Global Citizen: May 2008 Archives

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[Image: AP/Wide World Photos - Donald Rumsfeld and Islam Karimov]

Sabrina Tavernise wrote yesterday in the NY Times about how the U.S. is starting to remember that Uzbekistan is resource-rich and strategically located while starting to forget that its government slaughtered hundreds of its own citizens three years ago at Andijan. 

Western governments say further ostracizing Uzbekistan by extending sanctions -- America's come up for consideration in June -- will cause it to close back up, increasing instability in a region of vital energy transportation routes and strategic proximity to the war in Afghanistan.

A newly softened tone has already paid political dividends. After Andijon and a volley of criticism from Washington, Uzbekistan ejected the United States from a military base that was supplying the war effort in Afghanistan. Though there are not yet plans for the base to reopen, the Uzbeks have allowed the Americans limited access to a German base at Termez, and Uzbekistan recently offered NATO the use of its railway to ship goods to Afghanistan.

That highlights the difficult questions that relations with Uzbekistan raise for American foreign policy: How much influence should the United States try to exercise -- if any at all -- over another country's behavior? And will that country be receptive, given the abuse, indefinite detentions and closed tribunals that have been part of the United States' record in recent years?

nativism: a global problem

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I posted last week about an Italian man who was locked up by Customs and Border Patrol for 10 days without cause and then sent back to Italy. (We had one commenter with what appeared to be inside knowledge of CBP procedures come to defend CBP's actions and cast aspersions on the NY Times reporter who broke the story, the detained man, and his girlfriend's father.)  This story was just one more bit of evidence of our deeply warped immigration policy.  The problematic Postville raid and the disclosure of scores of deaths in immigration detention over the past few years are two more.

But for anyone who thought that nativism and government overreach were strictly American phenomena, the last week has shown otherwise. 

One consequence of the myth of sovereignty propagated through our current international political system is the war in Iraq.  Another is our broken immigration system.  Yet another is the skyrocketing death toll in Burma, caused in part by the massive storm and entrenched poverty, but in large part by an incompetent and corrupt government that makes George Bush look like Cory Booker.

It may comfort some in the U.S. to imagine that the first two problems listed above are rooted in the misdeeds of a particular leader, or a particular political party, or even in the dysfunction of the contemporary American political system 

However, these diagnoses are mistaken.  The dysfunctional international political system permits an unconstrained superpower like the U.S. or warped polities like Burma or Zimbabwe to push far past the bounds of civilized conduct, but while culpability may lie with leaders and the voters who support them, the framework that allows such bad actions to persist is structural. 

Here are my belated scattered observations from the May Day rally at Union Square in New York City last week. 


This was the first May Day march I had participated in.  It was a lot of fun, and emotionally and (in a strictly secular way :-)   ) spiritually uplifting, but I kind of felt like I had missed the party.  I heard about crowds exponentially larger in 2006 and substantially larger last year.  But apparently, frustration in the pro-migrant community with the lack of progress toward comprehensive reform and fear instilled by widescale raids over the past year-and-a-half had combined to ratchet down participation in this year's march.  (With my own eyeballs, I estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 marchers--not something you see every day parading down Broadway, but certainly not the numbers seen in recent years.)  It's a shame, because things are about as bad now as they've ever been for migrants in the U.S.  It's a shame, because the "Operation Return to Sender" raids that have terrorized migrant communities across the country were a direct response to the restrictionist backlash resulting from the remarkable pro-migrant rallies of early 2006.  DHS Secretary Chertoff has explained that the raids are a tool to push businesses and migrant groups towards a comprehensive solution.  It's also part of the "enforcement by attrition" policy promoted by restrictionists and adopted in recent years by the Bush administration.  If Bush is a pro-migrant president, he sure has a funny way of showing it. 

The low numbers, then, are a clear indication that the restrictionists--backed squarely by the U.S. government--currently have the upper hand in the public square.  But that's not the whole story by any means . . .