Accessibility links

Breaking News

Hey, Obama, Rummy's Got Your Back!

Back In the Good Old Days
Back In the Good Old Days

Our colleague Jamie Kirchick has just interviewed ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Kudos to Jamie for a great "get."

We here at the Outpost were struck by a particular excerpt, which we provide here. (The interpretation that follows it, we hasten to add, is entirely our own).

RFE/RL: You argue that "one of the most unfortunate, if unnoticed, foreign policy mistakes of our administration" was the American reaction to the May 2005 Andijon massacre in Uzbekistan. You write in the book that the uprising was spurred by "rebels" from “an Islamist extremist group accused of seeking an Islamic State.” A Defense Intelligence Agency memo from July 30, 2005, which you’ve put on your website, however, reported that "their motivation almost certainly was anger and frustration over poor socio-economic conditions and repressive government policies rather than a unifying extremist ideology." Do you stand by your characterization of the Andijon events as being instigated by Muslim extremists or do you think the reasons for it had to do with the corruption and the repression of the Karimov regime?

Rumsfeld: I certainly stand by what I wrote in the book, and I would add that you can find scraps of intelligence that are on all sides of most issues and what it requires is analyzing and synthesizing and pulling those threads together and then coming to some judgments about what is likely... At the time, we did not have certain knowledge about what was going on. And my impression is there’s still a good deal of debate as to what precisely the motivations were.

A fair characterization of my comments in the book would be something like this: There is a natural pattern for those of us in our country that benefit from human rights and civil rights and opportunities to want that for others and to be critical when a regime doesn’t provide that for the people. And that’s understandable and that’s a positive thing.

On the other hand, if you look around the world, there are only a few handfuls of countries that behave like we do, that have moved to a point where they have a sufficiently free political system that we would characterize it as of a kind with Western Europe and ours and Australia and any number of other countries -- South Korea, Japan, and the like. But the vast majority of the countries are not arranged the way the countries I’ve just indicated illustratively are arranged.

So, you look at two things. First, you look at them and say, "Where are they on that spectrum, from unfree towards free?" And Freedom House, for example, analyzes that every year and you can look at it. That’s one thing to understand, and there’s no question but that the Central Asian republics are over toward the less-free compared to the United States and some other Western European countries.

However, the other thing to look at is which way are they moving, and are they coming towards freer political systems and freer economic systems or are they regressing? In the case of Uzbekistan, there was no doubt in my mind but that they did not have the kind of freer political and freer economic system we did but that they were moving in that direction.

And the result of U.S. government action was to criticize them, I think, before the facts were known and certain and cause them to go away from where we wanted them to go, to move regressively, if you will, towards a less-free political system and a less-free economic system and simultaneously damage our security relationship with Uzbekistan, a country that was being very cooperative in terms of overflight, very cooperative in terms of use of the base at K2 [Karshi-Khanabad], and with a country that we were developing improving relations with.

And instead, by our behavior -- I think prejudging what went on -- we not only damaged our security relationship with Uzbekistan, but in addition, we shoved them back to a more regressive stance, which I think the words of the leadership there clearly indicated.

RFE/RL: If you were Defense Secretary right now what would you advise President Obama do with regard with what’s happening in Libya?

Rumsfeld: My impression is that [current U.S. Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates is giving proper advice -- that there’s every reason to be cautious and simply because people go on television and say “well, let’s have a no-fly zone” or “let’s have a no-truck zone” or “let’s have a no-tank zone,” it is more complex than that. And what I’ve read of Secretary Gates’s advice, I would agree with.

First off, there’s Rumsfeld’s – how shall we put it? – rather unsentimental response to Jamie’s question about the 2005 Andijon massacre in Uzbekistan. Rumsfeld’s take on this event reveals a harsh strain of foreign policy realism that appears to be sharply at odds with the spirit of the “Freedom Agenda,” the policy of democracy promotion that Rummy’s former boss, President George W. Bush, held up in his own recent memoir as one of the great achievements of his administration. Surely the regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov offers a case study in the sort of government that ends up fomenting the growth of violent Islamism precisely through its brutal suppression of legitimate opposition movements. But I guess this is one of those cases (like Saudi Arabia, perhaps?) where the Agenda does not reach.

Equally remarkable is the ex-SecDef’s whitewashing of the Andijon massacre itself. It’s one thing to argue that Washington shouldn’t have been pushing Karimov too hard on the human rights front when the Pentagon desperately needed that Uzbek airbase to supply the troops in Afghanistan. That would at least be a coherent, if morally unappetizing, position. But Rumsfeld goes one further. He suggests that the Uzbek authorities were entirely justified in their bloody suppression of the demonstrators in 2005, and even declares that Karimov’s totalitarian Uzbekistan – where you can still be thrown in a good old-fashioned concentration camp for expressing the slightest peep of dissent, and where there isn’t even a whiff of Chinese-style economic reform to make up for it – is steadily evolving toward liberal democracy. Let’s just say that the folks at Freedom House will probably be surprised to see themselves cited as allies on this one.

Having demonstrated his credentials as a foreign policy realist, Rummy then goes on to express his agreement with the Obama Administration’s wait-and-see policy on Libya. There are good reasons, he says, for their reluctance to plunge in with support for the rebels. Funny thing, though: The only name the Rumsfeld is willing to mention is that of his successor, Robert Gates. I wonder why that is?

- Christian Caryl