Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dreamy Democrats, traveling through time

No wonder the Democratic Congress is saddled with a microscopic approval rating (11 percent, in the latest poll). Consider this week's misadventure:

At a time when the public is hungry for real solutions to a slew of contemporary crises - for starters, the war in Iraq - the House Democrats have been dithering for days about whether they should stand tall and make a courageous statement...about some atrocities that were perpetrated by a country that no longer exists, in an era long dead and gone.

The Ottoman Empire. In 1915.

Needless to say, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the desire to take a moral stand against genocide; indeed, the Armenian-American community has long been urging Congress to officially acknowledge the mass killings of their ancestors, at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, during World War I. And many Democrats, including the current party leaders in Congress, generally believe that American foreign policy should be guided by fixed moral principles - as expressed in their pending House resolution condemning as genocide the Ottoman Turks' behavior 92 years ago.

But, for Democrats, the problem with standing tall against an injustice that transpired 92 years ago is that it makes them look clueless with respect to sensitive national security developments that are unfolding in the here and now. And, with a national election looming, the Democrats can hardly afford to look clueless in the national security realm.

Democrats incensed about the Ottoman Turks of 92 years ago might be better advised to simply rent the DVD of Lawrence of Arabia, because this doesn't appear to be a propitious time to take a moral stand. The pragmatics argue against it. Turkey is a stalwart Muslim ally, a NATO ally that allows us to resupply American troops in Iraq from military bases on its soil. Turkey is also viewed by Israel as a stabilizing force in the region. Turkey is also a crucial player in the movement of oil to the West.

Turkey is also ticked off at America these days, because it doesn't think we have done enough to stop Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq from crossing the border and attacking Turkish civilians; yesterday, in fact, the Turkish Parliament authorized sending Turkish troops into northern Iraq to pursue the rebels - a direct slap at America, which officially lists these rebels' group, PKK, as a terrorist operation.
It's fair to argue that - regardless of the Turks' complicity in the Armenian killings, and regardless of their obstinate refusal to acknowledge same - this is not the best time to be ruffling their feathers.

Such are the complications of realpolitik. When all those security pragmatics are taken into consideration, the Democratic leaders, with their gazes fixed on 1915, come off looking like pie-eyed dreamers.

It should also be pointed out that their moral outrage is fueled in part by domestic political pragmatics. The Armenian-American community has been good to the Democrats, and now they want to cash in some IOUs. (Perhaps if Native-Americans had the same kind of electoral clout, we'd now be seeing resolutions condemning Andrew Jackson for what he did to the Florida Seminoles.)

Armenians vote heavily in Nancy Pelosi's California district, and it's no accident that one of the key resolution sponsors in Adam Schiff - another California Democrat who was elected in 2000 with heavy support from the burgeoning Armenian electorate in Glendale and Burbank.

I can attest to that, because I covered Schiff's race; that race drew national attention, because the incumbent was James Rogan, a key GOP player in the House Republican effort to impeach Bill Clinton. At one point, I had lunch with one of the key political operatives in the district - an Armenian named Eric Hacopian. He spelled out the importance of the Armenians as a local swing vote (10 percent of that district's electorate); he talked at length about the 1915 killings, and their desire to back a candidate who would push for a congressional resolution. In his words at the time, "This is a blood issue for all Armenians, it is extremely personal."

Well, Schiff is still pushing the blood issue - it was passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee last week - and it appeared that the resolution could reach the House floor any day now. But suddenly the Democratic leaders are wavering. With some Democrats bailing out, and with others stressing the here and now (Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat: "These are real-life situations, and sometimes your heart has to give in to your head"), Pelosi is now saying that action on the resolution "remains to be seen."

Behold the congressional Democrats: First they come up with a symbolic toothless gesture of idealism that threatens to play havoc with geostrategic realities...then they wobble over whether to pursue their own gesture. That 11 percent approval rating should be safe for awhile.

But to really gauge their performance on this matter, consider the response of President Bush. Speaking yesterday at a press conference, he said this: "With all these pressing responsibilities, one thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire. The resolution on the mass killings of Armenians beginning in 1915 is counterproductive. Both Republicans and Democrats, including every living former Secretary of State, have spoken out against this resolution. Congress has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world, especially one that is providing vital support for our military every day."

Talk about ineptitude...The Democrats have managed to make even Bush sound wise and sensible.