A few days ago somewhere between 169 (the official figure) and 700+ demonstrators were killed in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek government claims that everyone killed was a terrorist, and that the media are biased, but eyewitness reports do not support these claims. The Uzbek dictator, Islam Karimov, has a history of atrocities (boiling dissidents in oil, etc.) and can hardly be regarded as credible.
Uzbekistan is a key American military ally. Here is President Bush’s first response (via his Press Secretary, Scott McClellan):
“We have had concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan, but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist organization that were freed from prison. And we urge both the government and the demonstrators to exercise restraint at this time. The people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence. And that’s what our message is.”
In other words, the people getting killed were the ones causing the problem. Most reports say that many of them were women and children.
At this point we can’t be sure what the whole story is, but it doesn’t look good for Karimov (though that doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be any real consequences for him). As we watch the story develop, let’s also watch American reactions and use the story as a litmus test.
We can expect the Republican hacks of the “Powerline” type to blame the press, minimize the killings, and wait for the story to go away. Most of them are probably too smart to give real support to Karimov, but everything they do will be Bush damage-control. This pretty much destroys their plausibility as advocates for Middle Eastern democracy — but if you’ve switched rationales four times already, one more switch isn’t going to bother you much.
The other people to watch are the tweeners — moderate Republicans, “rational conservatives”, “independents”, and apoliticals. It would seem that the Uzbek story might work as a wakeup call for them. But at this point, I’ve been waiting for the tweeners to wake up for God knows how long, and by now I really doubt that they ever will.
Our once-great nation has apparently been jellified, and I suspect that Bush and Karimov will end up getting a free ride, and that at the end of the story McClellan’s answer above will still be operative.
(5-18: Slightly edited and rewritten. And I’ve been informed that Karimov boils dissidents in water, not oil. Wait till Powerline hears about that boo-boo. Probably it’s killing American GI’s already.)
Disputed casualty figures
Karimov blames terrorists