"America's Man in Uzbekistan"
by Dr. Stephen J. Sniegoski


Three thoughts, nicely provoked

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Dr. Sniegoski's article provokes thought in several directions at once: at least it does with me. I will comment on three aspects of his analysis.

Dejustifying violence.  "There's nothing that justifies acts of violence or terrorism," spake the foreign ministry's Richard Boucher, as quoted by Dr. Sniegoski. Boucher's formulation stands urgently in need of unpacking, and it prompts me to ask:

1)  Does Boucher categorically equate violence and terrorism?

2)  Is Boucher defining violence and terrorism as acts that can be initiated not by rulers, but only by the ruled?

3)  Does Boucher mean to assert that nothing the Karimov regime has done or could do would justify violence or terrorism on the part of the ruled against their rulers?

4)  Or is Boucher insisting on a rule of general application? — asserting that nothing any government does can justify anti-government violence or "terrorism"? To the end that no revolution anywhere at any time can be justified?

5)  Or is Boucher's Rule of slightly narrower application? — dejustifying violence when it is directed against the U.S. Empire, its provinces, and allies, such as Karimov's Uzbekistan; but not when it is directed against regimes that the Empire officially designates as villainous and tyrannical, such as Saddam's Iraq?

6)  Is spokesman Boucher really speaking for the Empire?

In a past time I might have assumed that Boucher was sermonizing, however mistakenly, only in a very specific context. But today there is little that we dare take for granted, as plain words lose their meaning overnight, vaporous sloganeering supplants reasoned generalization, transparent lies are taken as the very rock of truth, and contradictions are swallowed like syrup.

Freeeedom and Duh-MOCK-risy.  I could just point out that, despite the fact that our rulers typically conjoin them, those two things actually have nothing to do with each other; and move on. But instead I will dwell for a spell.

Democracy means nothing but rule of "the people," whoever they are; and that rule can be as tyrannical and totalitarian as you like. (In any community larger than a New England hamlet, and perhaps even there, democracy must necessarily be administered by a political elite.) The only freedom inherent in democracy as such is the freedom to vote.

But in modern "progressive" states, certainly including the United State, the idea of democracy has come to resemble flypaper. All sorts of little conceptual insects get stuck to it. Many are utterly preposterous chimeræ, such as the "right" to a job, education, racial preference, medical care, welfare, and so forth. But they include actual rights, too, which are sometimes described as minority rights or even "individual" rights. Now, these days "individual" rights seem to amount to little more than the rights to watch MTV, get tattooed, and "marry" your same-sex pal. But at one time important parts of the West actually enjoyed a vibrant liberal or even libertarian culture, and the current regimes think they still have to pay lip service, at least, to some genuine rights, ones that have nothing to do with voting.

It all reeks of bad faith, naturally. Leave aside the "democratic" totalitarianism prevalent in the United State, where politicians decide how many cold tablets we may buy, punish mothers for cuddling their child while riding in a car, prohibit us from buying a shotgun with a 17-inch barrel, and jail property owners for draining swamps on their own land. Instead just look at Iraq under the American Occupation. Iraqis enjoy what the World System considers "the most precious right" — the right to vote — but they do not enjoy certain actual rights vis-à-vis political authority, such as the rights to bear arms, to be secure in one's own dwelling, to associate freely, and to freely come and go. Another fairly important right Iraqis are denied is the right not to have official thugs come rampaging through their neighborhoods, firing automatic weapons at the homes of criminal suspects.

Does it seem likely that the Bushite Likudniks are ever going to get worked up over similar violations of rights in Karimov's Uzbekistan? The Uzbeks, after all, already enjoy "the most precious right," suitably regulated.

A final observation, on the Freeeedom and Duh-MOCK-risy front: one thing the Bushites never talk about exporting is republicanism. In fact no one in power talks about republicanism in any context. You think Soviet Communism is a dead ideology? Try giving the carcass of republicanism a sniff. Now there's an ideology that's up there singing with the Choir Invisible. It falls to us anti-state types to make that point, because nowadays there are darned few actual republicans left to make it.

War and peace in the ruling class.  For purposes of my ruling-class analysis, the most arresting information in Dr. Sniegoski's article comes toward the end, where he shows that Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, is fruitful common ground for both wings of the U.S. ruling class. That point is heralded by his mention of Henry Kissinger's showing up at the praise party for Karimov and "laud[ing] Karimov for his 'courageous' decision to support America." When I first read that, my eyebrows went all the way up.

I've been pestered over the past four years by the lack of bitter conflict between the two wings of the ruling class — the old established "moderate" imperialists who tend to rely on multilateralism, financial manipulation, and so on; and the new, radical, unilateralist imperialists of the current Likudnik regime in Washington.

It's the "in Washington" part, in fact, that's been troubling me the most. On the basis of evidence assembled and arguments refined before 9/11, I had concluded that the ruling class resided outside the official regime — on "Wall Street," for short — and, specifically, that its "executive committee" resided in the higher circles of the financial sector. (For extended analysis, see my long essay Dark Suits and Red Guards.) If that were the case, one would have expected that the foreign-policy and war-policy revolution that occurred after 9/11 had to have been sponsored by some of the moguls I think of as senior Dark Suits. But although there are Jews aplenty at, say, Goldman Sachs, actual Likudniks seem to be thin on the ground.

The pro-Karimov Wall Streeter whom Dr. Sniegoski mentions, the late Leon Levy — co-founder and chairman of Oppenheimer Mutual Funds and co-founder of Odyssey Partners — may seem to have qualified as such, but as the invasion of Iraq approached, Levy refrained from cheerleading for it, so far as I've been able to discover. In any case, he was already bearish toward the markets, and he was quoted to the effect that he was "looking for a place to hide" his investments.

Sober Dark Suits work to protect the financial interests for which they're responsible, and they don't hesitate to pull strings within the official regime in order to do it; in fact they clutch a whole tangle of such strings in their powerful hands. Protecting and expanding their constellations of established wealth, using both the economic and the political means, is far more important to them than advancing the agenda of Israel, insofar as those two considerations conflict. The fear of chaos and the destruction of profitable relationships is probably sufficient to explain why we find few Likudnik wildmen on the Street.

Goldman Sachs ex-chief Robert Rubin seems to be a characteristic representative of the investment-banking mindset, and he has publicly expressed skepticism about the Iraq adventure. Moreover, "moderate" Dark Suit mandarins such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Kissinger himself were notably absent from the elite cheerblock in the run-up to the Iraq war.

In 2002, writing in the Washington Post, Kissinger preached the more careful, old-style imperialism that focused on stability and existing relationships: "America's special responsibility, as the most powerful nation in the world, is to work toward an international system that rests on more than military power — indeed, that strives to translate power into cooperation." More pointedly, he warned that "American military intervention in Iraq would be supported only grudgingly, if at all, by most European allies." (That's according to an account reposted from the Times of India, "Kissinger: Deposing Saddam Could Backfire," August 12, 2002.)

Since the invasion of Iraq, Kissinger apparently has been trying to make the best of a bad bargain, as shown in a January 25, 2005, piece he co-wrote for the Post with fellow old-style imperialist George P. Shultz, "Results, Not Timetables, Matter in Iraq," in which the two eminentoes rejected the anti-Bushites' demands for an exit strategy.

Others, too, have been making the best of it, trying to squeeze Dark Suit lemonade out of the Likudnik lemon. But I haven't really found that satisfactory. I couldn't understand why the "moderate" Dark Suits, whom I took to be dominant in the ruling class, didn't just cut the Likudniks off at the knees, in view of all the international chaos they had fomented. The most prominent, powerful Likudniks seemed to be not investment bankers at all but mere government officials! Once those jumped-up pols and bureaucrats were sacked — whether 1963-style or 1974-style — their energetic servants in the media and "public-policy" pressure groups would soon start running out of oxygen.

A full understanding of ruling-class dynamics will continue to elude us, of course; and one may always accuse me of having been too credulous in accepting Rubin, Kissinger, et al. as true war skeptics. To repeat the formulation of one friend of TLD, all we outsiders can see are "the footprints of the yeti." But Dr. Sniegoski's depiction of Central Asia as an area of mutual interest and mutual profit for both "moderate" Dark Suits and Likudnik cowboys does convince me that the two factions have a little more to talk about, and a little less to fight about, than I'd imagined.

Truly, it shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, no wing of the U.S. ruling class has ever objected to doing business with pitiless tyrants, as long as they were pro-American pitiless tyrants.

June 22, 2005

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by Dr. Stephen J. Sniegoski

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