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It is not unusual for members of Congress to put their own political welfare above the nation’s interests. It happens all the time to one degree or another. But every time it occurs, it punctuates the fallibility of the system.
Take the current brouhaha over a congressional resolution that would declare 92 years after the fact that the death of a million Armenians at the hands of what was then the Ottoman Empire was genocide, as if anyone who was aware of the 1915 slaughter had any doubts about it. After all, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a sure bet it’s a duck. But what might seem like a harmless gesture to appease Armenian Americans by officially declaring it so all these decades later is threatening to cause a serious break in relations with Turkey, an ally we can’t afford to lose.
One expects the Speaker of the House to be far more responsible, particularly when it comes to dealing with irresponsible, emotional demands of constituents. But what Nancy Pelosi seems to have forgotten is that her position makes her the next in line to be president of the United States after the vice president and that at times that may require putting the national interests ahead of political expediency no matter how many Armenian Americans are in her district.
So ignoring the possible consequences of a diplomatic break, which both Turkish and U.S. authorities warn is a real possibility, Pelosi has allowed the politically mischievous resolution to be voted out of committee and has further inflamed the situation by promising the issue would be taken up by the full House. The result of this, among other things, has been to increase the possibility of a Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq to quell Kurdish separatists who Turks regard as terrorists and the cutting off of vital supply lines and bases for U.S. troops.
Short of calling for actual reparations to the descendents of the 1915 victims at the threat of bombing Istanbul and sending a nasty letter to every Turk over there and here, Pelosi and the resolution’s sponsors couldn’t have done more to undercut American interests. Nothing apparently said by a desperate White House backed up by the last nine secretaries of state has so far been able to dissuade the speaker who came to the high office promising to quell the incivility of a place that often more resembles a juvenile detention center than a legislature. Well, how does one spell bipartisanship now that it is needed. No wonder the only approval rating lower than Bush’s belongs to Congress.
Even if the process were halted now, experts believe, the committee vote alone has caused severe harm to relations between the two countries. There are, they say, enormous hard feelings among Turks who increasingly believe that the United States is a one-way ally. As a result U.S. influence over actions that could be devastating to this nation’s interests has diminished dramatically. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan already is taking considerable heat from his own military over what is seen as acquiescence to Washington over the Kurdish situation and now he faces a public that is enormously angry over the genocide resolution. A recent poll shows that Turks are more and more hostile toward the United States.
What seems terribly disappointing here is that the speaker’s extreme partisanship continues to pervade the atmosphere in the House. She cut her teeth on the partisan ward politics of Baltimore where her father was mayor and has shown that side of her nature throughout her congressional career, especially when she was Democratic leader before ascending to House Speaker. If ever there were a time to put that aside, it is now. She is a smart, capable politician who certainly knows the consequences of such an irresponsible action.
That is why it seems inconceivable that she would allow it to go forward. The only explanation seems to be that she is concerned about her own reelection in an extremely liberal district where there is a strong Armenian American presence. Her inability to change the direction of the war in Iraq has been criticized by liberals. Her San Francisco opponent is Cindy Sheehan, the antiwar activist whose son was killed in Iraq, and whose shrill campaigning has made some inroads on Pelosi’s popularity.
Even if that is her worry, it is time for her and those with similar concerns to dump this resolution in the Potomac and pray it is not too late to put things right with a much -needed ally. Hopefully, there are a few statesmen left in Congress.
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)