America’s foreign policy should be a democratic expression of our shared right as citizens to govern all aspects of our nation’s affairs.
All too often, however, the formulation of our nation’s international policies – the very stands that define each of us on the world stage – takes place far outside the American civic arena, inside a largely opaque and highly insulated process run by a relatively small circle of foreign policy experts. Far too many of these officials closely covet their power and jealously guard against what they, rather self-servingly, call outside interference, but what we know is really just the free exercise by American citizens of our Constitutional rights.
That’s the theory. Here is an example of its practical application.
Consider an issue close to all our hearts: U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, a vital issue that speaks to American moral leadership and directly impacts the future security of Armenia.
American civil society has spoken loud and clear in support of this cause, yet our government continues – against all facts and morality – to remain complicit in Turkey’s denial of this crime.
The gap between what Americans believe and what the American government – under both Democratic and Republican leaders – actually does on this matter simply couldn’t be greater.
Look at the facts:
One president after another has sought the votes of American citizens (not, in the age of Darfur, just Armenians) by promising to recognize the Armenian Genocide, yet backed away once in office.
Clear bipartisan Congressional majorities support the Armenian Genocide Resolution, yet these elected officials are not given a chance to vote for this measure.
Forty-two U.S. states have recognized the Armenian Genocide, most recently President Obama’s home state of Hawaii, as have countless cities and towns, yet our Federal government remains silent.
The International Association of Genocide Scholars and every other credible academic association has called for U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and the history of this crime is taught in thousands of school districts across the United States, yet our national policy still reflects the thoroughly discredited “let the historians decide” approach to this issue.
The anti-Darfur Genocide movement, which encompasses millions of Americans, understands that fighting denial is a key to ending the cycle of genocide, and has made U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide a priority, yet this message has yet to make a difference in White House policy.
President Obama, at a moving April 23rd Holocaust remembrance in the U.S. Capital, condemned the denial of this horrific crime, calling on all Americans to prevent future atrocities by “fighting the silence that is evil’s greatest co-conspirator,” and yet, the very next day, he himself remained silent on the Armenian Genocide.
Just who is holding back this tide of civil society, public policy, grassroots, human rights, and academic support?
Who is really behind the twisted idea that U.S recognition will be bad for America, as if covering up for genocide can ever be an American value or that caving in to foreign pressure can represent a U.S. interest.
The easy answer is Turkey, but that would require accepting that the United States, the world’s lone superpower, is allowing itself to be bossed around by an important, but ultimately second-rate, country.
The more accurate answer may be that a critical mass of the career officials running our foreign policy, while certainly impacted by Turkey’s threats, have, at an even deeper level, themselves accepted a warped but deeply engrained worldview that somehow considers accepting the truth of the Armenian Genocide to be bad for the United States.
That’s an intellectual and moral failing on their part of really remarkable proportions.
It also represents, however, a political failing on our part.
As Americans citizens, we are the owners of U.S. foreign policy, when we get it right and equally when we get it wrong. And it is our responsibility to fix it when it gets off course, even if that means wrestling the reins away from those with great power and influence.
No excuse frees us from this responsibility. No level of opposition justifies a retreat from our obligation to change flawed policies – especially related to genocide – that undermine our nation’s standing internationally and present such a direct danger to the entire world.
The reality, sad but true, is that, despite all the progress we’ve seen, we have yet to generate the political power needed to overcome the entrenched, heavily fortified, institutional resistance to changing how America deals with the Armenian Genocide.
The paths to this level of power are not easy.
Clearly, the foreign policy process itself is, in large part by design, very hard to influence, whether through direct dialogue, civil society activism, the media, coalition building, electoral participation, or even pressure from Congress.
Just as clearly, the opposition we face, domestic and foreign, is tremendously powerful. We have, aligned against us, an All-Star team of some of the most powerful forces in Washington. And they play tough.
In this highly challenging environment, heavily stacked as it is against change (particularly in confronting genocide), and facing highly influential adversaries, we must take our work to the next level.
We must fix a deeply flawed U.S. policy toward the Armenian Genocide, and all genocides, and set U.S.-Armenia relations on the right track.
This is an ambitious goal, but I know that with your help we are up to the test.
With your financial support during the May 31st ANCA Endowment Telethon, and your ongoing activism, we can continue the great and noble task of building the power to roll back the influence of those who have hijacked U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide. Together, we can deliver for all Americans a principled stand against genocide that we can all be proud to call our own.