The U.S. relationship with despots

Source: Washington Post

Walter Pincus [“Why are we fostering ties with despots?,” Fine Print, Aug. 28] raised useful issues about democracy and respect for human rights in Central Asia.

However, it would be wrong to conclude that authoritarianism calls into question U.S. efforts to engage these countries and their leaders.

Nowhere is alarm and concern over the upcoming transition in Afghanistan so great or well-founded as it is in Central Asia. Russia casts a long shadow, and Vladi­mir Putin’s actions this year add to apprehensions. China and Iran present difficulties. These and other challenges lead Central Asians to crave U.S. involvement and to fear its neglect. Of course, problems exist: poor but authoritarian governance, arbitrary rule unbridled by law, weak cultures of freedom and responsibility that leaders want to keep that way, and interethnic conflicts, to name just some.

What’s needed is more, not less, U.S. involvement. U.S. support for democratization, market reform and security is essential if Central Asia is to succeed — and to avoid triggering more Afghanistans.

Shunning flawed leaders will be no more effective than ignoring Central Asia’s problems. On the contrary, effective U.S. policy should deal with the region both as it is and as we and its people want it to become.

Ross Wilson, Washington

The writer is director of the Atlantic Council’s Patriciu Eurasia Center and a former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Walter Pincus pointed out in his Aug. 28 Fine Print column that the United States has been doing business with despots in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. What else is new? The United States has a long history of undermining freedom and supporting tyranny throughout the world.

Go back, for example, to 1953, when the CIA engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran, and 1954, when it did the same thing in Guatemala — in both cases ushering in despotic rule. If you look through the history since, there is a long string of cases where the United States intervened against democratic forces and for despots. And many of the biggest recipients of U.S. military assistance historically have been major human rights violators.

In many parts of the world, the U.S. government is known as the enemy of freedom for the people. The policies that led to this have been supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties. Is this what we want our country to be?

William Samuel, Silver Spring

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