Uzbek government and society or how it would have
prevented the massacre in Andijon.
- What should the short-term U.S. response to Andijon be? What are the long-term implications of your answer?
- If U.S. is to support democratization programs under the nose of a
very hostile government, should it abandon the project or accomplish
what it can?
- Should the U.S. be willing to curtail its public, rhetorical
commitment to democratization and liberalization in Uzbekistan for the
sake of maintaining its ability to support NGOs and democratization