The Politics Of Genocide Denial
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is preparing to consider H.Res.252—The Armenian Genocide Resolution—this Thursday (March 4, 2010), and it has some key Congresspeople scrambling to kill it.
The resolution calls upon the President of the United States:
(1) to ensure that U.S. foreign policy reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the U.S. record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution; and
(2) in the President’s annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide to characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, and to recall the proud history of U.S. intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide.
The resolution is basically a formal acknowledgment by the United States of America of the first genocide of the 20th Century. It essentially proclaims that the U.S. government is NOT a Holocaust denier, and it includes quotes from former US Presidents (including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush) who publicly acknowledged the Armenian genocide in speeches during their respective terms.
One quote included within the body of Resolution 252 was made by none other than Adolph Hitler, acknowledging what he personally had taken from the preceding Armenian genocide:
As displayed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Adolf Hitler, on ordering his military commanders to attack Poland without provocation in 1939, dismissed objections by saying ‘[w]ho, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’ and thus set the stage for the Holocaust.
That quote exemplifies how deranged leaders often look back to previous massacres and genocides in gauging how the international community might deal with them should they too embark on the annihilation of a targeted group. Unfortunately, in Washington, DC, lobbyist threats are far more likely to move politicians than the snuffed out voices of 1.5 million innocent human beings.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek warned of repercussions, if the motion passes:
“Turkey and the United States are two important allies,” he said. “We have a shared history over the past 50-60 years. Adopting this resolution will harm relations.”
In a rare show of unity, a powerful Turkish bipartisan parliamentary group is in Washington to deliver that message.
Three US Congresspeople are leading the charge to squash the resolution, as reported by The Hill:
In a February 22 letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee members obtained by The Hill, Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) ask their colleagues to reject a resolution that would recognize the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during World War I as genocide. […]
“A vote on this resolution will do nothing to rectify the tragedies of the past, but it will most certainly have significant negative consequences on current and future relations with Turkey,” the letter says. Cohen, Granger and Whitfield are all co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations.
The three lawmakers are also working on a separate letter to Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the panel’s ranking member, opposing the resolution. The trio is gathering members’ signatures and 14 lawmakers have signed onto the letter to Berman and Ros-Lehtinen. Aides are expecting many more to sign on before that letter’s release on Tuesday.
The resolution was aborted the last time it was introduced in 2007, after aggressive lobbying by the Turkish Lobby and the Bush Administration:
In 2007, the resolution squeaked by the panel with a close vote of 27-21 in its favor. But after intense pressure from Turkey, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) decided against bringing the resolution to the House floor after originally promising to do so.
But some believe that this time around the odds are good for its passage. According to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who introduced the resolution for consideration, there are more favorable conditions today than in 2007.
For one, President Barack Obama was rather vocal on the campaign trail in promising to acknowledge the Armenian genocide:
“I also share with Armenian Americans — so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors — a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history. As a U.S. senator, I have stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey’s acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide.“
In 2006, Obama was quoted as saying:
I criticized the secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”
Asserted Mr. Obama, back then: “The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy.”
Mr. Obama also stated unequivocally that “as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
Of course many will recall that when President Obama finally got the opportunity to make good on his promise in Turkey (April 2009), he opted out. Could you even imagine an American President choosing not to use the word ‘Holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ while in Germany, so as not to offend any German Holocaust deniers in the audience? Could you imagine an American President choosing not to use the word ‘genocide’ in Rwanda or in Cambodia so as not to offend any Hutu or former Khmer Rouge genocidaires?
The good news, as far as this resolution is concerned, is that President Obama (unlike his predecessor) has chosen to remain silent on the measure:
… the Obama administration has taken no public position on the measure, set for a vote Thursday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Aides to senior lawmakers on the committee say there has been no pressure against the resolution from the White House.
Another factor working in favor of the resolution is the now-strained relationship between Israel and Turkey:
The [House Foreign Affairs] committee is strongly pro-Israel, and prospects for passage could be affected by rising tensions between Turkey and Israel, as well as Turkey’s relatively warm relationship with Iran. In the past, Turkey and Israel had friendlier relations, and Israel had quietly lobbied against the resolution.
But after what happened in 2007, Speaker Pelosi in not about to commit to anything:
A spokesman for Pelosi did not say whether or not the House leader would bring the resolution to the floor for a vote if it passed the committee again.
“It’s important to take it one step at a time and see what the committee does next week. Following their action, we can have a discussion with the chairman and others about next steps,” said Nadeam Elshami, Pelosi’s spokesman.
It is long past due for the United States of America to stand up and be counted in acknowledging the Armenian genocide. To do otherwise is akin to rewarding the genocidaires.
As Thomas Jefferson once eloquently stated, “There is not a truth existing which I fear… or would wish unknown to the whole world.”
It appears President Obama has once again proven himself to be a spineless, non-principled, duplicitous wimp. The AP is reporting:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is urging Congress to hold off on a resolution declaring the Ottoman era killing of Armenians as genocide.
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee was scheduled to vote on the resolution Thursday, and appeared likely to endorse it.
But White House spokesman Mike Hammer said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had spoken with the committee’s chairman, Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, on Wednesday and indicated that such a vote would jeopardize reconciliation talks between Turkey and Armenia.
The move breaks a campaign promise by President Obama to brand the killings genocide.
Anyone who cares to see the House Foreign Affairs Committee Mark-Up of the Armenian Genocide Resolution can watch it live HERE.
It passed the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, but remains to be seen whether Pelosi will do what she did in 2007 and deny a Full House vote:
House panel approves resolution recognizing Armenian genocide
Reporting from Washington – A divided congressional panel Thursday voted 23 to 22 to approve a resolution to officially recognize the Armenian genocide despite a last-minute attempt by the Obama administration to delay a vote on the long-debated measure.
Whether the measure will come before the full House remained uncertain. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), has said he would only bring the issue before the House if there were enough votes to pass it. […]
I thought I’d address one of the core arguments being made by some of the critics of this resolution; that being: “It’s not the US’s business to weigh in.”
Here’s Justice Richard Goldstone’s explanation regarding the international community’s responsibility over crimes as grave as genocide, and how the Holocaust in particular changed the fundamentals of international law:
These crimes were so great, he explained, they went beyond their direct victims or the countries in which they were perpetrated, to harm humanity as a whole. This definition, he said, meant that perpetrators were to be prosecuted anywhere, by any country … This rational, he went on to say, constituted the basis for the concept of universal jurisdiction.
In other words the world views genocide as a crime against “humanity as a whole,” and therefore it is in fact OUR BUSINESS — the business of the international community. It is not just a private dispute between the perpetrators and the victims.
So even though the Turkish genocidaires all died evading both prosecution and even vilification during their lifetimes for slaughtering 1.5 million men, women and children, the world still owes it to their victims to set the public record straight — to help thwart Turkish historic revisionism.
Do you believe the Holocaust is our business? After all we have Holocaust museums here in the US (taxpayer subsidized) and yet that was a crime committed by Germans against Jews, Poles, Gypsies, gays, Russians, etc. Why should that incident be our business, but not the Armenian genocide?
Do you believe the Rwandan genocide is our business? How about Khmer Rouge’s genocide in Cambodia? How about Sadam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds? How do we pick and choose which are to be acknowledged? How do we determine which genocide deniers are to be imprisoned (such as Holocaust deniers in Europe), and which ones are to be placated (Turkish genocide deniers)?
There’s no exceptionalism when it comes to genocide. Genocide against one group is a crime against all of us.
I read this great comment left by Appok over on digg (in response to this post), and I thought I’d share it with readers:
For anyone who needs a contextual footnote to put this article in perspective, here it is:
My great-great-grandfather was a prominent Armenian businessman who owned a number of large orchards in what is now Turkey. He had seven children and four siblings (1 brothers and 3 sisters) each with their own families. The entire extended family consisted of approximately 45 people, many of whom were young children. None of them were active in politics or military affairs. Needless to say they posed no threat to the Ottoman Empire.
Of the 45 people in my extended family, only 2 survived – my great-grandmother and 1 of her cousins.
Acknowledging this genocide isn’t simply a matter historical accuracy, politics, or retributive agenda. Why this bill is important is the same reason why it is a crime to deny the holocaust in Germany. By politicizing this bill, they are essentially turning history into a commodity, to be bought and traded in exchange of political and diplomatic capital. There is a reason why history is taught in school. Hitler used this justification for the holocaust: “”Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
My 2 cents.
Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech Incites Neo-Con Cartwheels
President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech, in my opinion, was an attempt to somehow mesh Candidate Obama — the principled, compassionate, mindful leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize — to President Obama — torch bearer of the neo-con commitment to open-ended warring.
He started off on a semi-defensive tone, giving something of a broad justification for embarking on an indefinite commitment to more killing and dying in occupied Afghanistan. He then transformed into the more thoughtful, sensible, Candidate Obama persona — the one that artfully taps into secular humanistic sensibilities. A little something for everyone, I guess …
In all fairness to Obama, he never should have been awarded this honor, and he somewhat acknowledged that fact. So it was by no fault of his own that he had to somehow overcome this uncomfortable, somewhat vicarious predicament. And from the favorable reception this speech has been getting from both the Left and Right, it’s safe to conclude he pulled it off — politically-speaking. You know you are the rhetorical master when you deliver a speech that:
It was as if Obama was saying: even THIS president doesn’t do canapés and champagne with European peaceniks! Hoo-ah! After the speech, Karl Rove was crowing, if you can crow by Twitter. “Tweeted that Gerson and Thiessen had gone to work at the Obama White House,” he e-mailed me—Gerson and Thiessen being the two neo-con wordsmiths in the Bush shop.
and also garners support from left-of-center columnists like Joe Klein of Time:
“How does a rookie President, having been granted the Nobel Peace Prize, go about earning it? Well, he can start by giving the sort of Nobel lecture that Barack Obama just did, an intellectually rigorous and morally lucid speech that balanced the rationale for going to war against the need to build a more peaceful and equitable world.”
Here are a couple things from the speech that managed to exorcise my ire:
1. The beginning of Obama’s speech, where he resorted to exaggerated, simplistic notions — i.e. ‘neo-con speak’ — to try to justify his Afghanistan decision:
“For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.”
This part really disappointed me — that he would resort to this kind of charged-up demagoguery. He has never been one to shy away from complexity in making his case to the American people. His sudden fallback on words like “evil,” and conjuring up images of Adolph Hitler to justify his decision in Afghanistan, will lead many discerning viewers to question his underlying sincerity; especially after eight years of George W. Bush misleading us into wars, committing war crimes, and trampling upon our Constitutional rights — all under the guise of that same simplistic imagery. It’s as if Obama himself has come to recognize that his own substantive case for war is somehow unconvincing on its own merits.
Yes, we are all keenly aware that there’s a small band of loosely connected thugs (al Qaeda), which poses a threat — on some level — to American security. But don’t even try and muddy that threat with Adolph Hitler imagery — a dictator of an industrial nation that had one of the most powerful militaries in the world; one who bombed and invaded country after country, committing genocide against Jews and other innocents, and who ultimately left over 65 million dead in his wake. It’s a disingenuous comparison. The world faces no equivalent threat to Nazi Germany, and this kind of demagoguery has been used far too often — as of late — by disingenuous leaders seeking to justify unnecessary wars.
World War II was a necessary war, but Iraq was not — something he acknowledged, if only by its omission from his speech. But a continued military escalation in Afghanistan is also unnecessary. The tragic consequences of neo-con warmongering has all but ensured that exaggerated threats leveled as a run-up to military escalation is only going to fall on deaf ears, and his doing so only undermines America’s ‘new and improved’ image abroad.
2. Obama’s speech then pivoted to a more idealistic discussion on world responsibility — one where all countries are subjected to the same standards:
To begin with, I believe that all nations — strong and weak alike — must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t. […]
Furthermore, America — in fact, no nation — can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don’t, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified. […]
Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.) And we honor — we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard. […]
Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted.
This one almost made me laugh. Mr. President, clearly this rings hollow to anyone who’s been following your continued cover up of Bush Administration war crimes and your continuation of indefinite detention. Hell — let’s put your predecessor’s illegalities (and your cover up and perpetuation of them) aside for a second. You extend this same “exceptionalism” — this same exemption from international law — to another country: Israel. Richard Goldstone’s UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict produced a credible, scathing report documenting Israeli and Hamas war crimes. You, your administration, and the U.S. Congress immediately discarded it outright using flimsy, ridiculous, unsupportable excuses, as if international laws shouldn’t apply to Israel either.
It appears that much of his speech’s positive feedback from the Left has been directed at his placing recognition on the historic role of war in helping to actually foster peace. He brought up the Balkans as an example. It’s a legitimate point; there are times when war is absolutely necessary in preserving or restoring peace. And yes, the U.S. has willfully assumed a great deal of the world’s burden on this front, paying dearly in American lives and treasure.
There are very few who would look back on history and contend that the U.S. should have stayed out of the 2nd World War, or shouldn’t have intervened — the embarrassingly few times we actually did — to stop genocide. The problem I have is he’s obviously attempting to conflate these noble causes of war with something unrelated: Afghanistan.
Obama is not sending 30,000 additional troops to Darfur or to the Congo to save millions of civilian lives. We’re sending young Americans to prop up a corrupt and illegitimate regime in Afghanistan that has its hands deep into the world’s heroin industry. And this is supposedly vital to U.S. security interests, only because there are fewer than 100 cave-dwelling al Qaeda operatives somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Obama is a master orator — I give him that.
Having said all this, the entirety of Obama’s speech was not utterly deplorable — in fact, he’s incapable of delivering a bad speech. But overall, it rang hollow to me, leaving me with the following impressions:
- He knew, as we all did, that he had NO BUSINESS being in Oslo, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. (He cannot be blamed for this.)
- In using neo-con, war-mongering rhetoric overseas, he slightly diminished America’s ‘new’ standing in the world, as well as his own image, while simultaneously giving the now-ridiculed neo-cons a HUGE moral victory; a big ‘told you so’. It felt like he somehow substantiated their despicable and dishonest methods by exhibiting lines from their very own playbook, word for word, to reach a similar ends. How appalling, after all the calamity they inflicted upon this country and this world.
Have we finally seen the real Obama?