Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gun-shy on genocide

Saturday, October 13, 2007
Albany Times Union, NY
America should not stoop that low by being an accomplice to the denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey. America will say it as it is and it is up to Turkey to understand and respect American values. Who needs a friend like Turkey that threatens American lives when America speaks its conscience?
In a saner world, where political niceties don't so readily give way to the rituals of denial and retreat, the resolution by a House committee condemning the mass killings of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I for what it was -- genocide, in a word -- would be too innocuous to command much in the way of presidential attention. But there was President Bush, in ever typical character, urging Congress to retreat from the truth.

The scene on the White House lawn Wednesday might best be described as where the realpolitik championed by Henry Kissinger intersects with the perversion of language, and ultimately veracity, spelled out by George Orwell. To say the obvious about the massacre of Armenians would be to offend the offenders, namely the Turks responsible for such atrocities they deny to this day. And Turkey, of course, is one of the few countries that still supports Mr. Bush in his stubborn determination to stick it out in the Iraq war.

Shipping supplies through Turkey and into Iraq, critical as it is in a nonetheless unwinnable war, becomes a diplomatic obstacle of its own suddenly. Don't say anything, even about the genocide of nearly a century ago, if it's to offend a modern-day ally. So what if Turkey has now taken to dropping uneasy hints about attacking the Kurds? The Bush administration still prefers accommodation and compliance.

The thinking at the White House isn't much different under Mr. Bush than it was under President Clinton, who stopped a similar House resolution. Only the plain-speaking, and at times impolitic, President Reagan was willing to describe what the Turks did to the Armenians in the most appropriately blunt language.

Mr. Bush, by contrast, uses such insulting euphemisms as "the tragic suffering of the Armenian people" as he pleads with the House not to denounce what can't be allowed to be forgotten, overlooked or otherwise qualified or rationalized.

"This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings," he says, "and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror."

Rough translation: That was then, World I, and I have my own battle to wage and legacy to salvage.

Imagine how the President, of all people, might react if someone dared to suggest that a condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks and the terrorists responsible for them would do harm to a larger political goal. Or how he'd respond to someone resisting a resolution honoring the casualties of the Iraq war, on the grounds that the war must be opposed on all fronts and in all ways.

It's troubling that Mr. Bush appears to need to be reminded that the United States is supposed to stand for something, namely some of the grandest ideals and principles imaginable.

The deaths of 1.5 million people at the hands of a crumbling Ottoman Empire to drive Armenians out of eastern Turkey were more than the inevitable consequences the government in Istanbul and some historians say they were. This was genocide. To oppose its condemnation raises some very troubling questions about what this government might do if such atrocities were to be repeated.

THE ISSUE: The White House is hesitant to condemn the mass killings of Armenians.

THE STAKES: Such deference to Turkey puts the U.S. atop a slippery slope.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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