Oiling the Wheels of War

If only our man in Washington would stay there

In fairness, it should be noted that Wexler did ask that Nazarbayev make democratic reforms and improve his "dialogue" with independent media services. But that didn't keep the congressman from providing a big boost to the dictator.

Why did Wexler do it? A news release issued by his office on May 24 provides some clues: "As one of Central Asia's emerging economic powers, Kazakhstan is an important strategic partner for the United States," Wexler was quoted in the release as saying. "Even more important, Kazakhstan is the world's largest source of undeveloped oil reserves."

More reasons for the congressman's sojourn come from a speech he made on the House floor this past December to celebrate the country's tenth year of independence. In the speech, which is proudly posted on a Kazakh government website, Wexler praised the country: "Many of the nefarious international terrorist organizations, like al Qaeda, that seek to inflict harm on the United States and our allies are also trying to destabilize Central Asian nations like Kazakhstan... The United States and the international community must not miss this opportunity to assist Kazakhstan as she takes courageous steps to build a democratic society with an open market economy in a region of the world that is rife with terrorism and discord."

This remarkably false representation indicates that Wexler has managed to fool even himself. It's an odd situation: The congressman is befriending a tyrannous dictator for help in the "war on terror" -- which is supposed to be about protecting democracy and freedom. It is, of course, very much about oil. President Bush, on November 28 of last year, issued a statement saying Kazakhstan was helping to "build prosperity and stability" in the world. The reason for the compliment, predictably, was oil. The president was congratulating the country and its leader for cooperation in creating the Caspian Pipeline Consortium to help major American firms like ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil extract and distribute Kazakhstan's oil reserves, an estimated 20 billion to 50 billion barrels, worth trillions of dollars.

Like Wexler, Bush failed to mention the ongoing federal grand jury investigation of Giffen's payments to Nazarbayev. He forgot about the violent repression of the media as well. But the president's family has a long history of ignoring Nazarbayev's transgressions. President Bush the First is a longtime friend of Nazarbayev's. In fact, when Nazarbayev visited Bush II in the White House this past December, he stopped first in Houston to meet with the president's daddy. Nazarbayev likes W too -- he recently gave the president a $10,000, ornately trimmed, Western-style saddle.

Not everyone joins in the hypocrisy. Several members of Congress -- including Miami's Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican -- have denounced Nazarbayev in speeches. On October 18, Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Massachusetts) wondered on the House floor what "the average Kazakh citizen thinks of U.S. support during this time of tyranny." Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth recently wrote a scolding letter to Vice President Dick Cheney, calling Kazakhstan an egregious example of the "connections between energy development, corruption, and political repression."

Such issues don't seem to bother Wexler, who was warned before embarking on his trip of Kazakhstan's tyrannical times by a Moscow-born political activist named Rinat Akhmetshin, who is director of the International Eurasian Institute for Economic and Political Research in Washington, D.C.

Akhmetshin met with Wexler on May 23 to urge the congressman to denounce Nazarbayev. "I had a one-hour conversation with Wexler in his office," Akhmetshin says. "The meeting occurred the day after two journalists in Kazakhstan were attacked and severely beaten, and I told him, 'This is the kind of country you are going to.'

"I explained everything to Wexler. I told him he should be aware that he was being used for propaganda by a dictator. Wexler said he was going mainly because the government of Kazakhstan was very close to Israel."

But that isn't really true, Akhmetshin notes. The Kazakh government routinely sides with Palestinians and is negotiating with Iran on another oil pipeline deal. In fact, Kazakhstan is only a nominal partner in the "war on terror" and recently admitted to providing North Korea with MiG fighter jets.

Akhmetshin also told the representative about the criminal investigations into Mashkevich and Nazarbayev. He remembers Wexler saying, "I'm a lawyer -- I would like to see some of the Department of State documents about these investigations."

After the meeting, Akhmetshin faxed the investigative information (which has been reported by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post) to Wexler and repeated a request that he visit a journalist named Bakhytgul Makymbayeva, who had been beaten nearly to death after her newspaper criticized Nazarbayev. "I hope you will... lend moral support not only to her but to all those in Kazakhstan who yearn for freedom," Akhmetshin wrote, adding later, "American influence is essential if it is to turn back toward democratic reform and free market economics."

Unfortunately, Akhmetshin's efforts went for naught. Wexler never visited the journalist. Instead, he played into Nazarbayev's hands and, in the process, became a willing tool for a dictator.

"Wexler is dealing with real criminals here, and I can't understand why he's doing it," Akhmetshin complains. "He should have known better."

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