Rice Hits Back At Rumsfeld Over Andijan
Now that the Bush administration has been gone a few years, its principals are coming out with memoirs of their time in the White House, and with them come a little more insight into U.S. government policymaking in the oughts. My colleague Giorgi Lomsadze has already reported on the small furor that Condoleezza Rice's new book has made among Armenian-Americans, but she's probably not going to make Donald Rumsfeld, or the government of Uzbekistan, any happier.
Like Rumsfeld, she recounts into the internal debate in the administration about how to respond to the massacre at Andijan, which was particularly delicate given that the U.S. was then maintaining a key air base at Karshi-Khanabad. Rumsfeld, you'll recall, in his own memoir called the U.S. response to Andijan “one of the most unfortunate, if unnoticed, foreign policy mistakes of our administration" because it privileged human rights concerns over strategic interests. In her book, Rice explains her side of the story, and how she won over President George W. Bush:
We'd crossed swords, for instance, on Uzbekistan where, after bloody riots in May 2005, State had issued a tough human rights report against the regime. The Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, had responded by threatening to expel us from the military base that he'd allowed us into at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan. Let us recall that we'd paid a small fortune for the privilege, but the dictator felt no obligation to honor that deal and said so.
Don called me to say that we needed to back off. "The military needs that base," he said. "Our security is at stake." I told him that i was sympathetic to the Pentagon's plight but that, in my view, the United States could not soften its position on human rights as a quid pro quo for the military presence in Uzbekistan. "What's more, now that he's threatened us, we can't afford to cave," I told him. Don somehow heard this as "human rights trump security" and told Steve Hadley [then White House National Security Adviser] to take the issue to the President. The President obviously wanted to keep the military base, but he didn't tell me to tone it down, so I didn't. Eventually Karimov would carry through on his threat, but I would negotiate basing rights in Kyrgyzstan and the Tajiks made it clear that we could use their territory "as needed" too.
Like all memoirs, but especially political memoirs, it's impossible to know how much of this is true, and how much is self-serving whitewashing. In any case, Rumsfeld's contention that the U.S.'s condemnation of Andijan drove Uzbekistan into the arms of Russia has not been borne out. Tashkent may not be quite as pliant to Washington's wishes as the U.S. might like, but it's certainly no closer to Russia as a result.
Rice also has some interesting details about the 2008 war over South Ossetia, which I'll get into in another post.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.