A long-running conflict exists among US policymakers between those striving to remain consistent to the idealistic principles of freedom and democracy (despite some costs to US interests) versus those who see the need to act pragmatically in the unforgiving world of international politics (in order to protect those same interests). This dichotomy, pitting idealism against pragmatism, suggests a foreign policy compromise whereby a balance is reached between the demands of international realpolitik and the normative standards upon which the US was founded. This thesis seeks to explore how the United States formulates a foreign policy that fuses together the normative goals of a country firmly convinced of its role as the defender of freedom with the pragmatism of a superpower seeking to protect its national interests around the globe.
The advantage of using a country such as Uzbekistan as a sort of litmus test for US policy is precisely due to the consistently poor record of President Islam Karimov’s regime. It serves as a constant factor amidst a dynamic security environment that presented an array of fluctuating interests for the US. In the early 1990s, the US saw few if any pressing national interests in the country, but by the end of the decade it saw clear strategic advantages in cultivating Uzbekistan’s cooperation on counterterrorism operations. After 11 September 2001 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, close relations with Uzbekistan provided even greater tactical benefits. US policymakers needed the support and cooperation of the Karimov regime to realize these strategic interests, presenting a potential conflict with other more normative policy goals. Relying on primary sources and interviews conducted in Uzbekistan, the thesis examines how the United States balanced human rights concerns, democracy promotion, and strategic interests in Uzbekistan.