Politics trumps propriety

Last week’s controversy over a House resolution condemning the Turks who ran the Ottoman Empire a century ago for a genocidal effort to eliminate their Armenian minority during the Great War provided anyone watching with an example of the way politics trumps national interest in today’s Washington.

This, after all, wasn’t the first time the issue has come up, but until now congressional leaders realized that there would be little to be gained by rubbing the noses of our Turkish allies in the tragic events of nearly a century past.

ADVERTISEMENT
After all the controversy, it is instructive to take a look at the differences in the way the current congressional leadership handled the issue as compared to how it was handled some years ago by former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Democratic and Republican supporters of such a resolution claim today, as they have in the past, that what they are up to is all about historical accuracy, morality and helping today’s Turks come to grips with the sins of their forebears. The truth is, of course, that all this has less to do with it than politics. The historical record is pretty clear: The Ottoman Turks did make an effort to wipe out the Armenians in their midst back then, and everyone knows it.

Supporters of the resolution now, as in the past, however, are far less interested in history than in the fact that they tend to come from districts with significant Armenian populations or have other ties — political, personal or financial — to the Armenian-American community.

Thus, in the 1990s, Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the Republican Senate majority leader who attributed his recovery from grievous injuries suffered in World War II to the skillful and dedicated work of an Armenian-American physician tilted in favor of such a resolution. Likewise, then-Rep. Jim Rogan (R), while representing the California district boasting the highest concentration of Armenian-American voters, pushed for passage of the resolution.

Rogan, like Adam Schiff (D) — who beat him in part because of Rogan’s failure to get the resolution to the floor of the House in 2000 — was under heavy and constant pressure from the organized Armenian-American community to force the resolution through Congress.

The fact that Rogan was unable to get fellow Republican Ben Gilman (N.Y.), then chairman of the House International Relations Committee, to support him was viewed as evidence either of his lack of clout within his own party caucus or worse.

All of this happened before Sept. 11, 2001, and the Iraq war, so while Turkey was a valuable ally in the region, it wasn’t receiving the attention it gets today. Nonetheless, relations with Ankara were important enough even then to prompt then-President Bill Clinton to call Speaker Hastert to urge him to let the Armenian Genocide Resolution die a quiet death. The president’s message could not have been more clear: Highlighting this issue, regardless of the historical merits or political attractiveness of doing so, would harm our relations with an important ally and could, consequently, harm our nation’s vital national security interests.

Hastert decided quickly enough that our nation’s security interests superseded Jim Rogan’s political interests, and the resolution was never brought to the floor. It died the quiet death Clinton sought, and Rogan was defeated.

Now the Democrats are in charge. Schiff represents the district and has been as adamant as Rogan was before him. He too managed to get the resolution passed in committee, but this time it didn’t die a quiet death.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), unlike her GOP predecessor, turned a deaf ear to the president and to every living former secretary of State, all of whom begged her to bottle up the resolution in the way Hastert had seven years ago. In her world, however, partisan politics trumps U.S. national interest, and she vowed to help her fellow Californian in his quest to humiliate Turkey on behalf of his constituents.

The result has been predictable. The Turks have gone bananas, withdrawn their ambassador from Washington and are reassessing the wisdom of their alliance with Washington. The uproar has convinced many Democrats who initially went along with Schiff and Pelosi that perhaps our national interest is a factor worth considering, and they’ve withdrawn their names as co-sponsors of the resolution.

As a result, it won’t come to the floor and those with better judgment than the current House leadership can begin to rebuild our relations with a vital ally.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com.

More in David Webb

David Webb: How conservative solutions can help a community rebuild #Ferguson

Read more »