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Balancing the short-term expediency of working with strategically important states with the ethical issues and long-term costs of supporting repressive regimes is a complicated task that defies simple solutions.
One conclusion that can be made with regard to this conundrum, however, is that the more broadly Washington defines its interests, the more it will find itself compelled to lean on corrupt and illiberal governments for support in faraway places.
An historical example of this is how the United States’ support for “anticommunist” dictatorships in Latin America during the Cold War continues to haunt our relations with that continents’ people and governments today.
Last week’s uprising in Kyrgyzstan raises the question of whether the United States’ ongoing campaign in Afghanistan will have a similar effect in Central Asia – a region that will undoubtedly be important to American interests over the long-term on a variety of issues, including energy, terrorism, and managing relations with neighboring Russia and China.
In a pair of articles published in recent days Human Rights Watch Advocacy Director Tom Malinowski and International Crisis Group Central Asia Policy Director Paul Quinn-Judge, writing in Foreign Policy and The New York Times respectively, make a strong case that the United States’ Pentagon-driven willingness to deal with autocratic regimes in the so-called “Northern Distribution Network” may have deleterious effects on U.S. interests over the long-term.
Whether worth the price or not, it is fair to add support for illiberal governments in Central Asia to the list of hidden costs of the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
— Ben Katcher