Oct 16, 2007

Some Observations on Foreign Affairs

So the House Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has passed on to the floor of the House the bill formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide, and the Turks are annoyed and threatening to hold off on air and transport rights for supplies to our troops. Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports passing the resolution calling the killing of Armenians during World War I a genocide.

However, George Bush thinks now that it is wrong finally to recognize the Armenian genocide (which he kind of supported, you may remember, back in February 2002 when he first ran for president. At first you want to call the man a hypocrite again and remind him of his pledge. But he only pledged in a letter to two Armenian Activists, two college friends, who then passed it on to the Armenian National Committee of America:

History records that the Armenians were the first people of the last century to have endured these cruelties. The Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign that defies comprehension and commands all decent people to remember and acknowledge the facts and lessons of an awful crime in a century of bloody crimes against humanity. If elected President, I would ensure that our nation properly recognizes the tragic suffering of the Armenian people.

(The text of the Texas Governor's letter is here.) How many Armenian votes did he pick up for that one? The paragraph is sly prose—it has Republican Spin Meister glycerin all over it—because it never really says that Bush would ensure that this country properly recognize the “tragic suffering” as genocide, only that he will make sure it is “properly“ recognized. Weasel me this, weasel me that.

Next, here is John Boehner, the Republican hack from Ohio, calling the resolution “irresponsible" on Fox News Sunday (as quoted in an AP article):

"Listen, there's no question that the suffering of the Armenian people some 90 years ago was extreme. But what happened 90 years ago ought to be a subject for historians to sort out, not politicians here in Washington."

Funny, it sounds just like Ahmadinejad last month (and last year after his "Anti-holocaust Convention") commenting on how historians still need to sort out the facts of the matter. Maybe Boehner actually paid attention to the President of Iran during the latter's recent visit to the US.

The subject of the Armenian genocide has in fact has been settled by historians in nearly one hundred years of research and scholarship. Legal opinions have been issued. And we, that is to say, we Americans, knew of it in 1915 as it happened, when Ambassador Henry Morgenthau sent reports early in that year to the State Department. Morgenthau later related the mass killings in an account of his years as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire published in 1919. The documentation is clear, and for a horrifying account, consult Robert Fisk's monumental The Great War for Civilization, chapter 10.

But now, the Bush Administration is scrambling, caught on the horn of an unintended consequence of our illegal war in Iraq. You may recall Turkey did not support the war effort and in fact pissed off Donald Rumsfeld before we struck in March of 2003 by refusing to allow its airbases to be used for the initial attacks. It appears that pressure, over the past four years has been applied and Turkey has been helping us out. Now the gonads of the war are in a vise of our own making: about 70% of the supplies for the war are being transported through Turkey, and Turkey is threatening to deny access.

It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out. Turkey is plenty mad at us for failing to stop the raids and terrorist acts of Kurdish rebels. Turkey is sending artillery shells into northern Iraq now and they are are especially ticked that some of those missing assault rifles are showing up in the Kurdish terrorists' hands. Of course, Turkey has been in a state of denial about the Armenian genocide since it happened—probably even more obsessively than our denial of genocide of native American Indians—and it is probably about time it learned to live with its past.

A really interesting sidebar on this whole matter is how Israel has failed to support the recognition of the Armenian genocide as strongly as it could. Of course, Israel has good diplomatic relations with Turkey to begin with, but according to Leonard Fein in the Jewish Daily Forward, the State of Israel's position was expressed in 2001 when “Shimon Peres, then Israel’s foreign minister, could say, 'We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. What the Armenians went through is a tragedy, but not genocide.'” Fein goes on to point out that while the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Reform Jewish movement apparently recognize the Armenian genocide, “the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and B’nai B’rith International . . .have steadfastly refused to endorse [the] bill currently before Congress that would formally acknowledge the fact of the Armenian genocide.”

Well, actually, there has been some movement at the ADL, though it took them a long while to “agree”:

New York, NY, August 21, 2007 … Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti- Defamation League (ADL) today issued the following statement:

In light of the heated controversy that has surrounded the Turkish-Armenian issue in recent weeks, and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians.

We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.
For years the ADL position had been to deny that the Armenian Genocide was a genocide, and in fact it was only after a conflict in New England this past summer that the above statement was produced. But look carefully: it has all the slipperiness of the Bush letter to his graduate school chums: Abe Foxman agrees with Morgenthau (at last! How long has Henry Morgenthau been dead? Since 1946 you say? No kidding!) that those actions were “tantamount to genocide” and then Foxman shimmies a little in the last sentence, “if the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.” And so, can we get a witness here, can you, Abe Foxman, say it's actually genocide? Nope, not quite.

The analysis of the letter and the brouhaha is nicely given by Rory Finnin in “The Anti-Defamation League and the Armenian Genocide” on the website History and Reconciliation. And although Finnin concludes his piece by saying that the ADL on the next day eliminated the ambiguity, a search of their website and press releases still shows a bit of rhetorical disingenousness:

Although independent scholars may have reached a consensus about the genocide, in an effort to help accomplish the reconciliation there is room for further dispassionate scholarly examination of the details of those dark and terrible days.
It sounds like Boehner, it sounds like—dare I say it again?--Ahmedinijad, asking for more scholarly investigation of what everyone agrees on already, playing for time, weaseling out of admitting that the word genocide is justified when the facts are there for everyone to examine. There really is a good deal of support in the US for the resolution on the Armenian Genocide. Well over 50 mainstream ethnic, human rights, civic, and religious organizations support it.

However, no one in the Administration wants to anger the Turks any further, threaten the outbreak of a a wider conflict in the Middle East, or choke the supply lines. The Bush Administration is scrambling here and finding out again the flaccid and impoverished quality of its imagination and strategic thinking.

Who knows, if Congress finds it can really skeeve the Turks, maybe it can also begin to see that it can anger the Israeli government by suggesting that they stop building illegal settlements, move their walls back to the 1967 Green line, pay reparations to people for the destruction of their houses and farmland, make restitution of their water rights, recognize the Palestinian State's right to exist, open Jerusalem as an international city, and come to a fair and equitable settlement for the Palestinian refugees.

Well, it's nice to hope, anyway.

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