Sunday, September 03, 2006
Sunday Morning Charivari
Karimov, FOB (Friend of Bush)
"In other words, when the prisoner was boiled to death that summer, U.S. taxpayers had helped heat the water." Her Majesty's Man in Tashkhent can be read in the Washington Post.
That was my welcome to Uzbekistan, a U.S. and British ally in the war on terror. Trying to tell the truth about the country cost me my job. Continuing to tell the truth about it dragged me into the Kafkaesque world of official censorship and gave me a taste of the kind of character assassination of which I once thought only a government like Uzbekistan's was capable.
When I arrived in Tashkent, in the summer of 2002, I was a 43-year-old career diplomat with two decades of varied experience, which included analyzing Iraqi efforts at weapons procurement and negotiating a peace treaty with Liberian President Charles Taylor. But nothing had prepared me for Uzbekistan, a country immediately north of Afghanistan in the heart of hydrocarbon-rich Central Asia. President Islam Karimov had reigned here as the Soviet satrap since 1989; after independence two years later, he had managed to make poverty and repression even worse than in Soviet times.
In Karimov's Uzbekistan, no dissent is allowed. Media are state-controlled, and opposition parties are banned from elections. Millions of people, including children, toil on vast state-owned cotton farms, receiving some $2 a month for working 70-hour weeks. Their labor has made Uzbekistan the world's second-largest cotton exporter. More than 10,000 dissidents are held in Soviet-style gulags. Many are pro-democracy advocates, but anyone showing religious enthusiasm is also swept up. Most are Muslims, but Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses are routinely persecuted, too.
I saw this happening in a country regarded as a strategic friend by the United States, which was looking for well-placed allies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Karimov had delivered for President Bush, allowing the United States to take over a major former Soviet airbase at Karshi-Khanabad to help wage war in neighboring Afghanistan; the several thousand U.S. forces stationed there were the first Americans permitted to serve in former Soviet territory. As a reward, Karimov had been Bush's guest for tea in the White House in March 2002.
It was clear by the time I arrived in Tashkent a few months later that the United States was handsomely rewarding Karimov's cooperation. Hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid were flowing to the country -- after the U.S. government, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, repeatedly certified that the Uzbek government was making progress on human rights and democracy. According to a press release distributed to local media by the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent in December 2002, the Karimov regime received more than $500 million in U.S. aid that year alone. That included $120 million for the Uzbek armed forces and more than $80 million for the re-branded Uzbek security services, successor to the KGB.
The outlook is grim for Republicans. While control of the Senate is expected to remain in their hands, the Congress is a different story. So Bush and his team are out playing the card that has paid dividends in the past. Fifth anniversary of 9/11 is around the corner. They are ramping up the fear factor -- national security, terrorism, and that they know best. The army's top brass made a hole in Bush and Rumsfeld's exhortations about success in Iraq. But that is not going to stop them. They are desperate and lies come easy to them.
Paul Harris in The Observer: "While 68 Iraqis have died in two days, the President talks up military success with an eye on the mid-term elections. Meanwhile, defence chiefs are ever more fearful of another Vietnam"
President Bush yesterday denied that Iraq was plunging into civil war, just a day after the Pentagon painted a bloody picture of a nation caught in a spiral of increasing violence.
His statement appears to widen the gap between the political message coming from a White House concerned about upcoming mid-term elections and a military establishment fearful of getting caught in another Vietnam.
In his weekly radio address to the nation, Bush lashed out at critics of the war and portrayed the conflict in Iraq as an integral part of the war on terror. He said the country was not sliding into civil war.
'Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war. They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence,' he said.
That may be true, but the tone of Bush's speech was deeply at odds with a Pentagon report released late on Friday, which showed Iraqi casualties had soared by more than 50 per cent in recent months. The Pentagon often releases bad news late in the week in order to minimise press coverage and the study certainly made for grim reading.