The Genocide Brand

This week Democrats in Congress have seen their claims on the moral “high ground” in an effort to label the Ottoman Empire’s ethnic cleansing of a million Armenians nearly a century ago evaporate. A report by Howard LaFranchi in the Christian Science Monitor illustrates how partisan blindness to a singular key fact makes such blunders possible.

Turkey, a key ally in America's war effort in Iraq in spite of that country's early resistance to the invasion and subsequent pacification efforts, has taken the push by Democrats to smear it with the sins of people long dead operating under a defunct regime as a national affront. As Turkey recalled their ambassador to illustrate their outrage, the White House viewed the push for a resolution as yet another ill-advised foreign policy bungle by partisans seeking political advantage.

LaFranchi's article is itself illustrative of the logical disconnect at work in the thinking of Democrats. This has been labeled as an opportunity to stake out our values as a nation and even the article draws parallels between this genocide and other moral issues. These include the Darfur genocide of recent years and the visit of the Dalai Lama this week. One quote, reeking of Irony, was particularly striking-

"We regularly see the impulse of Wilsonian idealism, the emphasis on democracy and human rights, counterbalanced by the pragmatic demands of realpolitik. It's one of the constant dynamics of American foreign policy," says Thomas Henriksen, a foreign-policy scholar at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif. "We want to be the city on the hill, but then some overriding interests come up and we say, 'Oh, that's different.' "

The "Wilsonian Idealism" is the height of folly in this context since much of the Ottoman plunder occurred during Wilson's administration to their complete silence. Theodore Roosevelt, in his 1916 book Fear God and Take Your Own Part gives a litany of the moral failings and flailings of the Wilson administration so long and so well documented it seems almost a script for black comedy on a metaphysical scale. With this script Democrats seem to be hoping for an Oscar. (Roosevelt's book, by the way, presents a remarkable picture of the ideological continuity of the Democratic Party, a brilliant piece of political prophecy.)

The great trouble is that what Democrats are doing IS Wilsonian idealism. It is an idealism of empty gestures toward its expressed goals designed to achieve ulterior motives. In this case the only logical motive, assuming there is any real intelligence in the House leadership, is undermining the relationship of a key ally in the war in Iraq.

There is no relationship between the sins of the Ottoman Empire starting in 1915 and more recent legitimate genocides like that in China, or Cambodia and Viet Nam, or (name your African genocide here). LaFranchi's article derides our public denunciations of recent and current outrages as lacking courage while their perpetrators are still alive, even as it is lifting up highlighting the massacre of Armenians by people long since dead under a government that no longer exists as an act of courage. This is worse than ridiculous. It is silly.

News reports yesterday demonstrated how this return to "idealism" had been found out and, upon exposure, turned back.

Posted by Lee Emmerich Jamison at October 18, 2007 10:09 AM
Comment #236400

How exactly is it smearing Turkey to say that a different country that predates Turkey did something wrong? I know that the reality of what the Ottomans did is something that is ignored in the founding mythology of the nation of Turkey, so that’s why they object. However, how do you see it as a smear? Have you even read the resolution? The Declaration of Policy doesn’t even mention the modern Turkish state:

The House of Representatives—
(1) calls upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution;
(2) calls upon the President in the President’s annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide issued on or about April 24, to accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide and to recall the proud history of United States intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide.

The resolution doesn’t “smear” the modern nation of Turkey at all.

Posted by: LawnBoy at October 18, 2007 10:35 AM
Comment #236401

I meant to include a link to the resolution.

Posted by: LawnBoy at October 18, 2007 10:42 AM
Comment #236402


The point, I believe, is that this is a huge waste of time, and diplomatic currency.
I don’t need to deny that this actually happened to realize this resolution isn’t in the best interests of American foreign policy.

I think our intrepid leaders either need to keep their collective eye on the ball, or else get a hobby that isn’t quite so destructive.

Posted by: Rocky at October 18, 2007 10:44 AM
Comment #236404

When Republicans highlight the atrocities of the Democratic party against minorities throughout the nineteeth and early twentieth century Democrats howl at the injustice of it. That would seem to be rubbing salt in a perceived wound. When it happens at election time it is called outrageous electioneering.

The same thing applies here. The timing is intentionally intended to rub salt in a wound the Turkish people are sensitive to at a time when it can do the most harm to our relationship with a nation important to the war effort in Iraq.

I don’t see similar calls for recognition of the 20,000,000 dead in the Soviet genocide of the ’30s, or China’s genocides of the ’50s and ’60s with even more dead, or the Cambodian and Vietnamese genocide of the ’70s where some leaders still live from those days. One might wonder if there is something morally better to this Congress about Communist genocides totalling more than 60,000,000 dead than there is in the safely distant, but currently logistically significant, Turkish issue.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 18, 2007 10:53 AM
Comment #236407

I guess the difference is that no one (to my knowledge) is denying those other atrocities. There’s actually a reason to assert the reality here, in comparison to the other cases that you find more ideologically appealing.

Posted by: LawnBoy at October 18, 2007 11:10 AM
Comment #236408

Although I share your contempt for Wilsonian idealism,after all it was that that got us mistakenly into WW1, I hardly think it applies. Congressman Schiff was just doing his job and representing one of his major constiteuncies.
I find the Turkish denial of history pointless and galling.Why? Are they concrened about Armenian property claims? On the other hand the genocide did occur,just as Saddams attemted genocide against the Kurds occurred. There is a stink of hypocracy involved. How would we react if the Turks passed a resolution condemming the well documented,more protracted and larger genocide of Native Americans by the US? BTW the same government as we have now, unlike the case of Turks.We too have plenty of denial.

Posted by: BillS at October 18, 2007 11:21 AM
Comment #236412


You make good points, particularly as they relate to the devastation of American Indian population (most of which, arguably, were wiped out by diseases such as chickenpox to which they had no imunity), but examine the situation as though we were involved in someone else’s war.

Russia invades Canada and we agree to be a conduit for relief from the rest of the British Commonwealth. Imagine in the face of that that the British Parliament decides that is the appropriate time to condemn American atrocities toward the native peoples of the Americas.

Have we done bad things? Well, yeah! Would that be the best time to bring it up? You decide.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 18, 2007 11:35 AM
Comment #236414

Virtually every “civilized” country has done things that could be considered atrocities.
Shall we all just condemn ourselves and have it done with?
When we are sitting on the razors edge of chaos, should we reach out to poke another country also sitting on it’s own edge?

Frankly, I don’t see the need at this time for Mr Schiff’s blatent pandering to his constituents.

There is a much bigger picture here, and if we keep poking people in the eye, fewer of us will be able to see it.

Posted by: Rocky at October 18, 2007 12:05 PM
Comment #236415

Rocky wrote-“Virtually every “civilized” country has done things that could be considered atrocities.
Shall we all just condemn ourselves and have it done with?”

I would go further. Every people on Earth today has benefitted from atrocities in the past. We either do or don’t remember. Such memory requires more than a little courage and humility on our part. Poking the stick in the eyes of others should only be done therapeutically, for their benefit not for our comfort, given the planks in our own eyes.

Rocky, great last line.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 18, 2007 12:17 PM
Comment #236458

Great timing, eh?

Posted by: d.a.n at October 18, 2007 9:56 PM
Comment #236471

“blantant pandering to his constituents”…. Please, that is what he is paid for. He has a responsibility to furthur their agendas and they and he are not wrong. The Armenian genocide did happen.Thats why Schiff has so many Armenian constituents and there is a valid concern that it not be forgotten for the same reason there are Jewish organizations dedicated to preserving Holocaust records. What is unfortunate is the timimg and the rather peculiar reaction of the Turks. It was not even the same government that commited the acts.

Posted by: bills at October 19, 2007 3:14 AM
Comment #236475


As I said before, I will not deny that this happened.
This resolution has come up many times before, and been rejected every time by cooler heads. Turkey is a NATO ally, and our situation, with Turkey right now is tenuous at best.
I feel Mr Schiff is pandering because of his impeccable timing, and regardless of the commitment to his constituents, who, BTW, make up about .01% of the population of America, his first responsibility is to all people of the United States, not just to those who helped elect him.
There are several explanations as to what happened, and we don’t know exactly who is right, but that isn’t the point.
The point is the timing, and what it could do to world support of American foreign policy.

Posted by: Rocky at October 19, 2007 6:02 AM
Comment #236485

Armenians make up a much larger percentage of Schiff’s district. That area was a popular settlement point for refugees from the genocide. The Armenians there now are the grandchildren of the survivors.
Personally I want my congressperson to attend to the needs and desires of MY district. Others can attend to their own district. That is not pandering. That is representitive democracy.
Timing? When will be a good time?In another sense perhaps this is a great time to remind the Turks that the world is watching as they prepare for what may well turn into a pogram against the Kurdish minority.I will agree that the point has been made already,the message delivered, and the motion should be tabled for now.That appears to be what is happening.Look deeper,without partisan spin, and this was a good thing.

Posted by: BillS at October 19, 2007 2:37 PM
Comment #236494

“Look deeper,without partisan spin, and this was a good thing.”

Partisan spin? Whatever…

Shall we next have a resolution on Lenin condemning him for the slaughter of millions in Russia?
How about a resolution condemning China and Mao for slaughtering millions during the purge?
The Spanish for the Aztecs?
How about the British for India?
Or the Brits and Australians for what they did to the Aborigines?
Where shall we end this?

This resolution is condemning the Ottomans, a culture that doesn’t even exist anymore, and it is putting a country that didn’t exist at the time up before the world for public humiliation.

This is history, and anyone that doesn’t take the time to study history deserves whatever they get.

No sir, Mr. Schiff is wrong.

Posted by: Rocky at October 19, 2007 5:38 PM
Comment #236500

Indeed it is history and forgeting it,or denying it condemns to repetition. This is a good reminder that the Turks may no longer embark on an ethnic cleansing campaign against our other important allie,the Kurds,without global repercussions. I hope the bill does not pass or is withdrawn. The message has been delivered.I would not be surprised if that was the goal all along and the Whitehouse and congress coluded on this.

BTW That is Congressman Schiff

Posted by: BillS at October 19, 2007 10:24 PM
Comment #236509

The Democrats need to get their heads out of their ass*ss. This latest debacle is a huge waste of time and energy. I have a question for Pelosi and Reid, as well as the rest of the Democratic party for that matter? What exactly is your plan since winning the narrow majority back in Congress? The Democrats have practically been a bunch of deadbeats in Congress since last November. To me, and I voted Democrats in my state Pennsylvania back in office…the Democrats seem incapable of getting anything positive done for this country. The American people have made it clear the need for change in Iraq and on Domestic policy. Neither political issue has seen much change or notice for that matter by the Democratic party.

Posted by: Tom K at October 20, 2007 1:02 AM
Comment #236514

Turkey’s “strange reaction” is pretty simple. They are a country with a Muslim majority in a region with a tremendous number of radical Islamists attempting to control the message. They also must deal with a group of Kurdish separatists who are using the cover of the Iraqi border the same way Al Qaida is using the cover of the Pakistani border with Iraq.

Turkey has legitimate problems to deal with in the region and Democrats sought to throw gasoline on the embers of the fires they have been fighting.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 20, 2007 10:47 AM
Comment #236517

Turkey has problems to deal with. What does that have to do with the Armenian genocide? I just can’t see the connection beyond what I have postulated above,that this is a warning that they may not start ethnic cleansing of the Kurds.There is no other constraint implied by stating an historical truth.The Turkish Kurds are in a situation not unlike that of the Armenians. They are considered to be sympathetic to a forign state,this time to the de facto Kurdish state in Northern Iraq,a state BTW the US has had much to do with creating and a state the US relies upon in the Iraq conflict.

Posted by: BillS at October 20, 2007 11:58 AM
Comment #236520


“I just can’t see the connection beyond what I have postulated above,that this is a warning that they may not start ethnic cleansing of the Kurds.”

Do you understand that Turkey is theoretically an ally?
Do you understand that allies are nurtured, not insulted or threatened?
Historical fact or not, how does this resolution help our cause by rubbing Turkey’s face in it?

Posted by: Rocky at October 20, 2007 1:21 PM
Comment #236521

For the sake of discussion let’s say that There is a “de facto Kurdish state” in northern Iraq. Let’s say America helped put it there. Let’s say the U.S. is Turkey’s most powerful and influential Ally, the source, by the way, of a great deal of Turkey’s military hardware.
Will the U.S. giving Turkey what it perceives as an insult and an affront be substantially more effective a deterrent than our saying to them in fairly strong diplomatic terms “Don’t invade Iraq.”?

Gosh, I may be pretty dim, but I don’t think so.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 20, 2007 1:50 PM
Comment #236530

Turkey’s main cocern for Northern Iraq has long been a raise of Kurdish nationalism because of the potential to forment an trouble among their large Kurdish minority. The message delivered here is not,”Do not invade Iraq”,but rather “do not brutally repress the Turkish Kurds.” . Moreover it has not been delivered in a way that puts the State Dept. officially on record. Very clever,if you ask me.Turkey’s feathers will unruffle and hopefully they will heed the warning. Too clever for Bush but not for Rice.

Posted by: BillS at October 20, 2007 5:04 PM
Comment #236560

Oh come on.

The great majority of previous genocides in the last century, including the Armenian one, happened at times and in circumstances that gave at least nominal cover to the perpetrators. In a bit of brutalist black comedy the 1932 Pulitzer Prize was given the New York Times Russian correspondent Walter Duranty for spouting the Stalinist party line even as Stalin was murdering at least six million Ukrainian farmers. So here in the West the intelligentsia were even contributing to the cover that made such purges of convenience possible. (The Times still celebrates Duranty’s Pulitzer.)

Is it likely such a thing could happen in the press environment today? Shoot! The American press in Iraq would love to have a genocide by what they could characterize as a Bush ally!

Even if Turkey WANTED a genocide they would have to contemplate doing it with lights, cameras, and stage direction (“Could you blow him up so the pieces land over there?”).

Nobody is that stupid.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 21, 2007 6:17 PM
Comment #236608

Ask the Greeks what the Turks are capable of.

Posted by: Bills at October 22, 2007 6:49 AM
Comment #236709

It’s OK if we invade Iraq to chase terrorists, and attempt to bring stability to the middle east, but nobody else should.

Posted by: L. Knight at October 22, 2007 8:16 PM
Comment #236810

Oh, Democrats where is your courage? Since when does a foreign country cowtow our Congress into withdrawing a resolution. The Administration didn’t agree with what the Resolution said, they just feared what Turkey would do to the “war effort”.
At the 25th Anniversary of the NJ Holocaust Education Commission at Kean U. on Sunday, the President of Kean University recalled how Turkey threatened to stop doing business with NJ companies if they included the Armenian Genocide in their work. Gov. Whitman told Kean to go ahead and not to worry about that. What a difference a couple decades make.
The Democrats in Congress withdrew a resolution that started with a couple of hundred sponsors. After her continuing failings, Nancy Pelosi should immediately resign as Speaker.

Posted by: Dr. Tom at October 23, 2007 10:31 PM
Comment #236832

It was interesting in the midst of all this that, on the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed page yesterday there was an article noting that we have no greater boosters in Iraq than the Kurds. they won’t even, according to the report, hear of talk of the American “invasion” without correcting the word to “liberation”. If they are desperately in fear of Turkey, whatever Turkey may think of the Armenian situation, they seem not to show it.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 24, 2007 12:03 PM
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