The Campaign Spot

Signs of Spring: Crocuses, Baseball, and Armenian Genocide Resolution Fights

A House committee passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, and Turkey recalled its ambassador.

Back in my years in Turkey and immediately after, I made pretty clear that I thought a congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide – or the “so-called Armenian Genocide,” as it must be called in Turkey under Turkish law — was a bad idea for U.S. interests:

First, reject any argument you hear that the Turks will get over this quickly, or that they will soon realize that they need us more than we need them. For starters, right now it’s entirely possible that we need them more than they need us – for use of Incirlik Air Base, for efforts against al-Qaeda in the region, for their troops in Afghanistan, for their continuing example that a Muslim country can be a functioning democratic Republic with free elections and free press, etc. (Turkey’s political system is far from perfect, but it works for them, and it is eons ahead of the country’s Arab neighbors.)

I knew many fine folks who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara while I was in Turkey; more than a few were Democrats. They cheered the Democratic takeover of Capitol Hill . . . until they realized this mean Pelosi would pass the Armenian Genocide resolution, and make their jobs exponentially more difficult for years to come.

To me, this resolution comes down to cost against benefit. We get the benefit of denouncing violent acts from nearly a hundred years ago. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., contends that this act will restore American moral authority around the world, a strong an argument as I’ve ever heard . . . for making members of Congress take drug tests. When it comes to this resolution, 1.5 million Armenians will love it, 80 million Turks will hate it, and the rest of the world will be indifferent.

Our foreign policy is now in the hands of Pelosi: willing to meet with Syrian dictators, but refusing to meet with Turkish members of parliament.

Is the aim of this to louse up our effort in Iraq? If the upside were bigger, and the downside were smaller, this kind of talk would be easier to dismiss.

I haven’t quite changed my mind, but I think I feel less strongly about this now than I did in the past, for a few reasons. One, our mission in Iraq is gradually winding down. Staying on good terms with the Turks is still important, but it is not quite as supremely vital as it was in previous years. Two, the decisions of the current Turkish government, headed by Erdogan, are increasingly irksome, pushing the country in a more Islamist direction. As I put it a year ago:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered an anti-Israeli tirade and stormed out of a panel with Israeli president Shimon Peres at Davos. Polls indicate that that Turks like Obama more than they like Americans. New lawsuits against cartoonists and journalists have weakened freedom of the press in a country where it had generally thrived not long ago. The Turks’ foreign policy has turned away from Europe and gotten closer to Russia and much warmer toward Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria than it was a short while ago.

The Turks don’t have to make decisions that we like, but they ought to recognize that when they do, there are consequences, including a waning interest in discouraging developments that irk them, like the Armenian Genocide resolution. Three, Obama pretty explicitly promised this as a candidate, and then that promise reached its expiration date; while his reluctance to keep that promise is probably better for our national interest and security, I don’t like applauding Obama for breaking his promises. Part of me wants to see Obama endure the consequences of a short-sighted promise designed to win over Armenian-Americans.

[I can hear some folks charging reason number four: You don’t live in Turkey anymore, you big weenie. Yes, you do become more attuned to a foreign country’s opinion when you live among them, and it’s easier for me to ignore the resolution question entirely; I haven’t kept up with Turkey-related news anywhere nearly as much as I would like.]

I still think passing the resolution brings more downside than upside, but who am I to doubt the commander-in-chief who nicknamed himself “LeBron James”? Perhaps he can talk it over in the White House meeting room with Jay-Z.

UPDATE: Ah, one of those typically warm and temperate responses:

What a shame! Had you been alive in 1914, you would have helped the Turks kill the last Armenian so that today no one would raise the issue of the Armenian genocide just to annoy you.

Without your help raping, torturing and butchering all the Armenians, some Armenians simply escaped and now despite your wishes seem to want historical justice. More annoyingly for you, the Armenian genocide issue is never going to be resolved and you will always be irritated.
After all, Hitler was wrong when he said, “Who remembers the Armenian genocide now.”

He must not have known about you. You always seem to remember the Armenian genocide and whenever the subjects comes up, you feel terribly aggravated. How dare Armenians interfere in the world order that you as a sympathizer of everything Turkish want to see established? If only the Turks had managed to kill the last Armenian, with or without your help, Americans would not be faced with some insignificant matter like the genocide of 2 million Armenians now!
You make the genocidal Turks always proud.

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