January 22, 2001

An Inaugural Party

Washington was full of parties on Inauguration Day, both official and unofficial, where the elite met to eat and schmooze over the latest Beltway gossip: Jesse Jackson's love child, Bill Clinton's last minute plea bargain with the special prosecutor, and, most of all, who us up and who is out of favor in the new Washington power structure. One such party was reported on by United Press International, the once-prestigious news service that has now been turned into a virtual arm of the Unification Church (which also controls the Washington Times): to read this account by Peter Roff is to get some insight into what the ostensibly "conservative" movement has been turned into – and, also, what we might expect from the incoming Bush administration.


Writing of the general air of merriment in the nation's capital, Roff – a former political director of GOPAC, Newt Gingrich's vehicle for the failed "Republican Revolution" of 1994 – goes on to describe a gathering of prominent conservatives in a rather unusual venue:

"One such party, hosted by the Committee for Western Civilization, was held at the Embassy of Uzbekistan on Massachusetts Avenue. At this event the elite of Washington's conservative intellectual movement came together to toast the arrival of George W. Bush and, more importantly for some, the departure of William Jefferson Clinton. Revelers greeted each other with shouts of 'happy day' and 'happy new yea as they embraced and lifted glasses over the prospect of a new administration pursuing a decidedly rightward tack."


The Embassy of Uzbekistan? What's up with that? After all, the absolute ruler of Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov, is not exactly a Jeffersonian democrat, nor does he even qualify as a Pinochet with Friedmanite tendencies. Politically, Uzbekistan is, as the official US government report on human rights in the country charitably puts it, "an authoritarian state with limited civil rights." Economically, the government of Uzbekistan is just about what one might expect from an "ex"-Communist regime that has no conception of or interest in how markets work: dictator Ramirov is no friend of free markets, with most major industries state-owned or controlled. As the dispenser of extensive social welfare programs through local councils, Ramirov has so far managed to make the transition to the post-Soviet world with his power intact, and strengthened. Not exactly an example of the free market principles espoused by the Bush White House and its "conservative" amen corner. So what's the Uzbek-Beltway conservative connection, if it isn't ideological?


Well, it is ideological, in the sense that money, and what it can buy, is often the determining factor in politics, and the government of Uzbekistan is sitting on some of the biggest oil and natural gas reserves in the world. Far more important, it is smack dab in the middle of a region, the steppes of Central Asia, that has long been the apple of Big Oil's eye. This long courtship was supposed to culminate in a marriage of Central Asian tyrants with Western corporate interests. But it never really happened. Although they went through the ceremony, the marriage was never consummated; the Great Pipeline, touted by the Clinton administration and politicians in both parties, has yet to be built – and will not be built by private interests unless there is at least a modicum of political stability in the region. That is not a likely prospect: Karimov has barely escaped at least one assassination attempt, and his country is factionally divided along religious, regional, and ethnic lines. Karimov builds huge monuments to ancient Uzbek heroes, and has set up a personality cult along the lines of the one set up by Heydar Aliyev, his Azerbaijani neighbor and ally. Aliyev's model, in turn, was Stalin. But if they found their post-Stalinist hosts a bit odd, the partygoers at this "elite conservative" celebration gave no indication of any discomfort. As Roff reports, aside from a collective sigh of relief that the Presidential Predator was at last out of the Oval Office, "most of the evening's conversations focused on prospects for the future and the public policy agenda that was in the offing, with the odd discussion of who was getting or pursuing what job thrown in."


With President Karimov on a course that would create a "Greater Uzbekistan" and set his country up as a regional rival to Russia, Uzbekistan has thrown its lot in with Georgia's President Eduard Shevardnadze, and neighboring countries such as Tajikistan, who fear the resurgence of Moscow. These countries have formed a regional alliance, known as GUUAM, (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova), a grouping which geographically defines the oil pipeline's proposed route: a route that pointedly bypasses Russia, and additionally gives these governments a regular source of income. Shevardnadze has already called for NATO intervention in the region, and Karimov, although a bit more circumspect, has been increasingly integrated into the Western orbit. As Svante E. Cornell, author of Small Nations and Great Powers, a study of ethnic and political conflict in the Caucasus, has pointed out,

"Uzbekistan has concentrated its energy on forming relations with NATO, Germany and especially the United States. In fact, analysts have noted that Uzbekistan is, together with Israel, the sole country that has consistently supported the US in virtually all of its policy moves in the Middle East, for example with reference to Iraq and Iran. Karimov has explicitly noted that NATO expansion poses no threat to Russia, and has supported the Baltic states' aims to join the Alliance."


The ideological thrust of the neo-conservative policy wonks and the Beltway conservative crowd in the foreign policy realm is a perfect match for the Uzbek agenda: NATO expansion, the military occupation of the Middle East and Central Asia, a new "cold war" with Russia. Who cares if the Uzbek tyrant, Kamirov, presides over an authoritarian dictatorship that regularly tortures its opponents by pulling out their fingernails and worse? I think I'll have another one of those delightful canapés.


Two big oil companies, Enron and UNOCAL, signed a major deal with Uzbekistan, and basically agreed to take over management of their energy resources in exchange for a substantial cut, but the rise of the Taliban as a regional influence put an end to that. One reason for celebration in Washington is that the Big Oil lobby is confident they don't have to cut their losses and lose sight of the dream of the "Great Silk Road" energy bonanza, embodied in the Silk Road Strategy Act of 1999, passed with bipartisan support, which basically commits the US government to subsidizing – and protecting – a Central Asian pipeline. UNOCAL and the other big oil companies now see their chance to not only recoup their losses, but to make a killing – and if that has to mean literally as well as figuratively, then so be it.


Among the beneficiaries of a new activist foreign policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia will be those major builders of the infrastructure required for oil extraction: chief among these is the Halliburton company, which boasted Dick Cheney as its CEO, until he stepped down (and took a hit financially) to become Vice President. Through its subsidiary, Brown & Root, the multinational giant also provides infrastructure and support to US military operations, such as constructing the facilities that house and protect US troops in Bosnia and Kosovo. Could the concatenation of political and economic interests be any clearer?


Roff reports that "revelers greeted each other with shouts of 'happy day' and 'happy new year' as they embraced and lifted glasses over the prospect of a new administration pursuing a decidedly rightward tack." Yes, happy days are here again for the War Party, and the players of the "Great Game; for the Russophobes and the out of work cold warriors; for the Moonies and the Uzbeks; for Big Oil and the bought-and-paid-for Beltway conservatives, whose loyalties can be purchased for an engraved invitation and a few stiff drinks. Oh, a good time was had by all: "The mood remained high through the night as partiers [sic] milled through the 19th century mansion that once housed the Canadian Embassy, looking forward with anticipation to the challenges of moving forward an agenda stalled since 1992 beginning bright and early Monday morning." But far from being the dawn of a new day, in the foreign policy realm Monday morning will turn out to be a continuation of what went before – only more so. If the Clintonians set up a separate government agency, and a special position – the Special Advisor to the US President and Secretary of State for Caspian Basin Energy Diplomacy – to subsidize the get-rich-quick schemes of their corporate contributors, then the Republicans will take the ball and run with it – "free market" ideology to the contrary notwithstanding.


What we have to look forward to, as we contemplate the meaning and direction of this changing of the guard in Washington, is the quick escalation of Middle East tensions, but not necessarily (at first) in Israel, or even Iraq. The "Afghan threat" was touted by the Clintonians, who even rained down a few rockets on that mountainous redoubt of the Taliban fundamentalists, and the same administration has been the architect of the Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory, which attributes virtually all terrorist activity in the Middle East to the shadowy and reportedly ailing elderly mastermind. Now the Bush administration is sure to pursue this line of attack with renewed vigor and determination: no wonder the Uzbeks threw such a festive Inaugural party. President Ramirov and his allies in the region are expecting another sort of pipeline to open: the foreign aid gravy train. Never mind all those bothersome "human rights" amendments that make foreign aid conditional on whether or not a recipient routinely employs torture, controls the press, or allows political opposition – after all, the use and disposal of such enormous energy reserves is in our "national interest." And, we have to fight "terrorism" and the evil bin Laden – right? How long before US soldiers, in alliance with our NATO allies, are guarding Big Oil's investments in Uzbekistan and the other ex-Communist fiefdoms of Central Asia?


Of course, none of this has anything to do with the nation taking a "rightward tilt," as Roff, as put it. There is nothing in the least bit conservative about the world-conquering, corporate-driven, frankly megalomaniacal foreign policy that such neoconservative ideologues as the designated deputy secretary of state Paul Wolfowitz, and other low-level neocon appointees, would have the US pursue. In its bellicose aggressiveness, its wanton hubris, the "benevolent world hegemony" trumpeted by the neocons as the proper goal of US policymakers is the exact opposite of the Founders' foreign policy: trade with all, entanglements with none. A free nation must not "go abroad in search of monsters to destroy," as George Washington put it in his Farewell address, nor should we favor any foreign faction above another, but instead pursue our own interests properly understood.


That some latter-day "conservatives" have identified those interests as being invariably identical to certain corporate interests is the measure of how low the American Right has sunk in selling out its principles and the country. What these conservative "leaders" will discover, however, is that as soon as their rank-and-file are called upon to support a war for "democracy" in Uzbekistan, or Georgia, there will be massive desertions. As they hail such nonstarters as NATO expansion, they will find a lot less support than they imagine, even from some Republican politicians, who are bound to ask a few questions, such as: with a United Europe building its own military force, why do we have to pay for their defense, especially when they're busy building tariff walls against the "assault" of US products? As for a new cold war with Russia, the mainstream news media are going to have to be put on the job full-time, much as they have demonized other leaders that have failed to live up to US rules and regulations: Perhaps it will be discovered that Putin is a new "Hitler," or, as Dubya's dad said about Saddam, "worse than Hitler." Such things can always be arranged. But they are going to have a hard time selling it to temperamentally skeptical conservatives, who are properly wary of anything that comes out of the "mainstream" media, and who, after all, did witness the downing of the Berlin Wall. Certainly conservatives are loathe to believe that (what they think of) as Ronald Reagan's victory over Communism could be so easily undone.


Some words of advice to the partygoers at the Uzbek Embassy: happy days may indeed be here again for the likes of you, but don't bet on it. There is plenty of opposition to globalism and interventionism in the Republican party, and Dubya doesn't exactly have a mandate for much of anything, much less a major new military adventure. So cadge as many drinks and canapés from your Uzbek friends as you possibly can – because pay day, for Big Oil and its Washington lobby, is a long ways off. Who knows but, by the grace of God, that day may never come.

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The Canonization of Colin Powell

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The New Cold War: Who's Afraid of Vladimir Putin?

The Case for Pessimism

The Gore Coup: No Justice, No Peace – No Exit

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The Dimple That Shook the World

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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