The house magazine for US diplomats, Foreign Service, has published its September 2007 issue on “Human Rights Promotion in the Post-9/11 Era”. It contains a number of excellent essays, and also one by me on the lessons of my time in Uzbekistan, which I reproduce here:
The Folly of a Short-Term Approach
By Craig Murray
Ambassador Craig Murray resigned from the British Diplomatic Service in February 2005. He is now rector of the University of Dundee and an honorary research fellow at the University of Lancaster School of Law. His memoir of his time in Uzbekistan, Murder in Samarkand, is available from Amazon.co.uk. Paramount and Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B are producing a movie based on that memoir, with filming scheduled to begin in February 2008 under British director Michael Winterbottom.
I am very pleased to be offered the chance to pass on to you some thoughts on the conflict between human rights and the ‘War on Terror,’ drawn largely from my recent service as the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Uzbekistan. As a result of that experience, I should acknowledge, I was recently vetoed as a participant in a U.S.-sponsored seminar on that topic by a very senior State Department official, on the grounds that I was ‘viciously anti-American.’
That is not true, of course. Yes, I am a person who holds his beliefs very dear and who believes strongly in individual liberty in all spheres. Thus, I am a passionate supporter not just of democracy and human rights, but also of capitalism and free markets.
So how could someone with that belief set come to be perceived as anti-American? The answer is that I do not believe that recent U.S. foreign policy has promoted those goals at all, but rather has been doing something very different.
Walter Carrington Avenue
To illustrate what I mean, let me offer an example of diplomacy at its best. One of my inspirations was Walter Carrington, the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 1993 to 1997. Amb. Carrington never accepted the brutal dictatorship of the Sani Abacha regime (1993-1998), and constantly went beyond normal diplomatic behavior in assisting and encouraging human rights groups, and in making outspoken speeches on human rights and democracy.
Carrington’s approach was a direct challenge to the British Embassy in Nigeria, which pursued a much more traditional line of polite interaction with the president and his cohorts. This appeasement did us no good, as Abacha repeatedly moved against our interests; for example, he banned British Airways from flying into Nigeria. Nonetheless, my diplomatic colleagues looked down their long noses at Carrington with disdain, for raising unpleasant subjects like torture and execution at cocktail parties. (I regret to say that some of the career subordinates in the U.S. embassy did the same.)
The Abacha dictatorship hated Carrington so much that the Nigerian armed forces even stormed the ambassador’s farewell reception and arrested some Nigerian participants, a breach which was rightly condemned by the U.S. Congress. But a grateful Nigerian people did not forget his efforts on their behalf, and soon after Abacha’s downfall, the street on which the U.S. and British consulates in Lagos were situated was renamed by the local authorities as Walter Carrington Avenue. I believe it is still called that.
Carrington’s example taught me a great lesson in diplomacy: that the relationship of an embassy should be with the people of a country, not just with their authorities. Regimes which are hated by their people will never survive indefinitely, though they may endure a very long time. A fundamental role of an embassy in these situations should be to do everything in its power to hasten the dawn of freedom.
A Perfect Failure
Uzbekistan is undoubtedly one of the most vicious dictatorships on Earth. Freedom House ranks it as one of just five countries scoring a perfect 7 ‘ complete lack of freedom ‘ on both political rights and civil liberties. The Heritage Foundation’s view of economic freedoms there is similarly critical. In short, Uzbekistan does not follow the Southeast Asian model of an authoritarian government overseeing a free economy and rapid economic development. It is more akin to North Korea than to Singapore. Soviet institutions have been strengthened and corruption even increased. Only the iconography switched, from communism to nationalism.
Yet Uzbekistan was embraced as a Western ally following the 9/11 attacks, a member of the ‘Coalition of the Willing.’ In 2002 alone the U.S. taxpayer gave the Uzbek regime over $500 million, of which $120 million went to the armed forces, and $82 million direct to arguably the world’s most vicious security services. Also during that year, according to impeccable British government pathology evidence, at least one Uzbek dissident was boiled alive. The U.S. taxpayer paid to heat the water.