Genocide, Turkey and the Act of Shooting Yourself in the Foot

[tweetmeme] A while back I wrote briefly about the US debate to officially use the term genocide when discussing the actions by Turkey against Armenia in 1915.  Well the House Foreign Affairs committee narrowly passed the resolution (23-22), meaning the vote will now be open to the entire house.  Before the vote, the resolution was condemned by both Turkey and the White House.  In fact, before the vote, Secretary of State Clinton phoned Howard Berman – head of the committee – to reiterate the possible damage to US-Turkish relations.

Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan immediately condemned the vote, saying that the interference by the US would damage the recent rapprochement between the two countries and would seriously hurt relations between Turkey and the US.  The Turkish ambassador was recalled from Washington after the vote while the vote was called a “strategic lack of vision” by Ankara.  Unsurprisingly, Armenian FM Edward Nalbandian said the vote was a victory for human rights.

To Americans this might seem like a simply issue of semantics, but, to Turkey, the vote equates to a n important and large smear on its proud history.  Most importantly, from an American point of view, is the possibility of antagonism from Turkey.  The Middle East has been more volatile than normal lately, with threats of war heard in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Palestine and Israel.  As Iran continues to defy Western demands concerning its quest for nuclear technology, the seemingly neutral Turkey gains importance everyday.

Over at the Majlis, Evan Hill wonders why there is such a reaction from Turkey, saying that if “Germany’s foreign affairs committee passed a resolution referring to the white settlers western expansion and systematic destruction of Native American culture as a genocide, I personally wouldn’t be too sore about it, nor do I think it would (or should) affect practical international relations.”  The reasons for feeling sore, however, are not important; the fact that such a move could threaten the US-Turkish relationship is politically paramount.

In addition to being a pathway for American military equipment into Iraq, Turkey was one of the few Middle Eastern countries that has good relations with both Israel (though there were recent tensions) and Iran.  Maybe Turkey is overreacting to the vote, but the reaction was not a surprise; the Turkish delegation was very clear about the possible consequences of the vote.

Considering Turkey’s role as a member of NATO and as perhaps the most important US ally in the Middle East (yes, more so than Israel), President Obama is correct in his decision to oppose the vote (he supported the term genocide during his campaign).  Politically, Turkey is too important of an ally to anger over such an issue.

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