In the last two years, the Obama administration has succeeded in alienating longtime US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia; in offering Moscow a green light to invade Ukraine; and in continuing a strategic re-alignment of the Middle East that sees longtime allies such as Turkey and the aforementioned Israel and Saudi Arabia sidelined in favor of a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran and a ruthless Islamic proto-caliphate with a penchant for beheading Shi’is, women, and Christians. Were they not sworn Constitutional officers of the United States, one might suspect that this level of cluelessness borders on the treasonous; at the very least, this is incompetence to which the Carter administration could only have aspired.
It is therefore no wonder that Azerbaijan is wondering if it is now in the crosshairs.
The events giving rise to this concern are long in the making — more on this below — but the immediate concern is certain documents unearthed by Azerbaijani news outlet APA, which seem to suggest that the State Department, through one of its more infamous political creatures, is working to undermine Azerbaijan’s elected government in the leadup to both the European Games in Baku in June and the Azerbaijani parliamentary elections in the fall.
Readers of a certain age will remember the National Endowment for Democracy for more than the seminars and symposia it sponsors. In the 1980s, its virtually black budget — which is more or less completely taxpayer underwritten — led to greater levels of scrutiny and the realization that it was underwriting opposition and insurgent movements against American allies; in the 1990s, American allies in hot spots throughout the world accused it of underwriting insurgencies; and its funding arm has helped provide funds for both the so-called color revolutions of the early 2000s and, again, insurgent and opposition campaigns against American allies.
There is a consistent theme here of State undermining allied governments through the NED, and that leads us to today.
APA has published documents (found here), allegedly obtained from the NED and State Department, that seem to suggest that State is trying to rally Congress and foreign governments to enact travel bans and financial restrictions on members of Azerbaijan’s government; enter proclamations and resolutions against Baku; and call for a boycott of the upcoming European Games — a symbolic strike on Baku, which has spent years showcasing its democratic processes and modern reform efforts to the world, to increasing fruit.
Additionally, the documents seem to show support for funding domestic and abroad opposition groups and interventions in ongoing court cases, albeit through different channels than the NED. Regardless of the channel, these are acts that would lead to criminal and Congressional investigations in the United States.
Azerbaijan has been a critical Western ally in dealing with a revanchist Russia and a proto-hegemonic Iran, and a staunch Muslim ally of Israel, for whom those words are distressingly uncommon. Two years ago, that would have suggested that Baku would be a favored ally; today, with Washington’s lurching friend-is-foe approach to policy, the ground appears less certain.
The State Department denies any effort to undermine Azerbaijan internally or otherwise; yet even but for the documents, this is a questionable assertion. For decades, Armenia has illegally occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azerbaijani provinces, despite binding resolutions by the United Nations and other international bodies; for most of that time, the United States has brokered a process with Russia and France to end that occupation that has achieved nothing. More recently, being an ally of Israel and/or an enemy of Iran has become dangerous ground in American foreign policy; and as the American response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the Donbass shows, formal treaties and alliances are irrelevant to Washington’s odd fixation on coddling Russia.
Against this background, the roadblocks Azerbaijan has faced in European bodies begin to take on a different light. Some of the documents released by APA show significant interest in Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deadlines and meetings, as well as recent European Parliament resolutions. Is State strengthening anti-Baku sentiments in Europe even as it works to build opposition movements in Azerbaijan? The former question would once have seemed as ridiculous as the latter; but as the latter is now on the table, Baku may reasonably see a hidden hand in its struggles to bring the occupation in Nagorno-Karabakh to an end.
As Washington continues to pursue a path of strengthening enemies and undermining allies, Baku sits in a different geostrategic landscape than that in which it began the year. The time may have come to reassess its present and future with America.
Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons