Monday, August 01, 2005

Beacon No. 55: Extremely Good Riddance to U.S. Forces


On Friday the Uzbek government announced it was evicting U.S. forces from Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, where they've been stationed since shortly after September 11.

Perfect. And here's why:

K-2, as it's called, is a major staging area for U.S. air and ground operations in Afghanistan and in 180 days—when the eviction order takes effect—U.S. forces will have to scramble to fill the gap via bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The military's loss could turn into a big win for U.S. public diplomacy, though, because K-2 is being closed in direct retaliation for U.S. criticism of the regime in Tashkent—and specifically because the U.S. stuck its neck out to help the United Nations evacuate Uzbeks who still fear for their lives following the Andijon massacre.
In other words, the U.S. decided weeks ago that it would keep calling for an investigation of the Andijon massacre, openly siding with the Uzbek people against Islam Karimov's trigger-happy dictatorship in Tashkent. It did so calmly and against specific threats by Tashkent against the K-2 base; also, the U.S. knew that if it got kicked out that regional competitors would fill the vacuum, as today's Wall Street Journal speculates ("Russia, China May Gain from U.S.-Uzbek Rift," no URL).

In the short term, the U.S. has to spend more on jet fuel and C-17 parts to bring troops, supplies and equipment directly to Afghanistan from Europe and elsewhere. Its military position in the region is somewhat weaker while its competitors are gaining. But these consequences are worth it since they emphasize that to the U.S., democracy and the Andijon inquiry are more important.

This whole episode is something that Karen Hughes & Co. would do well to shout to the skies in regions where U.S. rhetoric and reality aren't yet so tightly linked.

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