By late afternoon May 13, talks had stalled between Uzbekistan authorities and armed demonstrators inside a government building in Andijan. Speaking by phone to the gunmen, a top law-enforcement official used an Uzbek proverb to foretell the government’s next move:

“Your eyes will soon see what befalls you.”

Shortly afterward, gun-mounted armored personnel carriers raced up to Babur Square outside the building, where thousands more demonstrators were rallying against the trial of 23 local businessmen on Islamic extremism charges. Without warning, Uzbek soldiers opened fire on the crowd, survivors said.

Every other street leading from the square already had been blocked by military vehicles and soldiers. Uzbek authorities left only one way out: Chulpon Prospekt, Andijan’s main thoroughfare.

Several thousand Uzbeks, almost all of them unarmed, jammed into the broad, tree-lined street. Fifteen minutes later, the ambush began. Uzbek soldiers on rooftops, in apartment windows and treetops fired down on protesters huddled together, many with arms linked.

“The bullets rained down,” said Abdulsalam Karimov, 50. “There were soldiers everywhere with one aim–to kill everybody.” ~The Chicago Tribune

Defense officials from Russia and the United States last week helped block a new demand for an international probe into the Uzbekistan government’s shooting of hundreds of protesters last month, according to U.S. and diplomatic officials.

British and other European officials had pushed to include language calling for an independent investigation in a communique issued by defense ministers of NATO countries and Russia after a daylong meeting in Brussels on Thursday. But the joint communique merely stated that “issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan,” had been discussed.

The outcome obscured an internal U.S. dispute over whether NATO ministers should raise the May 13 shootings in Andijan at the risk of provoking Uzbekistan to cut off U.S. access to a military air base on its territory.

The communique’s wording was worked out after what several knowledgeable sources called a vigorous debate in Brussels between U.S. defense officials, who emphasized the importance of the base, and others, including State Department representatives at NATO headquarters, who favored language calling for a transparent, independent and international probe into the killings of Uzbekistan civilians by police and soldiers. ~The Washington Post

As more accounts of the Andijan massacre have been forthcoming in the press, it is clear that the Uzbek government has been lying about and suppressing inquiries into an unusually blatant and heinous act of repression. The Uzbek military, which wrought the slaughtering of protesters, receives millions in U.S. aid. That connects Washington and the American tax-payer, unfortunately but inextricably, to these terrible events. It is the military of a state allied in the so-called War on Terror, and therefore its actions, even those within Uzbekistan’s borders, reflect on America in central Asia and beyond and further sully our reputation. Islam Karimov is our poster boy for the sort of regime we actually endorse in the region, whatever silly and irresponsible chatter we have heard to the contrary. Wiser statesmen in every age have known how valuable reputation is for the influence of one’s state in the world, and how impossible it is to retrieve once it has been lost. Why are we letting our reputation be ruined still more by the likes of a Karimov?

Unlike the much greater massacre at Hama in 1982 by Syrian forces, the Uzbek government cannot even attempt to claim that the people being slaughtered in the streets were dangerous Islamists or that they were even associated with Islamists. The already tenuous connections between the 23 accused businessmen and militant Islamist groups already strains credulity. Here the full schizophrenia of American policy in the Islamic world is revealed. Mr. Bush has declared support for secular, authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries to be acceptable no longer, and thus goes out of his way to encourage and strengthen Islamist forces in these countries. At the same time is not willing to follow through on this supposedly high-minded principle, even when the Islamist threat is minimal and the regime in question has committed atrocities against civilians, because doing so would threaten U.S. hegemony and a sought-after central Asian military base.

From a realist perspective, Uzbekistan is now as much of an embarrassment and political liability as it ever was a strategic asset, and it should be cut loose from all connections to America. From an America First perspective, of course, there should never have been a base in Uzbekistan, or at least it should not have lasted beyond 2002, and the sooner Americans end their military and financial relationship with Tashkent the better. We will wait in vain for Washington to impose any penalties on Uzbekistan for what its army did in Andijan, but there is no doubt that we ought to cut off diplomatic relations with any country that deliberately slaughters peaceful protesters. We did so after the Tiananmen massacre, and even if the body count is not as high in this case the principle is the same.