Opinion » Ted Rall

The Devils We Know

Cables reveal background of pro-dictator America

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NEW YORK--After the Soviet collapse, U.S. policy toward Central Asia was cynical: Support the dictators, screw the people.

As the United States stood by and watched, corrupt autocrats looted the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Dissidents were jailed, massacred--even boiled.

Well, actually, the United States was anything but passive. They negotiated deals for oil and gas pipelines, rented air bases after 9/11, poured in tens of millions of tax dollars--all of which wound up in secret bank accounts of dictators and their families. Meanwhile, average citizens lived in abject poverty.

Central Asia only had one democratically elected president, Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan. George W. Bush ordered the CIA to depose him in a coup.

Americans who care about human rights have wondered: Is the U.S. State Department stupid or naive? Did the diplomats in Tashkent and other capitals of misery understand the brutal, vile nature of authoritarian leaders?

In the WikiLeaks cables, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, a U.S. "ally in the war on terror" who seized power in a coup following the death of Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov, is described as "the 'decider' for the state of Turkmenistan." This is true. Turkmenistan is a dictatorship in which millions starve while Berdimuhamedov's inner circle feasts on profits from the world's largest reserves of natural gas.

According to an unnamed source, the outwardly conservative dictator has a mistress, with whom he has a daughter. Though Berdy's power may be limitless, his intellect is not. "Berdimuhamedov does not like people who are smarter than he is," says the cable. "Since he's not a very bright guy, our source offered, he is suspicious of a lot of people."

In Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev presides over the world's largest oil reserves with an iron fist. Among his greatest hits: the convenient "suicides" of his top two political opponents a few months before a presidential election. The men apparently shot themselves in the back of the head, then bound their own hands behind their backs and dropped into a ditch outside Almaty.

"In 2007, President Nazarbayev's son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, celebrated his 41st birthday in grand style," explains an April 2008 cable. "He hosted a private concert with some of Russia's biggest pop stars. The headliner, however, was Elton John, to whom he reportedly paid 1 million pounds for this one-time appearance." Where did he get the money? "Timur Kulibayev is currently the favored presidential son-in-law, on the Forbes 500 list of billionaires [as is his wife, separately] and the ultimate controller of 90 percent of the economy of Kazakhstan," states a January 2010 missive. Interestingly, Central Asia's overlords have a dismal view of corruption in the U.S. government.

"Listen, almost everyone at the top [of the Kazakh regime] is confused," First Vice President Maksat Idenov told the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan early this year. "They're confused by the corrupt excesses of capitalism. 'If Goldman Sachs executives can make $50 million a year and then run America's economy in Washington, what's so different about what we do?' they ask."