Bush and the Tyrants

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(Bush and Stalinist dictator Islam Karimov photo: Courtesy of Council on Foreign Relations)

"I believe in the universality of freedom. Some don't. I'm going to act on my beliefs so long as I'm the president of the United States. Some people say, It's OK to condemn people to tyranny. I don't believe it's OK to condemn people to tyranny." —George W. Bush, today.

Bush always talks a good game on "freedom's march," but he all too often fails to walk the walk. Bush does, in fact, think it's OK to condemn people to tyranny, as long as it serves narrow U.S. interests. Case in point: The 27 million citizens of Uzbekistan.

This former Soviet state, run then and now by Stalinist dictator Islam Karimov, is such a vile place that they actually boil thier political prisoners alive. When the mother of one such torture victim spoke out recently, the nation sentenced her to a life of hard labor in a prison camp. No, I'm not making this up.

This is what our State Department says of Karimov's regime:

Uzbekistan is not a democracy and does not have a free press. Several prominent opponents of the government have fled, and others have been arrested....The police force and the intelligence service use torture as a routine investigation technique.

Yet the Bush regime did not push for freedom's march in Uzbekistan. It coddled Karimov, and literally let him get away with murder, because he let us use an old Soviet air base known as K2 which is conveniently proximate to the Uzbek/Afghan border.

Here's a picture of Bush chumming aroung with the tyrant when he was invited to the White House in 2002. And another. Thanks to such friendly relations, Uzbekistan was included as a charter member of the Coalition of the Willing.

Even after Karimov suppressed a protest in the Andijan province by ordering the indescriminate slaughter of more than 500 civilians, in the worst state-sponsored slaughter since Tiananmen, the U.S. couldn't bring itself to speak out against the regime. Condi Rice merely called for an "independent international investigation."

Yet even that kid-glove approach to Uzbek repression was too much for Karimov, who promptly kicked us out of his precious air base. No air base. Unchecked repression for 27 million in the Middle East. Realpolitik at its bloody worst.

Of course Uzbekistan is just one of the nasty regimes we coddle on a daily basis. Take Equatorial Guinea, a comic-book kleptocracy on the horn of Africa that sits on some of the continent's largest proven oil reserves, but where average citizens eke by on barely a dollar a day. Here is the country's thuggish dictator, Teodoro Obiang, getting cozy with Condi in April.

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