George W. Bush's excellent Uzbek adventure
Via the Real News Network comes a visceral reminder of just how out-of-whack was our foreign policy towards other countries regarding the “war-on-terror” was during the Bush administration.
Remember how the arguments for war against Iraq evolved over time? By the time the invasion had happened – and certainly by the time that it became clear WMD were never going to be found in Iraq except for the crumbling remnants of what remained from pre-1990 days – the Bush administration and its supporters had thrown virtually any and every argument for the war against the wall that they thought was likely to stick. But in the beginning, it wasn’t just – as supporters now often like to portray – a sort of “everything, all the time” argument against Hussein and the ruling Ba’ath regime. The first argument was – as anyone alive and cognizant during that time remembers – weapons of mass destruction: WMD. Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admitted later that this rationale had been intentionally selected from the scruffy host of other reasons to attack Iraq because it would be the most believable as well as the most likely to motivate a population (and a congress) which was otherwise leery of foreign military entanglements since Vietnam to rally in support of the administration’s war plans. The consideration of whether it was actually true was significantly further down the list of the reasons that the initial war cry of “WMD” and mushroom cloud-shaped smoking guns was chosen as the primary justification for attacking Iraq.
While this strategy succeeded in convincing the congress and the American people that going to war in Iraq (again) was a necessary step to take, it became problematic when, as many knowledgeable observers predicted prior to the war, no WMD were found in Saddam’s warehouses or his palaces or indeed anywhere in Iraq. As the months went by and the insurgency began to make the invasion of Iraq seem like a worse and worse idea in hindsight, the inconvenience of the fact that the administration’s initial rationalization for invading a sovereign nation had turned out to be flatly untrue became more and more glaring.
So, like all good stage managers, the Bush administration and their supporters returned to their motley grab-bag of assorted other reasons why it was still a good idea, in retrospect, to have invaded Iraq, spent uncounted billions of American taxpayer dollars and what would later amount to well over 4,000 American lives and (literally) uncounted Iraqi lives, both military and civilian. One can almost imagine the cabinet-level principals of the Bush administration, hunkered down in the summer of 2002 with the President and VP in the situation room, spitballing reasons for invading Iraq with a huge whiteboard and everyone just raising their hands when they came up with another one, just like any brainstorming session in any corporate meeting room across America. Once the WMD rationale began to fall apart, they dug out their notes from this spitballing session and, using their usual organs of dissemination in the popular press (Tim Russert, et. al.), began furiously insisting that there had always been many reasons for war with Iraq, not just WMD.
In the wake of the spectacular failure to find WMD, which was the next most highly-touted reason for going to war in Iraq? Well, a number of them were tried, actually, but the one most regularly returned to and stressed (because it was conclusively proven; no fear of another “oopsie”) was that Saddam was a bad man who had tortured people – even his own people – during the Iran/Iraq war and since then. Drawing themselves up to their full, haughty (if somewhat tarnished) height, the Bush administration harrumphed to the press and the rest of the world (who by now were wondering what, exactly, the hell we were doing in Iraq anymore) that if we’d only been paying attention at the time, we’d know that the real reason they’d wanted to invade Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant who used torture! Against his own people! He had rape rooms! He shot people!
Now watch this drive, as President Bush himself used to say. The video below is a speech by former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, back in October of last year. Uzbekistan? Most people still are pretty fuzzy about where that even IS (as ambassador Murray himself admits even he was, when called personally by Prince Charles to be appointed ambassador to the place) let alone what relationship the country might have to the Iraq war debacle. The answer, in strategic terms relative to Iraq, is “not a lot.” But in terms of ideological consistency, the answer would be “a great deal.” While Uzbekistan isn’t near Iraq and had little to do with that disastrous war, it is quite close to Afghanistan, and in the wake of 9/11, it became seen within the Bush administration as a key country, both geographically (militarily) and regional-influence-wise, to America’s anti-terror efforts in southwest Asia. Shortly after 9/11, from Uzbekistan’s leader, dictator Islam Karimov, the United States secured a key goal: an airbase called K2 in the country to use as a hub to refuel airplanes, and to transport materiel into the Afghanistan theater of operations. In 2005, the Uzbek government rescinded the offer of use of their airbase at K2, ordering the Americans out within 180 days. Although no official reason was given by the Uzbeks, the Bush administration immediately began to claim that the eviction notice had stemmed from the Bush administration’s rather tepid but still noticeable push-back against the Uzbek government over the news of the regime having intentionally gunned down at least 170 dissidents at a rally in Andijan in August, 2005.
While undeniably awful – and proof that the Uzbek regime was a ham-handed, thuggish state whose methods were Stalinist at best – the reality of the matter is that it was the Uzbeks – not the Bush administration – who chose to scale back relations and rescind the use of the K2 airbase. Had they not done so, it seems entirely likely (based upon the Bush administration’s own chiding, wrist-slapping response to the massacre) that Washington would have simply kept the agreement – beneficial as it was for their Afghanistan war efforts – in place, using diplomatic channels only to express their (mild) displeasure with such internal atrocities within Uzbekistan. Since the Uzbek government did decided to expel the Americans – likely due to their conclusion that they could achieve greater regional influence through realignment with Russia – we’ll never know what steps the Bush administration might have taken with respect to Tashkent and Karimov in the wake of the Andijan massacre.
But if the administration and their supporters’ howlings about Hussein’s tyrannical regime of torture in Iraq can be used as any guide – and it should be thusly used – the Bush administration should have immediately severed ties with Uzbekistan. Would they have? Watch UK diplomat Craig Murray’s speech below, and you decide. On the day the Andjian massacre happened, the Bush administration already knew that the Karimov regime was a) communist, b) had literally boiled dissidents alive (do not click that link unless you are strong of stomach; extremely graphic photos), and c) had been listed by various international organizations (and even our own State Department) as a severe violator of human rights. Using the Bush administration’s own reasoning for not just the censure of, but the expenditure of billions of dollars and thousands of lives worth of US blood and treasure to actually INVADE and occupy Iraq, it’s quite clear what the Bush administration’s response to the dictatorial and tyrannical regime of Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan should have been. Of course, it wasn’t. Watch Craig Murray run it down: