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The week that was

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 23rd, 2007

Well, I’m back. Weeks like the last one make me appreciate the value and maybe even wisdom of not following the news so closely or at all.

The Post kept up its full court press about and generally against H.R.106, the Armenian Genocide Resolution, with op-eds by Charles Krauthammer (naturally) and Richard Cohen. The latter started off well — the title was “Turkey’s War on the Truth” — and ends well: “but there is only one thing to call Turkey’s insistence that it and its power will determine the truth: unacceptable.” But Cohen both buys into the idea that now is not the right time — when is it ever? — and undercuts his own “truth” premise by finding ways to doubt that the genocide was in fact a genocide:

Of even that, I have some doubt. The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word “genocide,” a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had in mind what the Nazis were doing to the Jews. If that is the standard — and it need not be — then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire was something short of genocide. It was plenty bad — maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered — but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna, and Aleppo were largely spared.*

The fact that some communities were spared is (a) immaterial and (b) doesn’t mean what Cohen thinks it means. Those cities were where major Western consulates were; the Turkish leadership wanted to minimize and blunt criticism by having a few unharmed Armenians to point to. It’s still working.

Cohen uses “and it need not be” as a rhetorical fire escape while essentially arguing otherwise. To complete the thought he doesn’t, the concept of “genocide”is a genus, not a species — an overarching concept capturing a variety of crimes against humanity, not just one (monstrous) example of it. What happened in Rwanda was not precisely like the Holocaust, what happened in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was not precisely like either one, or what like what happened in Turkey beginning in 1915. But they all have something in common: large scale, centrally directed killings of noncombatants because of their race or ethnicity. They are all examples of genocide. Efforts to establish some kind of “Holocaust threshold” (let alone essentially elevate the Holocaust to the only possible example of genocide) are arguably even more dangerous than this administration’s tortured parsing of the word “torture.”**

Krauthammer’s article — “Pelosi’s Armenian Gambit” – is more straightforwardly predatory. Unlike Cohen, Krauthammer concedes on the one hand that what happened was “unambiguously” a genocide, but that Turkey’s arm-twisting bothers him not a bit — it’s also “unambiguously” the wrong time to raise the issue. As was the case with John Murtha last week, the main issue for Krauthammer is the inconvenience of the issue for our all-important war in Iraq. But (as may be the case for Murtha as well?) the real issue for Krauthammer is a chance to get a dig in at Pelosi, with the most withering words available to the Washington not-so-intelligentsia: “she is deeply unserious about foreign policy.”

But who’s really “unserious” about foreign policy here? If we can’t call a spade a nonbinding spade in our own House of Representatives because of the effect it may have on a war Americans clearly don’t want, does that make the proponents of the nonbinding resolution unserious — or those of the war? More on that another time.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party continues to find interesting new ways to sell out its electorate, by drafting a FISA revision bill that lets telephone companies off the hook for supporting Bush’s illegal warrantless domestic spying activities. The October Quisling Of the Month award goes to Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), previously famous for locking away his tepid qualms about the “program” in a safe until the New York Times — belatedly — broke the underlying story and made it safe for him to reveal them.

Thus, the latest definition of “Congressional oversight” is apparently to retroactively condone lawbreaking in return for the right to establish that laws were broken.

I join those saluting Senator Chris Dodd for fighting this, and may join those contributing to his campaign as well.

=====
* Constantinople? Cohen’s right: the official name change to Istanbul happened in 1923, though the name was already in use. Official Turkey referred to Konstantiniyye before then.
** As most recently demonstrated in Saint Mukasey’s confirmation hearings. Department of I told you so: The Gonzales resignation: a strategic retreat.

POSTSCRIPT: Oh, I remember what else I was bummed about — a perfectly sensible health care measure benefiting children of uninsured families couldn’t get past a Bush veto and a Republican minority. Many lies were told, perhaps the liars will eventually be punished for them. Thanks to those like eRobin (“fact-esque”) who fought and continue to fight the good fight on this.

2 Responses to “The week that was”

  1. WorldWideWeber Says:

    You’re doing great work on this, Thomas. My contribution has been a fraction of yours, I’m ashamed to say.
    Someone named Alon Ben-Meir teaches about international affairs at NYU. He wrote a piece for the American Chronicle entitled “Lacking Moral Tenet to Right the Wrong.” Your readers can read it if they like. I’ll share with them (and you) the response I sent the professor.
    Dear Professor Ben-Meir:
    I find it baffling that you seem to think an international tribunal is needed to establish that the Turkish government in power during World War I ordered the systematic extermination of the Armenian population–something most observers call genocide. It’s even more incredible that you take seriously your Turkish friend’s disingenuous call for such a tribunal.
    The following comes from an Armenian-American source, but it jibes with everything I have read about the Armenian genocide:
    “Only one Turkish government, that of Damad Ferit Pasha, has ever recognized the Armenian genocide. In fact, that Turkish government held war crimes trials and condemned to death the major leaders responsible.
    “The Turkish court concluded that the leaders of the Young Turk government were guilty of murder. ‘This fact has been proven and verified.’ It maintained that the genocidal scheme was carried out with as much secrecy as possible. That a public facade was maintained of ‘relocating’ the Armenians. That they carried out the killing by a secret network. That the decision to eradicate the Armenians was not a hasty decision, but ‘the result of extensive and profound deliberations.’
    “Ismail Enver Pasha, Ahmed Cemal Pasha, Mehmed Talât Bey, and a host of others were convicted by the Turkish court and condemned to death for ‘the extermination and destruction of the Armenians.’”
    Do you doubt the truth of these things? You’re the professor–do some research and find out if it’s true or not. Stop playing the sad insipid strains of “we don’t know for sure,” “the current Turkish government says something different,” “we need a Tribunal in the Sky to guide us.” That music is worse than no music at all.
    By the way, your acceptance of the notion that a well-reasoned opinion can be an “insult to Turkish identity” is just another astonishing aspect of your essay. Perhaps I’m spoiled, having grown up in the United States, but I can’t imagine you would say that any opinion of mine, no matter how extreme or ill-founded, is an “insult to American identity.” What a concept! The fact that such an “insult” can land you in a Turkish prison is something to oppose with all one’s soul, not take into consideration as part of a cynical political calculation.
    Sincerely,
    Timothy M. Weber
    Will this (and the comments I left at the WarPost, for instance, in response to Fred Hiatt, Dana Milbank, Jackson Diehl, etc.) have any effect? Who knows? One can’t just stand by and watch these people shit on the historical record and screw up the present more than they’ve already done.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Great letter, WWW!
    Re Ben-Meir’s points, such as they are: I guess I’d never thought of the Nuremberg trials as the principal international authority for the factual basis of the Holocaust; I’d thought of countless survivor and perpetrator statements, GI and Russian soldier witnesses, Shoah, Yad Vashem, countless books by Lipstadt et al, the Holocaust Museum, etc. etc. that way.
    I agree with you; the need for a tribunal about the Armenian Genocide is as much of a sham when Ben-Meir calls for it as when Ahmadinejad calls for one to look into the Holocaust. It’s odd Mr. Ben-Meir would invite the comparison.

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