There are three relevant questions concerning the Armenian genocide.
(a) Did it happen?
(b) Should the U.S. House of Representatives be expressing itself on this now?
(c) Was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s determination to bring this to a vote, knowing that it risked provoking Turkey into withdrawing crucial assistance to American soldiers in Iraq, a conscious (columnist Thomas Sowell) or unconscious (blogger Mickey Kaus) attempt to sabotage the U.S. war effort?
The answers are:
(a) Yes, unequivocally.
(b) No, unequivocally.
(c) God only knows.
That between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians were brutally and systematically massacred starting in 1915 in a deliberate genocidal campaign is a matter of simple historical record. If you really want to deepen and broaden awareness of that historical record, you should support the establishment of the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial in Washington, D.C. But to pass a declarative resolution in the House of Representatives in the middle of a war in which we are inordinately dependent on Turkey is the height of irresponsibility.
The atrocities happened 90 years ago. Not a single living Turk under the age of 102 is in any way culpable. Even Mesrob Mutafyan, patriarch of the Armenian community in Turkey, has stated that his community is opposed to the resolution, correctly calling it the result of domestic American politics.
Turkey is already massing troops near the Iraq border, threatening a campaign against Kurdish rebels that could destabilize the one stable front in Iraq. The same House of Representatives that has been complaining loudly about the lack of armored vehicles for our troops is blithely jeopardizing relations with the country through which 95 percent of the new heavily armored vehicles are now transiting on the way to saving American lives in Iraq.
And for what? To feel morally clean?
How does this work? Pelosi says: “Genocide still exists, and we saw it in Rwanda; we see it now in Darfur.” Precisely. And what exactly is she doing about Darfur? Nothing. Pronouncing yourself on a genocide committed 90 years ago by an empire that no longer exists is Pelosi’s demonstration of seriousness about existing, ongoing genocide?
Indeed, the Democratic party she’s leading in the House has been trying for months to force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq that could very well lead to genocidal civil war. This prospect has apparently not deterred her in the least.
“Friends don’t let friends commit crimes against humanity,” explained Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that passed the Armenian genocide resolution. This must rank among the most stupid statements ever uttered by a member of Congress, admittedly a very high bar.
Does Smith know anything about the history of the Armenian genocide? Of the role played by Henry Morgenthau? As U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Morgenthau tried desperately to intervene on behalf of the Armenians. It was his consular officials deep within Turkey who (together with missionaries) brought out news of the genocide. And it was Morgenthau who helped tell the world about it in his writings. Near East Relief, the U.S. charity strongly backed by President Wilson and the Congress, raised and distributed an astonishing $117 million in food, clothing and other vital assistance that, wrote historian Howard Sachar, “quite literally kept an entire nation alive.”
So much for the U.S. letting friends commit crimes against humanity. And at the time, the Ottomans were not friends. They were an enemy power in World War I, allied with Germany. Now the Turks are indeed friends, giving us indispensable logistical help in our war against today’s premier perpetrators of crimes against humanity — al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan. Friends don’t gratuitously antagonize friends who are helping fight the world’s foremost war criminals.
So why has Pelosi been so committed to bringing this resolution to the floor? (At least until a revolt within her party and the prospect of defeat caused her to waver.) Because she is deeply unserious about foreign policy. This little stunt gets added to the ledger: first, her visit to Syria, which did nothing but give legitimacy to Bashar al-Assad, who continues to be engaged in the systematic murder of pro-Western Lebanese members of parliament; then, her letter to Costa Rica’s ambassador, just nine days before a national referendum, aiding and abetting opponents of a very important free-trade agreement with the United States.
Is the Armenian resolution her way of unconsciously sabotaging the U.S. war effort, after she had failed to stop it by more direct means? I leave that question to psychiatry. Instead, I fall back on Krauthammer’s razor (with apologies to Occam): In explaining any puzzling Washington phenomenon, always choose stupidity over conspiracy, incompetence over cunning. Anything else gives them too much credit.
© 2007, The Washington Post Writers Group