Everyone understands why, and I doubt President Romney would do any different. Even so, it’s unthinkable that the U.S. would ever acquiesce in Holocaust denial simply in order to please some important ally. With the Armenian genocide, we’re willing to play an Orwellian little game with the Turks in which we acknowledge obliquely that something horrific happened in 1915 but never quite say what that horrific thing was or who might have been responsible. Watch the clip below of Bush going so far as to call on Congress to oppose a resolution recognizing the genocide in Armenia in the interest of keeping Turkey a more or less team player on Iraq. Again: Understandable from a bottom-line perspective on U.S. interests abroad. But still awful.
In keeping with the rest of his foreign policy, Obama talked a good game on this issue at Bush’s expense before he was elected and then wasted no time in following his predecessor’s lead. Jake Tapper:
“America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides,” he said. “I intend to be that president.” In a January 2008 letter to the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Obama said he shared “with Armenian Americans — so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors — a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history.”
In a statement, Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America said, “President Obama today completed his surrender to Turkey, shamefully outsourcing U.S. human rights policy to a foreign state, and tightening Ankara’s gag on American recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The President’s capitulation to Turkey – on this, the last April 24th of his term – represents the very opposite of the principled and honest change he promised to Armenian Americans and to all the citizens of our nation. President Obama’s pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide stands today as a stark lie, a painful promise etched on the hearts of all who had hoped and worked for change, but who, today, have been betrayed by a politician who failed to live up to his own words.”…
The president in his statement today said “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915. My view of that history has not changed. A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests. Moving forward with the future cannot be done without reckoning with the facts of the past. …Some individuals have already taken this courageous step forward. We applaud those Armenians and Turks who have taken this path, and we hope that many more will choose it, with the support of their governments, as well as mine.”
Obama went so far as to write a letter of protest to Condi Rice in 2006 when the U.S. ambassador to Turkey dared to use the word “genocide” to describe what was in fact a genocide. Hitchens, a longtime critic of Turkish denialism about Armenia, praised him for it in a piece written in April 2009 and hoped that The One wouldn’t back down once in office. Three years later, here we are, with O willing to go no further than referencing his previously stated view of what happened in 1915 without elaborating. (Watch the first clip below from January 2008. He wasn’t always so shy about using the G-word.) As I say, though, I doubt Romney will be any different: Turkey is crucially important right now as an ally with respect to Syria and as a potentially moderating influence on the new Islamist regimes in the Middle East. If you alienate them, you’re weakening your hand in the region at a moment when things are even nuttier and less stable than usual. Orwellian semantics goes a long way in this case. Awful, but there it is.
As a little bonus, I’ve added a short take of Hitch on Armenia as a counterpoint to Bush and Obama. Exit question: If candidate Obama was supposedly such a bulwark against genocide, how do we explain this?