This time President Bush is making an important point. A Congressional resolution passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee condemning the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks that began in 1915 is ill timed and quite possibly damaging to our interests in Iraq. There is no question that the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the crumbling Ottoman Empire during World War I was genocide. The Turkish government would save itself and us a lot of trouble if it would simply say so, and make amends that are appropriate and necessary. But that seems unlikely for reasons both emotional and immoral.
Nonetheless, the unhappy facts are that we are making heavy use of an air base in southeastern Turkey to supply our troops in Iraq, and fuel trucks for our forces are routed into Kurdish territory across the southern border. Heavily armored trucks are flown over the airspace of Turkey, and, according to Defense Secretary Bob Gates, it all adds up to 70 percent of American military cargo sent to Iraq.
We could cope eventually with the disruptions threatened by the government in Ankara. According to one press report, supplies could be moved through Jordan, Kuwait or the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr in the northern Persian Gulf, and the armored trucks could avoid Turkish airspace, but why go through all this when we already have trouble enough in the ancient land of Mesopotamia?
Also, this resolution could jeopardize what influence we have over Prime Minister Racep Tayyip Erdogan when we need him to restrain his army from going into northern Iraq to track down Kurds who’ve been launching attacks back in Turkey. Already Erdogan’s military has fired artillery shells across the border into Kurdistan. It’s tempting to tell Turkish troops to come on in and please keep going, all the way to Baghdad, and relieve American forces, still struggling there to hold the fort. But, of course, that’s a fantasy and highly unrealistic. I doubt the Turks want this assignment anyway. Nobody else does. And we certainly couldn’t tolerate their wreaking havoc among the Kurds, the only promising group in Iraq.
Some will note that we wouldn’t be in this bind with Ankara if we weren’t bogged down in a war with no end. No doubt that’s true. But we are bogged down, and Turkey is a critical ally. Supporters of the resolution argue that it is important to keep this terrible history vivid in the human mind, lest it happen again.
Certainly that’s true. President Bush has expressed his dismay at the ghastly massacre of Armenians. Someday it may be possible to call this genocide by its rightful name. Someday, the Turkish people may even be able to acknowledge a past that is far from pretty.
Fortunately, the resolution is beginning to falter in the House after heavy lobbying by former U.S. congressmen working for Turkey. That’s good. It’s time, now, for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take her cue and consult the wisdom of John Milton. They also serve who only stand and wait.