Bush To Congress: Don’t Cross Turks On Armenians

by Frank James

Baltimore Sun
O ct 10 2007

Much of the world acknowledges the genocide of as many as 1.5 million
Armenians by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923 , a genocide that’s
often called the first in a century of genocides–the 20th century.

But it’s taboo to talk about the genocide in Turkey where many Turks
deny the mass murders ever happened.

And apparently, because of increasing pressure from Turkey, it’s now
taboo as well for the U.S. Congress to pass a resolution calling on
Bush Administration foreign policy to take account of the Armenian

President Bush came as close as a president comes to publicly begging
Congress not to pass the resolution.

House Resolution 106, which is to be considered this afternoon by
the House Foreign Affairs Committee, starts thusly:

Calling 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 for other purposes.

That language seems straightforward enough. But the Turkish government
so fiercely opposes the resolution that U.S. officials have clearly
been warned that the resolution’s passage could jeopardize Turkish
cooperation on Iraq.

That would be disastrous for U.S. troops in Iraq since much of the
materiel and oil that keeps them going passes through Turkey, the
U.S.’s longtime and NATO member.

So worried is the Bush Administration, that President Bush appended
some remarks about his opposition to the resolution to comments he
made this morning on the South Lawn on a completely different matter,
improvements to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act:

Bush said:

On another issue before Congress, I urge members to oppose the Armenian
genocide resolution now being considered by the House Foreign Affairs
Committee. We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian
people that began in 1915. This resolution is not the right response
to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to
our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror.

To drive home the message he sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
and Defense Secretary Robert Gates out to underscore the difficulties
that would be created for U.S. efforts in Iraq if Turkey decides to
stop cooperating with the U.S. SEC. RICE: We have just come from
a meeting with the president and from a meeting with our team in
Iraq and in the field, and we just wanted to make a brief comment
about the Armenian Genocide Resolution that is before the House
of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee today. And we are
all in agreement that the passage of this resolution would be very
destabilizing to our efforts in the Middle East, very destabilizing to
our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, because Turkey, as an important
strategic ally, is very critical in supporting the efforts that we
are making in these crucial areas.

I just want to note that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker
brought up the issue of this Armenian Genocide Resolution, as did
Admiral Fallon, and ask that we do everything that we could to make
certain that it does not pass.

I’m going to turn to Secretary Gates. But let me just say that this is
not because the United States fails to recognize the terrible tragedy
of 1915, the mass killings that took place there, that President Bush
had spoken about this issue repeatedly throughout his presidency. We
have encouraged the Turkish government to work with the Armenian
government to put together a way to overcome and reconcile these
horrible — this horrible past and these terrible differences. We
believe that there is some improvement in Turkish- Armenian relations.

So this is not to ignore what was a really terrible situation. And
we recognize the feelings of those who want to express their concern
and their disdain for what happened many years ago. But the passage
of this resolution at this time would indeed be very problematic
for everything that we are trying to do in the Middle East because
we are very dependent on a good Turkish strategic ally to help with
our efforts.

And maybe I could turn to Secretary Gates for a couple of comments.

SEC. GATES: Just a word or two. The reason that the commanders raised
this issue as our heavy dependence on Turkey in terms of resupply in
Iraq — about 70 percent of all air cargo going into Iraq comes —
goes through Turkey; about a third of the fuel that they consume goes
through Turkey or comes from Turkey. They believe clearly that access
to airfields and to the roads and so on in Turkey would be very much
put at risk if this resolution passes and the Turks react as strongly
as we believe they will.

Just one other small fact is that, as you know, we’re airlifting these
MRAPs, these Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, right now into
Iraq; 95 percent of those MRAPs going into Iraq right now are flying
— are being flown in through Turkey. And so our heavy dependence on
the Turks for access is really the reason the commanders raised this
and why we’re so concerned about the resolution.

Since what’s on the table in the House is a resolution that doesn’t
need a presidential signature, not a bill making law, the president
can’t exercise a veto like he has recently on legislation he has
found objectionable.

All he can do is jawbone Congress and raise the prospect of the U.S.

military being punished if Turkey retaliates, which the administration
clearly believes is likely judging by the urgency it attaches to
this issue.

To many minds, the situation the U.S. finds itself in with Turkey is
akin to being blackmailed.

"Is Turkey blackmailiing the U.S.?" a reporter asked White House
Press Secretary Dana Perino at today’s press briefing.

"Absolutely not," she said.