Politics & Policy

Grandstanding Has Consequences

It's amateur hour in Congress.

Last week, a congressional committee passed a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide. There is no doubt that up to a million Armenians died during World War I, although historians still debate whether their deaths constitute deliberate genocide or are collateral casualties of war.

House Democrats brought the resolution to a vote despite entreaties from the White House to postpone it. For Congress, though, the resolution was less about rectifying history than grandstanding. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos (D., Cal.) called a vote. It passed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) pooh-poohed the episode. This was not about Turkey, she explained, but rather “about the Ottoman Empire.” Unclear, though, is why congressional Democrats felt the urgent need to condemn an entity that hasn’t existed for 85 years.

Unfortunately, grandstanding has consequences. Turkey recalled its ambassador; and now the State Department finds itself now devoid of leverage to prevent a Turkish incursion into Iraq to fight Kurdish terrorists. Pelosi’s posturing has put U.S. use of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to supply our forces both in Afghanistan and Iraq in jeopardy.

If only the Armenian Genocide resolution was an isolated event. It’s amateur hour in Congress. The efforts of Sen. Joseph Biden (D., Del.) to divide Iraq on ethnic and religious grounds threaten to spark civil war just as U.S. servicemen make inroads in preventing it. Biden’s motivation may be to garner media attention. He has succeeded. The problem, though, his statements get more airtime in Iran and Iraq, where revolutionary mullahs use his pronouncements to convince Iraqis that U.S. forces seek to destroy Iraq rather than rebuild it.

The list goes on. In May 2006, Rep. Jack Murtha (D., Pa.) said that U.S. Marines executed Iraqis “in cold blood.” Overnight, his clip became an Al-Jazeera favorite. Islamist terrorists used Murtha’s words to justify their murder of Americans. Now, a court martial has dismissed murder charges against the servicemen Murtha accused; Murtha has yet to apologize.

Other congressmen see intelligence briefings as an ala carte menu for chest-thumbing leaks than part of confidential oversight duties. Every leak splashed across a New York Times undercuts the war on terror.

Junkets also have a cost. Basking in the glow of Pelosi’s headline-garnering visit to Damascus — again in contravention of a State Department request — Syrian leader Bashar al-Asad upgraded his support for Hezbollah and his nuclear dealings with North Korea.

The resolution, while important to the Armenian-American community — perhaps less so to Armenians living in Armenia who worry much more about economic development — also raises a host of questions about how Congress picks and chooses which atrocities to weigh in on. While Condoleezza Rice seeks to bring Beijing on board with Iran sanctions — a Herculean if not impossible task — will the House Foreign Affairs Committee condemn Beijing for the millions who perished during the Cultural Revolution? Their murders — politically motivated and, as far as the historical record is concerned, far more deliberate and coordinated — also occurred much more recently. Perhaps the House Foreign Affairs Committee will also act to bring Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masud Barzani to justice for ordering the disappearance and summary executions of perhaps 3,000 Kurds during the 1994-1997 Kurdish civil war. This is not to suggest that such cases should not be pursued. But, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is not the place to pursue such historical investigations; universities are.

In an election season, Pelosi, Biden, and Murtha, may have no greater goal than to garner headlines, but U.S. servicemen fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan do. Countering proliferation and fighting terrorism will dominate diplomacy regardless of who next occupies the White House. There’s no time for amateur hour. As U.S. troops continue to sacrifice to defend U.S. national security, it is unfortunate that headline seeking congressmen seek to make their job that much harder.

Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.


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