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Harman's U-turn

After co-sponsoring an Armenian genocide resolution, the Westside congresswoman now opposes it.

October 10, 2007

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) is absolutely right: U.S. foreign policy should reflect "appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing and genocide." Further, the president should indeed "accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide." That's why Harman is one of more than 220 members of the House to co-sponsor a worthwhile, nonbinding resolution containing precisely that language.

Harman is right about something else as well: Turkey is an invaluable NATO ally and strategic partner in the always combustible Middle East. It is arguably the most important friend both the U.S. and Israel have in the Muslim world, and the most reliable country on Iraq's border. Ankara's ongoing modernization and painstaking integration with Europe provide a crucial example to the largely misgoverned Muslim world: that a secular state can be the path to prosperity, not hell.

These two sets of facts, being factual, are not in conflict. Nor should they have anything to do with one another. Yet the government of modern Turkey has invested enormous diplomatic capital and cash in denying the genocide committed by its forebears and warning weak-kneed U.S. politicians -- from President Bush on down -- that a symbolic vote to call the events of nine decades ago by their proper name will create, in the words of Turkish President Abdullah Gul this week, "serious troubles" for U.S. diplomacy.

The latest American to go wobbly is none other than the usually steely-eyed congresswoman from L.A.'s Westside. Last week, Harman sent a letter to Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame) urging him to withdraw from consideration the very bill that contains her signature. "Following a visit to Turkey earlier this year," she wrote, "I have great concern that this is the wrong time for the Congress to consider this measure. . . . We should avoid taking steps that would embarrass or isolate the Turkish leadership." The bill is scheduled for a committee vote today; should it pass and reach the House floor, Harman intends to vote no.

Harman herself is not shy about using the word genocide, and defends her flip-flop on grounds of exercising foreign policy "realism" while hoping for eventual reconciliation between Turkey and the descendants of those who were slaughtered. But "realism" is not respected by denying reality, and friendship is best expressed through honesty, not the indulgence of irrational threats.

Legislators like to congratulate themselves when they call evil by its proper name. But the real mark of courage is speaking truth when it's inconvenient. The Foreign Relations Committee should pass the recognition resolution, and Washington should rediscover the basic fortitude to say officially what history knows to be true.

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