Bad time to bash Turkey over Armenian deaths

Bad time to bash Turkey over Armenian deaths

Jacobs: Genocide or no, House panel’s vote likely to hurt U.S. interests

By Jack Jacobs
Military analyst

Updated: 2:05 p.m. ET Oct 15, 2007

If you want freedom, select a republican democracy, like we have in
the United States. But be warned that it’s a very messy form of
government. Internal politics can be frustrating and verbose, and
candidates for public office will be much better at raising money than
governing. Most election days, if you participate at all, you will
cast your vote not for who you believe is the best candidate but for
the person you dislike the least.

And if you have the American structure of government, you will also
get several competing branches, each of which has its own opinion of
how things should be done. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, the
prime minister is the leader of the party that wins the most seats in
Parliament, so the objectives of the government and of the Parliament
are usually the same. Things get accomplished with startling speed and

Not so in the United States, and few things demonstrate the occasional
dysfunction and unrelenting dynamic tension of our system than the
impending House vote on the deaths of a huge number of Armenians in

Last week, the House Foreign Relations Committee voted to condemn the
killing of Armenians during World War I. By some estimates, more than
1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed in the waning days of
the Ottoman Empire. Turkey has steadfastly maintained that far fewer
died and that their deaths were the result of the war, not of an
organized genocide, but the majority of the rest of the world, and now
the House Foreign Relations Committee, believe otherwise.

At 27-21, the vote was not exactly unanimous, but soon the entire
House of Representatives will probably vote to label the tragedy a
genocide, too, despite the exhortations of the White House. Meanwhile,
the Turkish government has predictably responded with great anger.

Now, it’s not that the executive branch thinks that Armenians weren’t
murdered. Indeed, if there is anyone in the government who doesn’t
think that the killing was genocide, he has yet to step forward. But
right now the Bush administration doesn’t need another strategic
problem, particularly not one involving Turkey. The Turks have been
reliable allies of ours. They fought bravely on our side in Korea, for
example, and are extremely helpful in the war against terrorists in a
wide variety of ways, including giving us liberal basing rights from
which we support the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the Turks do plenty of things we don’t like, and a few
of them are antithetical to our strategic objectives in the region, if
not outright dangerous. For example, the Kurdish people in Iraq, Iran,
Turkey and Syria have long wanted to coalesce into one independent
state, and there is the real possibility that attempts to do so will
be met with massive violence across southwest Asia. Turkey is fighting
a restive, secessionist Kurdish minority, and there are some reports
that the Turks have fired artillery into Iraqi Kurdistan. That isn’t
very helpful to our goals in Iraq, and increased violence that
involves Kurds, Iraq and Turkey is liable to escalate out of control
very rapidly.

But the House committee vote taking Turkey to task for the slaughter
of Armenians has nothing to do with that; it’s really all about
domestic politics, not international relations. Its result is that the
Turks are liable, if not likely, to rescind our basing and overflight
rights in Turkey, and this will exacerbate American problems in the
region. Furthermore, if Turkey is already wary of our resolve, a
resolution by the full House to castigate the Turks won’t do anything
to increase our leverage with them, and destabilizing violence against
Kurds will probably increase.

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