What were they thinking?
No doubt members of the House Foreign Relations Committee felt righteous about the nonbinding resolution they passed last week condemning World War I massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as "genocide." They sloughed off the warnings from Turkey, which rejects the genocide charge.
Several 90-something Armenian ladies who survived the massacres were in attendance in wheelchairs. Democratic legislators from states like California and New Jersey with large Armenian constituencies were pressing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push the resolution. Everyone cloaked themselves in high moral purpose.
Yet this is a case of self-proclaimed moral intentions run amok.
The timing of this resolution couldn't be worse. About 70 percent of the military cargo sent to Iraq is flown through Turkey's Incirlik Air Base or on air routes over Turkey. Turkish officials warn they will reconsider support for the Iraq effort if the resolution goes to the full House.
Equally disturbing, the resolution comes just as Turkish officials are considering a large-scale military invasion into northern Iraq to wipe out Turkish Kurd terrorists (known as the PKK), who are conducting bloody raids into Turkey from inside the Iraqi border. Anti-Americanism is on the rise among ordinary Turks furious at the United States for failing to stop the PKK raids.
The House resolution comes at the exact moment the Turkish parliament is debating whether to authorize an Iraq offensive. U.S. officials are urging Turkey not to invade; the House vote may tip the balance.
"The Turks are talking of a cross-border operation and Pelosi brings this resolution up now?" muses Henri Barkey, head of the international relations department at Lehigh University and a top expert on Turkey. "Now the Turks have no choice."
One has to ask why this resolution was so urgent. It's not about Darfur, where the killing is going on now. The Armenian massacres happened in 1915-23, and the empire that conducted them is gone.
Yes, Turkey should confront whether the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians resulted from an Ottoman plan to drive them out of the empire.
And it is shameful that Turkish law still prohibits open discussion of the issue. Earlier this year the journalist Hrant Dink was killed by a nationalist for calling the massacre of Armenians a "genocide." On Thursday, his son, Arat Dink, was convicted of insulting Turkey's identity for republishing his father's remarks.
However, many Turks are slowly struggling to open space to debate this issue. Ironically, the House resolution will hurt their efforts.
After the elder Dink's assassination, tens of thousands of Turks gathered to protest the murder. There were signs that the current Turkish government - led by the moderate Muslims of the AK party - would try to change the law that limits debate on the Armenian issue. However, says Barkey, the House resolution "will make it harder to change the law, because it will rouse nationalist feeling."
And here is another irony. The AK party has the support of many Kurdish voters, and was reluctant to endorse an invasion into Iraq's Kurdish north. The House resolution has stirred up such emotion the party may have to accede.
What's most dishonest about the House move is the claim it won't hurt U.S.-Turkish relations. How short are congressional memories, and how dismissive of Turkish democracy! Back in 2003, a Turkish parliament outraged by the upcoming Iraq war refused to let the U.S. military use its ports and territory to enter northern Iraq. This cost the U.S. war effort dearly.
Turkish ire has been roused again by the House resolution. If Nancy Pelosi brings it to the full House, Turkey may indeed curb its support for the Iraq war effort. Moreover, if the United States wants to withdraw from Iraq it will need those land and air routes. And if we want to keep a base in Iraqi Kurdistan, the only safe passage in and out will be via Turkey as well.
So think about it, Speaker Pelosi. To make a statement about 1915, you are hindering slow Turkish efforts to face the past, while harming our national security. And you are making it harder to leave Iraq. Your moralizing ignores facts on the ground and does exactly the opposite of what you intend. That's just the kind of stance that got your opposition into such trouble in Iraq.