Bush stands by ruthless communist Uzbekistan leader
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The Uzbekistan conundrum
The massacre of 500 people in Andijon, Uzbekistan, last week represents just one of the difficulties President Bush faces in advancing freedom throughout the world: Sometimes America's allies in the war on terror are not democracies.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, a former First Secretary of the Communist Party during the country's years as a Soviet satellite state, has ruled his fellow Uzbeks with an iron fist. Independent political parties are outlawed; there is no freedom of the press; and Mr. Karimov, first elected in 1991, has extended his term three times through corrupt referenda. At the same time, he stood next to Mr. Bush during the U.S. invasion of neighboring Afghanistan in 2001 and continues to provide the U.S. military with bases in southern Uzbekistan. In a country where 88 percent of the citizens are Sunni Muslims, he has been an outspoken opponent of Islamist terrorism and a supporter of the Iraq War.
The United States has rewarded Mr. Karimov for his loyalty. Between 2002 and 2004, the U.S. government has given over $350 million in economic, humanitarian and defense aid. Mr. Karimov has had the pleasure of hosting high-level American officials. In 2002, he visited Mr. Bush in Washington, where they signed a Declaration of Strategic Partnership.
Mr. Karimov is a dictatorial thug. He brought in the army to quash the Andijon protesters. He has defended his actions by maintaining that the protesters were in fact part of the larger Uzbek Islamist movement, whose members have ties to al Qaeda.
This presents a dilemma for the United States. As Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow a the Heritage Foundation, warns on today's Commentary pages, the simmering revolution in Uzbekistan bears little resemblance to other recent uprisings, like Lebanon's revolution. Indeed, the goal of Uzbek Islamist radicals is to set up a Islamist state reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The problem for the Bush administration is how to square Uzbekistan's terrorist problem and Mr. Karimov's authoritarian regime with the Bush doctrine. In his second Inaugural address, Mr. Bush declared: "We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right." One effective way to do this is to develop an intelligence capacity that is able to distinguish between the true democratic reformers and radical Islamists, which is more complicated than it might sound.
After the massacre, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "This is a country that needs ... pressure valves that come from a more open political system." The administration will have to press those valves carefully to ensure that democratizing Uzbekistan doesn't create another Afghanistan.