Back to Uzbekistan

America and the Axis of Thieves

by , October 31, 2011

Herman Cain may not know or care who is the president of Uzbeki-beki-stan-stan, but the US government surely does. With the supply route to occupied Afghanistan via Pakistan increasingly problematic, the Americans are turning to what US officials have dubbed the “Northern distribution network” (NDN) to ensure the viability of their Central Asian outpost of empire. The key link in that network is Islam Karimov, the absolute ruler of the former Soviet republic, and a killer whose human rights record is on a par with Tamerlane’s – the Mongol conqueror whom Colin Wilson rightly called “the most spectacular sadist in world history.”

From his capital in Samarkand, in present day Uzbekistan, Tamerlane’s armies cut a path of death and destruction unrivaled in its murderous ferocity: when he took Zirih, in Turkey, he ordered 5,000 prisoners rounded up and decapitated, their heads tossed on a huge pyramidal pile in the town square. In Karimov’s Uzbekistan, however, where Tamerlane has undergone a rehabilitation, he is hailed by the government as a hero and an inspirer of national pride. In words inscribed on the walls of the Tashkent museum, Karimov extols the notorious mass murderer:

“If somebody wants to understand who the Uzbeks are, if somebody wants to comprehend all the power, might, justice and unlimited abilities of the Uzbek people, their contribution to the global development, their belief in the future, he should recall the image of Tamerlane.”

If somebody wants to understand who – and what – Karimov is, then they need only look at a record that rivals Tamerlane’s in the style of his savagery: repression on a vast scale, the murder and jailing of political opponents – there is documented evidence that prisoners have been boiled alive – climaxed by the slaughter of thousands of unarmed protesters in Andijan, in 2005, when Uzbek troops fired into a crowd.

The US reaction was muted, at first, but eventually even the Bush State Department was forced to acknowledge that something was rotten in the state of Uzbekistan, and recommended cutting-off military aid. That aid, however, continued in some form under the “anti-terrorist” rubric, no doubt, and now the Obama administration is successfully pressuring Congress to lift the sanctions and let the cash flow officially. The President recently placed a personal call to Karimov congratulating him on the anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence – on the very day human rights groups sent a letter protesting his administration’s cozying up to Tashkent. Talk about sending a message!

On a recent trip to Uzbekistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited an auto factory where she sang the praises of the “partnership” between the state-owned Uzbek auto company and Government General Motors:

“We place a priority on shared ventures like this plant. It was designed by Uzbek and American engineers and architects working together. It was built to be environmentally responsible for the local community. In fact, GM’s water purification technology will ensure the water is cleaner when it leaves the factory than when it entered.

“GM’s global manufacturing processes will be carried out by skilled Uzbek workers using locally sourced components, ultimately adding over 1,000 new jobs for Uzbeks. And the use of American machinery and technology as well as the revenues created from the annual production of more than 225,000 new power-trained engines will also support jobs in the United States for Americans.”

It’s “green” technology meets out-sourcing American jobs – at taxpayers’ expense! – meets a complete disregard for human decency: at that very same plant, workers are commandeered into forced labor in the fields picking cotton for outfits whose high tax rates fill the coffers of the Uzbek state. Workers at large industrial enterprises, all university students, and even children throughout Uzbekistan are corralled into these chain gangs. This is a new feature of American foreign policy: we aren’t exporting “democracy,” we’re exporting crony capitalism.

While this may not be all that new, the brazenness with which it is occurring in Uzbekistan may set a record. A recent FOIA request for documents regarding companies that handle US fuel shipments in the NDN revealed:

“The Uzbek-Afghan corridor of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) is a morass of inefficiency, arbitrariness and “informal” payments. In documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), respondents to the Pentagon query made stark comments about severe delays at the Uzbek-Afghan border, and one – a major partner to USAID in Afghanistan – said corrupt payments “might be required to keep business moving.”

Without a connection to Zeromax, a multi-tentacled corporate entity controlled by Gulnara Karimova, the Uzbek dictator’s 39-year-old daughter, getting freight through Uzbek customs and into Afghanistan is virtually impossible. Indeed, the iron grip of the “first daughter” on the country’s economy was belatedly recognized by the regime, which has officially “disbanded” the company, although its enormous wealth still remains firmly in the family’s grasp – particularly Karimova’s. The “glamorous” (i.e. heavily-made up and perhaps surgically enhanced) Karimova, who has her own high fashion clothing line, is said by some US diplomats to be “the single most hated person in the country,” who “bullied her way into gaining a slice of virtually every lucrative business in the central Asian state and is viewed, they say, as a ‘robber baron’” – or baroness, as the case may be.

That this Central Asian version of Imelda Marcos is pocketing bribes paid by American taxpayers – and holding US troops in Afghanistan hostage to her boundless greed – is beyond disgusting. She claims to have no connection to Zeromax, and denies having any financial interest in any of the state-subsidized companies she is associated with, saying that these are the properties of her “friends” and family. Yet her fortune is valued at $540 million: she lives in a $30 million mansion in the Cologny section of Geneva, considerably over the market price for that neighborhood, noted L‘Hebdo, with one local official averring “Any reasonable person just [has] to wonder about the source of those funds.”

Aside from the sweat off the brows of the downtrodden Uzbeks, the source is the American taxpayers, whose money is being shipped overseas to pay bribes that wind up in Princess Gulnara’s pocket, while she cavorts with Sting. The has-been rock star was induced by a fee reported to be between one and two million British pounds to play a concert in Uzbekistan for her and her guests – a command performance on a par with Beyonce’s infamous New Year’s $1 million gig for Moammar Gadhafi’s son Hannibal.

The convergence of Sting, the “humanitarian” defender of the Brazilian rain forest, and a regime comparable to North Korea’s Orwellian hellhole might seem odd, at first – but once one becomes acquainted with the even odder history of the Karimov regime’s American fan club, it begins to make sense in a weird, Bizarro World kind of way.

Back before the Andijan massacre, Karimov had quite an active lobby among the neoconservative set, with the wacky Stephen “Suleyman” Schwartz, a.k.a. “Comrade Sandalio,” acting as a one-man publicity outfit for Uzbekistan. In article after article, published in the Weekly Standard and elsewhere, Karimov’s repressive regime was held up as a model for the region, particularly when it came to the brutal suppression of any and all forms of Islam, other than the state-approved “Sufi” brand. Schwartz, whose conversion to Sufism was preceded by his previous conversion from Trotskyism to neoconservatism – thus the various name-changes – was particularly enthralled with this aspect of the dictator’s iron rule.

Eventually, however, not even the chameleon Schwartz and his neocon editors could deny the real character of their Uzbek “model” – not with the blood of thousands of protesters fresh on Karimov’s hands. For them, killing and torturing in secret was fine, but public displays of Tamerlane-like sadism aren’t kosher. Kristol and Schwartz co-authored a belated retraction of their endorsement. Sting doesn’t have the brains to follow suit – and neither does the Obama administration.

With all that money floating around, the Uzbek lobby has a lot of clout among Washington insiders, enough to pressure the Senate Appropriations committee to insert a human rights “waiver” into legislation authorizing overseas military aid to the Karimov regime. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the crusader against “isolationism” in the Republican party, paid a personal visit to Uzbekistan to assure the neo-communist tyrant we wouldn’t let a sissy “human rights” requirement get in the way of the cash. Asked by a representative of Human Rights Watch how he squares support for granting the waiver with his alleged support for democracy abroad, Sen. Graham opined that he was one of two Senators who traveled to Uzbekistan and met with the victims of Andijan – as if this somehow absolves him rather than making his complicity all the more reprehensible. He goes on to say:

Six years later, I go. I’m the first member of Congress to go to Uzbekistan since 2005. I met with the president. The reason I went is because the administration asked me to go. I’ve got a letter from Leon Panetta. I got a letter from General Petraeus, who was then general, now CIA director; General Allen, asking me to urge the Congress to grant a waiver….

“Over the last six years, things – I have a little different view. There are human rights abuses, but they’re wanting to be back into the world community. We need a northern transportation route. If this is pulled off and we can get a new agreement with the Uzbekistan government, we could reduce by 50 percent what flows through Pakistan.

So I am supportive of the waiver. I am not supportive of disengaging the monitoring. But to me this is a wise decision at an appropriate time. It would allow Uzbekistan to come back into the world community. It would also allow us to support Afghanistan with a new partner.

“And it is a view that is encouraging in this regard: I don’t think the Uzbekistan government would be doing this if they thought we were losing. Just think about that. They’re willing to help us in Afghanistan in an unprecedented way. That means they want to get back into the game. And it means that they see things changing in Afghanistan.”

The shameless amorality of Graham’s rationalization is astounding. According to him, the Uzbeks are impressed by our prowess in setting up the Afghan kleptocracy, which means we must be winning in Afghanistan. As a reward for granting us access, Graham wants to offer Karimov a “partnership” with Hamid Karzai, his fellow kleptocrat on the other side of the mountains. Now if only the Obama administration can persuade the government of, say, Turkmenistan – another family-owned Central Asian country – to join the bloc of US allies, we’ll have created an Axis of Thieves.

The “game” Graham and his fellow empire-builders are playing in Central Asia is not only morally insupportable, it is setting us up for an awful fall in the region. As Maria MacFarland, the questioner from Human Rights Watch, put it to him at a Council on Foreign Relations event:

“Uzbekistan is one of the most repressive governments in the region. It’s brutal; it has a population that hates it; and it’s hollow. It’s not going to last. President Karimov is elderly. There’s no succession plan. So what’s going to happen in a few years when you have an angry population that thinks the U.S. provided military support and backed that government?”

Oh, but don’t worry: we’ll just send in the Marines to impose “order,” and bring the benefits of “democracy” to that benighted region. Perhaps we’ll even get ahead of the trend and invent yet another “color revolution,” as we did in neighboring Kyrgyzstan (an effort, by the way, that backfired in our faces.)

As Hillary was touring that Uzbek auto plant, the trial of Hosni Mubarak was grinding on, and one of Gadhafi’s sons was making arrangements to surrender to the International Court. The wily Karimov, who didn’t fight his way up the ladder of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union and survive the Soviet collapse because he’s a trusting soul, is playing hardball with Washington – and winning.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I’m pleased to announce that the publisher of my book, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), has made a Kindle edition available. You can purchase it here.

Read more by Justin Raimondo