Poor Armenia. Just about the only time that wee country gets a mention in Washington is when the perennial Recognise-the-Genocide issue comes up. As tradition demands, the Secretary of State lobbied Congress to avoid passing anything resembling or hinting at any such thing. Nevertheless the Foreign Affairs Committee voted 23-22 in favour of the annual motion acknowledging the ghastliness. Whether it makes it to the floor remains a moot issue.
Everyone, I think, recognises the practical and political difficulties in siding with the Armenians or, as may be the case, handing a sop to the American-Armenian community. Turkey matters more than Armenia. And Turkey is touchy and macho and quick to take offense. No surprise then that their ambassador to Washington has been called back to Ankara for "discussions".
This is, then, an annual rigmarole from which few people escape with any great measure of credit. This includes the current President who promised not so long ago that...
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. Two years ago, 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. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Emphasis added. In a better world it might be tough to walk back from that.
To be fair to Obama he is little worse than his predecessor who also raised Armenian hopes only to pass the issue on to his successor. But this issue should also be a reminder that you cannot wholly leave the campaign behind once you assume office and that you should, perhaps, be wary of writing cheques you cannot cash. Otherwise you look like a chump at best and, more probably, a duplicitous fraud.
Sure, yes, this is, in many ways, vastly more trivial than recent improvements in Yerevan-Ankara relations. It may well be that, as was true last year, passing the resolution and gaining Presidential approval might set back the bigger, broader, better picture. But this too should be a memo to 2012 candidates: don't make cheap commitments you have few intentions of honouring.