Twenty-six million people live in beleaguered Uzbekistan, almost exactly the same number of people who live in Iraq. President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan is a dictator who has perfected many of the techniques of repression developed by Saddam. There are at least 5,000 people unjustly imprisoned in Uzbekistan, many of them for their political or religious views. They are systematically tortured and murdered. There is in Uzbekistan nothing remotely resembling a free press or free speech.
Obviously Uzbekistan should be next in line for liberation by Tony Blair and his armed forces. A sure sign of the impending British invasion of Uzbekistan is the attitude of the British ambassador there, a feisty Scotsman called Craig Murray. He shocked the Uzbeks last year with a series of speeches complaining about, among other things, the rather un-British habit of boiling dissidents to death. He even incited the Uzbek people to "fight for democracy". That is how you would expect a representative of Tony Blair's government to behave.
But wait. Mr Murray has been recalled and scolded by the Foreign Office, who reminded him (as if he didn't know) that the Uzbek dictator provided airfields and bases from which the US air force could carry out their bombing raids on Afghanistan. Surely Mr Murray could understand that this generosity put Mr Karimov's dictatorship firmly on the side of the good guys, the democrats and the freedom fighters, and that Murray's speeches had caused nothing but embarrassment in the lands of the free.
Dictators, in other words, can have their uses, and Mr Murray should shut up. To his credit, he didn't. He went back to Tashkent and continued to denounce the government there. Indeed, he committed the shocking sin of comparing the treatment of prisoners in Uzbekistan to what happened in Iraq under Saddam (and is still happening under the auspices of the country's liberators). Before long, I predict, Mr Murray will be packed off somewhere safer.