Shahram Akbarzadeh, Luca Anceschi
Shahram Akbarzadeh and Luca Anceschi: ‘Central Asia: Pragmatism in Action’, in Shahram Akbarzadeh (ed), America’s Challenges in the Greater Middle East (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). pp. 217-236
Publication year: 2011

The Obama administration has inherited a difficult case in Central Asia. Once shunned by successive U.S. administrations for its poor record on human rights and its geostrategic position that was assumed to be peripheral to U.S. interests, Central Asia was thrust on the U.S. foreign policy radar in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Security concerns, followed closely by establishing access routes to the region’s fossil fuels, have dominated the minds of policy makers ever since. In between these concerns has been the nagging question of political reform, something the Central Asian leadership has been disinclined to adopt. The Bush administration tried to find a balance between competing objectives in relation to Central Asia. Generally emphasizing the security aspect of the relationship, the Bush administration peppered its public statements on Central Asia with the occasional reference to the normative concepts of good governance and rule of law. The latter may have been mere window dressing, but such reference was a reminder of an inherent tension between pragmatism and idealism in the foreign policy of the United States. This chapter traces the ebbs and flows of these competing goals and examines the responses formulated by the Obama administration. It is argued that the Obama administration has continued to regard security and access to fossil fuels as Washington’s primary objectives while pushing concerns with normative aspects of foreign policy further to the background.