Video: Armenian genocide resolution: Why now?

By Military analyst
updated 10/15/2007 2:05:36 PM ET 2007-10-15T18:05:36

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 efficiency.

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 1915.

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.

Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.

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