by Frank James
Much of the world acknowledges the genocide of as many as 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923 , a genocide that's often called the first in a century of genocides--the 20th century.
But it's taboo to talk about the genocide in Turkey where many Turks deny the mass murders ever happened.
And apparently, because of increasing pressure from Turkey, it’s now taboo as well for the U.S. Congress to pass a resolution calling on Bush Administration foreign policy to take account of the Armenian genocide.
President Bush came as close as a president comes to publicly begging Congress not to pass the resolution.
House Resolution 106, which is to be considered this afternoon by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, starts thusly:
Calling upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide, and for other purposes.
That language seems straightforward enough. But the Turkish government so fiercely opposes the resolution that U.S. officials have clearly been warned that the resolution's passage could jeopardize Turkish cooperation on Iraq.
That would be disastrous for U.S. troops in Iraq since much of the materiel and oil that keeps them going passes through Turkey, the U.S.'s longtime and NATO member.
So worried is the Bush Administration, that President Bush appended some remarks about his opposition to the resolution to comments he made this morning on the South Lawn on a completely different matter, improvements to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act:
On another issue before Congress, I urge members to oppose the Armenian genocide resolution now being considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915. This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror.
To drive home the message he sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates out to underscore the difficulties that would be created for U.S. efforts in Iraq if Turkey decides to stop cooperating with the U.S.
SEC. RICE: We have just come from a meeting with the president and from a meeting with our team in Iraq and in the field, and we just wanted to make a brief comment about the Armenian Genocide Resolution that is before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee today. And we are all in agreement that the passage of this resolution would be very destabilizing to our efforts in the Middle East, very destabilizing to our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, because Turkey, as an important strategic ally, is very critical in supporting the efforts that we are making in these crucial areas.
I just want to note that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker brought up the issue of this Armenian Genocide Resolution, as did Admiral Fallon, and ask that we do everything that we could to make certain that it does not pass.
I'm going to turn to Secretary Gates. But let me just say that this is not because the United States fails to recognize the terrible tragedy of 1915, the mass killings that took place there, that President Bush had spoken about this issue repeatedly throughout his presidency. We have encouraged the Turkish government to work with the Armenian government to put together a way to overcome and reconcile these horrible -- this horrible past and these terrible differences. We believe that there is some improvement in Turkish- Armenian relations.
So this is not to ignore what was a really terrible situation. And we recognize the feelings of those who want to express their concern and their disdain for what happened many years ago. But the passage of this resolution at this time would indeed be very problematic for everything that we are trying to do in the Middle East because we are very dependent on a good Turkish strategic ally to help with our efforts.
And maybe I could turn to Secretary Gates for a couple of comments.
SEC. GATES: Just a word or two. The reason that the commanders raised this issue as our heavy dependence on Turkey in terms of resupply in Iraq -- about 70 percent of all air cargo going into Iraq comes -- goes through Turkey; about a third of the fuel that they consume goes through Turkey or comes from Turkey. They believe clearly that access to airfields and to the roads and so on in Turkey would be very much put at risk if this resolution passes and the Turks react as strongly as we believe they will.
Just one other small fact is that, as you know, we're airlifting these MRAPs, these Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, right now into Iraq; 95 percent of those MRAPs going into Iraq right now are flying -- are being flown in through Turkey. And so our heavy dependence on the Turks for access is really the reason the commanders raised this and why we're so concerned about the resolution.
Since what's on the table in the House is a resolution that doesn't need a presidential signature, not a bill making law, the president can’t exercise a veto like he has recently on legislation he has found objectionable.
All he can do is jawbone Congress and raise the prospect of the U.S. military being punished if Turkey retaliates, which the administration clearly believes is likely judging by the urgency it attaches to this issue.
To many minds, the situation the U.S. finds itself in with Turkey is akin to being blackmailed.
"Is Turkey blackmailiing the U.S.?" a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino at today's press briefing.
"Absolutely not," she said.