Congressional Democrats anxious to force a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq are frustrated by their inability to muster a veto-proof majority for legislation that would establish a firm date for retreat. But what they cannot do directly they are now working hard to do indirectly.
According to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Incirlik Air Base near Adana, Turkey is the transshipment point for about 70% of all air cargo (including 33% of the fuel) going to supply US forces in Iraq. Included are about 95% of the new “MRAP” — mine-resistant, ambush-protected — vehicles designed to save the lives of American troops. Turkey wasn’t always this helpful. In 2003, the Turks refused permission for the 4th Infantry Division to enter Iraq through Turkey.
Turkey’s Erdogan government has indicated that if the House of Representatives takes action on a non-binding resolution being pushed by Speaker Pelosi, Turkey might revoke our ability to use Incirlik as a waypoint for Iraq supplies.
At issue is the non-binding resolution passed on October 10 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee that labels the 1915-1923 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire a genocide. Such resolutions can be passed by either or both houses of Congress and are not subject to presidential veto.
On October 11, Pelosi said, “While that may have been a long time ago, genocide is taking place now in Darfur, it did within recent memory in Rwanda, so as long as there is genocide there is need to speak out against it.”
But the resolution is gratuitous and Democrats’ timing suspicious. It’s gratuitous because, in 1981, President Reagan referred to the Armenian massacre as genocide in a proclamation commemorating the Nazi Holocaust.
Why, if Pelosi is so committed to ending genocide, aren’t she and Senate Democrat leaders doing something about the ongoing genocide in Darfur or the massacres of protesters in Burma?
Speaker Pelosi said, “This isn’t about the Erdogan government. This is about the Ottoman Empire." Baloney.
The Democrat leadership could write and pass legislation insisting the UN intervene to save the living instead of using the memory of the dead to score political points. In neither case should we intervene militarily. But the lack of concern for ongoing mass murder proves the Democrats’ only purpose is to enrage the Turkish government and end their cooperation on Iraq.
The timing couldn’t be worse. Not only are we dependent on Turkey for our principal supply line into Iraq, we are in on the verge of a crisis with Turkey, trying to convince the Erdogan government to continue to refrain from attacking the PKK — Kurdish terrorist forces — that have been raiding into southeastern Turkey for years.
While the president and Secretary of State Rice appeal for restraint, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has called upon the Turkish parliament to declare a mobilization against the PKK terrorists.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) told me, “We are a nation at war, and our first concern must always be the brave men and women of our armed forces, who I believe are done a great disservice by this symbolic House vote. This is just one more example of Democrats in the House being either oblivious or indifferent to the welfare of American forces serving in harm’s way.”
After the House committee vote, Turkish Ambassador to the United States Nabi Sensoy was recalled to Ankara for consultations. In diplomatic terms, the recall of an ambassador is a very serious matter, indicating a near-break in relations between the nations involved.
Amb. Sensoy spoke to me and HUMAN EVENTS chief political correspondent John Gizzi as he prepared to leave for Ankara.
Sensoy said he spoke to Speaker Pelosi and that she had made it very clear that she would bring the resolution up for a vote on the House floor next month.
The ambassador referred to the widespread agenda of interests that Turkey and the US share, from the Balkans throughout the Middle East and the Caucasus. He said it was a wonderful working relationship, proving effective against terrorism.
Sensoy said the memories of the events surrounding the massacre of Armenians are very fresh in the minds of his countrymen, many of whom lost relatives in the carnage. He said, “…we are very sorry for what happened. And we mourn the loss of life. But nobody is talking about the hundreds of thousands of people who perished at the hands of the Armenians in that period.”
He added, “The sentiments of the Turkish people are totally disregarded in this whole affair. And it is being presented that all of a sudden the Turkish nation, after one thousand years of togetherness with the Armenians went simply berserk and started killing the Armenians. The real truth is that the population living in the east of the Ottoman Empire at the time sided with the invading Russian army and they attacked the Turkish population.”
Turkey is our most under-appreciated ally. Its eighth president, Turgut Ozal, was a great friend of America, once referring to his nation as, “little America.” When Ozal died suddenly in 1993, neither President Clinton nor Vice President Gore went to the funeral, an insult the Turks remember. Europe has been even less appreciative. Turkey has practically begged to become a member of the European Union, but its applications to what some Turks call the “Christian club” have been stalled again and again because of European criticism of its human rights record.
There is a deep-seated cultural sensitivity among the Turkish people and their government on the issue of the Armenian massacre nine decades ago. Amb. Sensoy may have been thinking about the far-reaching effects – including on Turkey’s application for EU membership — of the House genocide resolution when he told us, “No nation would like to be labeled with that greatest of human rights violations.”
House Republican leaders are very concerned about the effects the Democrats’ resolution could have. House Minority Leader John Boehner told me, “If the Turks cut off our ability to use Incirlik, there’s no question that this could jeopardize our troops on the ground in Iraq. And frankly, if this is just the latest in the Democrats’ string of back-door attempts to force a retreat from the war against al Qaeda, it’s certainly the most dangerous.”
Speaker Pelosi is apparently so intent on forcing an end to American involvement in Iraq that she is willing to interfere in our tenuous friendship with Turkey. When she does, it will be an historic event: the House of Representatives will be responsible for alienating a key ally in time of war and possibly interdicting supplies to US troops.