Monday, April 23, 2007

Armenian genocide

Matt Welch in today's LA Times argues that the United States, in particular the President in his annual April 24 address on "Man's Inhumanity to Man," should refer to the slaughter of Armenians as a genocide. A couple months ago, I argued that such a vote was a purely symbolic act that threatened to undermine real American interests in the Middle East.

Welch, however, suggests a way in which not using the G-word may in fact harm our real interests. Welch quotes the most recent U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans:

"In the real world," Evans told a packed Beverly Hilton hall of diaspora Armenians in February, "when an official policy diverges wildly from what the broad public believes is self-evident, that policy ceases to command respect."

Evans, a career, keep-your-head-down foreign service type, surveyed the available literature on the events of 1915-23 before taking the Armenian post in September 2004 and concluded that the U.S. position of avoiding the word "genocide" diverged so wildly from the historical consensus that it undermined Washington's moral authority.

This is in principle a reasonable argument. However, it embeds two assumption, first, that the United States should be pursuing the so-called moral project that Bush claims to be pursuing in the Middle East, and second, that in fact Bush has any moral authority that can be undermined. I would strongly question both those assumptions. Welch's conflation of "Bush" with "Washington" doesn't make me very happy, either.

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