Looking Behind the Curtains: Armenian Issues and the Obama and McCain Foreign Policy Teams

All presidential candidates prior to election time outline their views on foreign policy and future actions they are willing to take. How extensively presidential campaigns focus on foreign policy issues varies according to the global momentum and pre-existing, if at all, circumstances that affect the nation directly. This year’s elections are again stigmatized by issues that have long tormented the last two administrations such as the war in Iraq, the search for a foreign policy for Iran, the impacts of the global market on U.S. economy and of course the war on terror.

Both major parties’ presidential candidates have partially expressed their views on foreign policy and have painted an eloquent picture of their aspirations. Nevertheless, it is important to know how the candidates have formed their opinions, who are the people that inspire and advise them. It is important not only because the knowledge of motives will be revealing when the time comes for these politicians to take action, but because the Armenian community needs to be informed as to what they should expect from each candidate and how their expectations regarding Armenian issues can be met by casting that ballot vote.

The McCain Team
Beginning with Senator McCain’s group of advisors, one has to admit that it is an interestingly peculiar one; the team is comprised by two factions and one person standing in the middle.

The first faction includes Robert Kagan and William (Bill) Kristol. Both are founders of the Project for the New American Century, a neo-conservative letterhead group. Neo-conservative thought is a phenomenon of the 90’s that found an outlet for expression after consecutive administration failures and flaws within the foreign policy spectrum. It advocates for more interference in global issues and specifically does not hesitate to call for military intervention. Neo-conservatives believe that American hegemony is the only reliable defense against a breakdown of peace and international order.

Robert Kagan is a monthly columnist on international affairs for the Washington Post, a contributing editor at the New Republic, and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he focuses on international relations and security issues. He is well-known for his fierce criticism towards President Clinton on the Yugoslavian conflict, upon which he claimed “U.S. troops were bored and did almost nothing over there”.

His motto is interventionism. In an article, entitled “The Next Intervention,” published by the Washington Post in August 2007, Kagan perceived the world as divided between the “great democracies of our world” that should act as global watch-dogs and the communist and theocratic states that he calls monsters.

Kagan’s views also entail a more active approach to military intervention; he thinks the U.S. should step into the conflicts more actively and not withdraw from those it has already engaged in. What’s more, he has expressed an opinion that could prove very dangerous if applied–that the use of force could be based on a consensus among the world’s great democratic nations. At the foundation of this position is the by-passing of international laws and legal procedures constituted by the United Nations and as a result, the by-passing of decade-long pure diplomatic cooperation among the vast majority of nations.

Despite the fact that Kagan has not expressed an opinion on Armenian issues, he believes that European conflicts, wherever these are, are of interest to the U.S. not a mere humanitarian basis and that all challenges should be met.

Kagan finds a strong supporter of his views in William Kristol who is the leader of the Project for the Republican Future, a conservative think-tank. Besides establishing a conservative periodical called The Weekly Standard, which he serves as editor for, he also is an op-ed writer for the New York Times. Kristol differs from the average Republican in the sense that he is considered to have launched the neo-conservative movement.

Kristol thinks Reagan was the ultimate American president; which explains part of his support towards John McCain, whom he sees as a new Reagan, and his fierce critique against President Bush. Senator McCain’s statemen’s were strengthened by Kristol’s support for the war in Iraq–his was the most out-spoken supporting opinion–and his suggestions for tough sanctions against Iran. Kristol denounces President Bush for wanting to withdraw from Iraq and aligns U.S. interests with Israeli ones. On July 24, 2006 Kristol claimed in the Weekly Standard that “their [Israel’s] war is our war too”

The other faction met within the McCain advisors are the realists; politicians and theorists who believe that relations between states are determined by a comparative level of power that derives primarily from their military and economic capabilities. Realists distrust long-term cooperation or alliances and consider security and survival to be the state’s major concerns.

One of the realist advisors in McCain’s camp is Colin Powell who focuses on Turkey and the Middle East. He considers Turkey a good friend and ally and was very satisfied with the state’s cooperation on the Iraqi border issue. But this is not the only type of support he offers to Turkey; he believes the Middle East is Turkey’s neighborhood as well and he would be content to see Turkey assuming a more active role in the area. He supported the country with its E.U. negotiations and was a great sponsor of the Annan plan (a U.N. plan for the Cyprus conflict resolution that, by and large, supported the Turkish-Cypriot side despite the huge violations of international law it perpetrated).

Apart from his pro-Turk convictions, during his service as Secretary of State under the first George W. Bush administration, he aspired to provide stability and security to Russia’s Central Asian/Caucasus neighbors so that Russia would not find ground for threats against them. When it comes to human rights issues, even though he persistently denied calling the Armenian Genocide a genocide, he had no second thoughts calling the Sudan case a genocide and felt proud that the U.S. mobilized the international community to take action upon the issue.

The realist faction is completed by Brent Scowcroft, former National Security advisor under Ford and Bush Sr. Scowcroft is another Bush critic for the latter’s handling of the Iraq invasion and the Arab-Israeli conflict. In an interview for the London Financial Times in 2004, he said that President Bush was mesmerized by Ariel Sharon, implying that the U.S. was too involved in Israel’s affairs. He is strongly averse to pro-Armenian actions, something understandable if we look at his personal friendship with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his chairmanship at the American Turkish Council.

In 2006, he held a meeting with Azerbaijan’s president under the auspices of the Council of Foreign Relations of which he is a member. During the meeting, he stated that he is very happy that Azeri-U.S. relations have come a long way since the U.S. imposed sanctions against Azerbaijan because of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, upon which issue he openly supports Azerbaijan. His support for regimes that hostile to Armenia, however, does not end with Azerbaijan.

Scowcroft also happens to be a major advocate for financial assistance for Turkey directly from the U.S. government or via the International Monetary Fund. Last year, Scowcroft warned Dennis Hastert that even the discussion of the Armenian genocide on the floor of the House of Representatives would be counter-productive to U.S. interests, since it will pull Turkey away from the West.

The fifth non-factionist advisor is a well-known lobbyist named Randy Scheunemann who was recruited by Sen. McCain to bolster his argumen’s about Iraq. Scheunemann happens to be a former advisor to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Scheunemann helped draft the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 that authorized $98 million in U.S. aid to Iraqi exile groups.

His current concerns develop around the promotion of former Soviet-bloc states in undertaking business using Iraq’s reconstruction; hence he has accused Condoleezza Rice in the past of appeasement regarding the Russo-Georgian conflict. Nevertheless, he himself has been accused of belonging to a group of people who create threats to compel the U.S. to engage in new wars. Scheunemann lobbies for weapon-manufacturing and service-providing companies like Halliburton, Lockheed/Martin, Northrop Grumman Corp.–all companies that benefit from the use of military force by the U.S. government and its allies, including Turkey and Azerbaijan.

On July 23, 2004, Scheunemann visited Nagorno Karabakh as a member of a group of experts to present the “Project on Transitional Democracies” and the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. These two organizations work to realize the “Project on the Resolution of Europe’s Frozen Conflicts”. Taking under consideration that he went there representing his company, Orion Strategies, which provides strategic planning, policy and consulting services to governmen’s, corporate groups, foundations and private clients, Scheunemann seems to hold Karabakh’s exploitation as future investment ground in his agenda. In Karabakh, he met with then Minister of Production Infrastructure Development, representatives from the Defense Ministry and Karabakh’s civic sector and foreign businessmen who invest in the state’s economy.

Finally, Sen. McCain’s group is enhanced by Gen. Anthony Zinni as an unpaid advisor that offers his expertise in issues related to Iraq, the Kurdish problem and the Middle East.

The Obama Team
Moving on to Barack Obama’s team, the voter is presented with more coherence as to where his advisors stand.

Anthony Lake is a diplomat and academic who served as National Security Advisor under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997. He considers himself a fighter for the protection of human rights and diligently projects this image to the rest of the world by raising awareness on several contemporary incidents of human rights violations and demanding action to protect groups who suffer and facilitates those who aid them. Interestingly enough, Lake puts some of the blame for not paying enough attention to Rwanda on himself and the Clinton administration.

“We knew how to halt the tragedy through the U.N. and we did not do it”, said Lake in an interview for Frontline Foundation in 2004. Even though he acknowledges that President Bush has done a lot for Darfur, he accuses his administration for treating the Darfur genocide as a neglected tragedy and demands that the President’s words be translated into actions.

Having planned the NATO-UN invasion in Yugoslavia, he is considered the mastermind behind Milosevic’s fall; nevertheless, he was severely scrutinized by the Intelligence Committee for his failure to tell Congress about President Clinton’s tacit approval of Iran’s arms shipmen’s to Bosnia’s Muslims in 1994.

Barack Obama has also employed Susan Rice, a former Clinton foreign policy advisor. Rice is a specialist in African affairs and serves on the boards of the National Democratic Institute and the Bureau of National Affairs. She also happens to be a member of the Aspen Strategy Group which aforementioned McCain advisor Scowcroft leads. What is more, she is a proponent for humanitarian intervention, even if that includes military use. She has called for humanitarian intervention several times in the past regarding Darfur.

Rice’s major concerns include human rights protection, the development of the poorest African states and genocides perpetrated in the 90s and 00s. Her 2006 article for the Washington Post “We saved the Europeans in Kosovo, why not the Africans?” best encompasses her stance that the U.S. must do more to fulfill the responsibility to protect groups, states or nations in danger.

Although neither Ricer nor Lake have expressed a plan or an opinion about the Armenian Cause, both advisors presented are mostly concerned with genocide issues, democratization and the reconstruction of poor states. Under this light, the Armenian community could potentially find a strong supporter for the promotion and handling of its problems and concerns.

Obama’s team, however, is completed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a political scientist and former National Security Advisor for President Carter, whose views are opposed to Armenian interests. The fact that he is on the payroll of Amoco Inc., the largest U.S. investor in Azerbaijan’s oilfields, has driven him to take up the task of improving the image of Azerbaijan and its president before the U.S. Congress.

He has been accused of using his post as board member of Freedom House, a non-profit organization about democracy and freedom in the world highly trusted by politicians and academics, in order to win support on Capitol Hill for Azerbaijan so as to increase investmen’s in the country. It is no secret that after assuming this post, Freedom House has become one of Aliyev’s most fervent supporters, upgrading Azerbaijan, a dictatorial regime with severe violations of human rights, from the non-free states to the partially free level. Brzezinski aspires to see Azerbaijan and Georgia independent from Russia, so that the U.S. can secure natural gas and oil pipelines.

When it comes to Nagorno Karabakh, he links the solution of the conflict to the access of the region through pipelines that will traverse various countries. According to him, opening up borders and allowing economic relations between Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, etc will greatly help the conflict, as well as meet the need for active mediation–preferably by the U.S.–without taking Armenia’s side.

In addition, Brzezinski believes the U.S. should support the construction of pipelines and promote investmen’s in all Caucasus states while simultaneously pursuing strong strategic and political relations with Turkey. Any route through Armenia, he maintains, would first require a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia recognizing the inviolability of borders.

What’s more, when the time came to vote for House Res.106, he told CNN that “HR 106 will exacerbate wounds that could damage US-Turkish relations” and that if he were a Congressman he would probably not vote for it, while he challenged whether it is appropriate for the U.S. Congress to be defining what constitutes genocide since it was set up for lawmakers, not for social advocacy.

Given the fact, though, that Barack Obama is likely to ask Samantha Power to resume her duties as foreign policy advisor or assign her governmental duties if he gets elected, it seems that Brzezinski will have a hard time influencing Sen. Obama’s political views on Armenian issues. Samantha Power, who is well known to the Armenian community for her genuine interest in human rights and genocide recognition, is a political scientist dedicated to fighting American politicians’ hypocrisy when it comes to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. She has also been a strong advocate for Genocide prevention, urging US lawmakers and policymakers to take powerful positions upon this issue. Her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” and her article “Raising the Cost of Genocide” eloquently describe her strong positions on the Armenian Genocide, whereas her current activities include encouraging Armenians to vote for Obama and showing the American-Armenian community how he has backed issues of special interest to Armenians on several occasions.

Obama vs. McCain
The selection of advisors in the Obama campaign, therefore, constitutes a conundrum for the Armenian-American voter. However, when it comes down to simple adding the pros and cons of each side, we are found with one side either totally unsupportive of Armenian issues or with pro-Turkish sentimen’s and one side divided between advocates for genocide prevention and pro-Azeri plans.

Sen. Obama himself, openly stated on January 19th, that “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides” and that he intends to be that President. In that same statement he called for Congressional passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 & S.Res.106), and pledged that, as president, he will recognize the Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, he reaffirmed his plans regarding U.S.-Armenian cooperation in the security and democracy area, while promising to maintain U.S. assistance to Armenia. He has also pledged to “promote Armenian security by seeking an end to the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades and by working for a lasting and durable settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict that is agreeable to all parties, and based upon America’s founding commitment to the principles of democracy and self determination.” Armenia’s growth and development through expanded trade and targeted aid is also in Sen. Obama’s foreign policy agenda, as he has committed to strengthening the commercial, political, military, developmental, and cultural relationships between the U.S. and Armenian governmen’s.

If we look at Obama’s track record on Armenian issues, take into consideration talk of Samantha Power assuming a governmental post in case Obama is elected, and acknowledge the candidate’s support of Genocide recognition, then we are presented with a strong possibility that an Obama administration will be proactive in addressing issues of concern to the Armenian-American community.

Conversely, given the fact that McCain’s September 29th letter to the Armenian-American community continued his long-standing policy of refusing to use the word genocide when describing the events of 1915, and failed to make a coherent statement regarding his plans for U.S.-Armenia relations, the Armenian-American voter is left with a candidate whose stance mimics that of previous presidents that have kowtowed to Turkish pressure. Meanwhile the reality that a great part of his foreign policy team has been explicitly supportive of Turkey and Azerbaijan will make it unlikely that a McCain administration will be receptive to matters of Armenian-American interest.

The conclusion is one; the Armenian-American community has a chance to make a difference through these elections as long as there is a critical number of voters that will demand to be heard.

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