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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Kazakh welcome irks Bush critics
By Jonathan Beale
BBC State Department correspondent, Washington

Kazakh President Nazarbayev unveiling of Kazakhstan's Monument of Independence  28/09/06
Kazakh oil and gas has muted US criticism of its leader's actions
Last year Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev celebrated another landslide election victory.

He received more than 90% of the vote, a result most democratic political leaders could only dream of.

But then Kazakhstan is hardly a typical democracy.

As the White House prepared to roll out the red carpet for Kazakhstan's president, another man claiming citizenship of his country was intent on causing embarrassment.

Kazakhstan's image has been pilloried by the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

It is a system that is based on corruption, patronage and toeing the party line
Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House

On Thursday he took his depiction of Borat - a supposed Kazakh journalist - to the streets of Washington, for a satirical walkabout, promoting a new film.

But while the parody may be amusing, few see Kazakhstan's true record on human rights as much of a laughing matter.

"President Nazarbayev is the old style of leadership, harking back to the former Soviet Union," said Jennifer Windsor of Freedom House, an organisation promoting democracy around the globe.

"He mainly operates via patronage and oppression. He doesn't want to share power even within the government and it is a system that is based on corruption, patronage and toeing the party line."

Lofty ideals

Two years ago, in his inaugural address, President Bush said it was US policy to seek and support the growth of democratic movements in every nation, "with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world".

Yet that lofty rhetoric has made the anger among human rights groups and some Republicans even more palpable over the company he keeps.

In reality, the sound of sirens has drowned out the march towards freedom.

Lebanon - along with Iraq and Gaza - is now more synonymous with fighting than free elections.

The Bush administration, in my view, has not been careful at nuancing this
Harman Ullman

Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, asks: "Would you want your country to look like Gaza today, or for that matter like southern Lebanon? The vast majority would say no.

"So this has been a painful time when the reality has been very different from the rhetoric."

And even those who supported military action in Iraq see the imposition of democracy as a strategic error.

"It's very, very volatile. If you have this as an ideology and a slogan, it's not going to work. It has to be carefully crafted and carefully balanced and nuanced," said Harman Ullman, the military academic who coined the phrase "shock and awe".

"The Bush administration, in my view, has not been careful at nuancing this, has used it as a blunt weapon and as we see, the way to impose stability through the greater Middle East does not appear to be through democratization, or indeed through invasion. There have to be other tools."

The truth is that while President Bush has pushed democracy as a foreign policy priority, his criticisms of autocrats and military dictators has softened when it suits him.

Only this week the unelected President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, was welcomed to the White House as a voice of moderation in the Muslim world.

Richard Armitage is a former Deputy Secretary of State.

"I think it is a recognition that you can't do everything at the same speed... around the world; that democracies can take different forms, and they develop at different rates and they all have to reflect some of the national characteristics of the country.

"And I think we've learned that as we have gone forward," he said.

In the case of Kazakhstan's president, his country's oil and its strategic importance have made it easier for the White House to overlook his failings.

But many will still see this visit as further undermining George Bush's freedom agenda.

US welcomes Kazakhstan leader
28 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Suspicions raised over Kazakh deaths
14 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Kazakhstan's president sworn in
11 Jan 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Nursultan Nazarbayev
02 Dec 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Kazakhstan
28 Jun 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Kazakhstan
13 Sep 06 |  Country profiles


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