Azerbaijan – Washington’s Corleone Family Friend

Yesterday’s Sunday New York Times carried an editorial by the paper that does Paper of Record credit. It focused a spotlight on the authoritarian rule of Ilham Aliyev in Washington-allied Azerbaijan. The editorial cites a Wikileaks revelation (the paper’s hostility towards the transparancy organization while relying upon them as the source for so many insights is not a contradiction we are likely to see the Times publicly confront) that the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan had compared Aliyev to Michael and Sonny Corleone of the “Godfather” mafia family. Just another national ally. They say you can learn a lot about someone by looking at who their friends are…

Ilham Aliyev

Ilham Aliyev

The editorial is titled “The Two Faces of Azerbaijan’s Mr. Aliyev.” On the one hand, the Times calls Aliyev “hugely corrupt, and his authoritarian regime has one of the world’s worst records on human rights.” That’s one face. The other face is apparently that he is “pro-Western.” The Times explains what this means: “He is suave, well dressed and well spoken in English; he is ready to send his country’s ample supplies of oil and gas to Europe and to Israel; his Islam is moderate and modern; and he hosts lavish international events like the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 and the European Games to be held next June.”

Outside the ideological atmosphere of the Times editorial offices, it is not at all clear why these attributes are in any way at odds or are anything other than one coherent face.

The U.S. ambassador explained that Aliyev confronted Washington with “a choice between U.S. interests and U.S. values.” Of course, the interests have been winning out from the beginning and there are no signs of this changing. As for the values, if they remain simply words never translated to action – or more accurately, thoughts not even publicly expressed – are they really values? Comforting rationalizations and window-dressing for the more soft-hearted would seem a more appropriate term.

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