Publius offers the standard, mature view (taken by every living Secretary of State, incidentally), that this is not the right time. Turkey is one of our closet Muslim allies. Moreover, unlike quotation mark "allies" like Saudi Arabia, it is a bona fide liberal, democratic Islamic state. It also is one of the few Muslim states to recognize and have diplomatic relations with Israel -- a relationship it has been issuing veiled threats against in the event that this resolution passes. And it happens to border Iraq, where it could if it so desired cause all manner of trouble under the pretext of dealing with its "Kurdish problem." This event happened a long time ago, Publius argues, so why stir up the fuss?
My first response, I admit, is emotional. Turkey's absolutely childish reaction to simply acknowledging historical fact is unbelievably grating to me, and at this point the inevitable temper tantrum they've threatened to throw is a perk, not a disadvantage, to me. As I wrote back in August when Turkey wanted to "send a message" to American Jews about the implications of this vote, my own message back to them is "grow up". It's long since time. And if they want to enter societal adulthood kicking and screaming, well, so much the worse for them.
But more substantively, contra Publius I think recognizing past human rights atrocities -- particularly those in which the perpetrators have tried desperately to deny their crimes -- has significant contemporary import. I'm reminded of this excerpt from Charles Briggs:
[D]ebates about genocide are themselves political events that bear powerfully on creating, legitimating, and challenging violence.... Actions generally come to be referred to as genocides -- and as 'events' -- post facto. The labeling shapes how they are perceived and remembered and their implications for the future. Constructing an event as genocide places it in relationship to other acts and creates conduits for the circulation of accusations. The architects of genocide are often as concerned with suppressing discourse about the event as with the killing itself. [Charles Briggs, "Genocide," in A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies, David Theo Goldberg & John Solomos, eds., (Oxford: Blackwell 2002), 38]
The people who contemplate genocide pay attention to how society has reacted to similar events in the past. Hitler, we recall, was encouraged in his own Final Solution because "who remembers the Armenians?" When genocidal regimes perceive that they can infinitely stave off the day of reckoning for their actions via a variety of diplomatic shuffles, threats, and bluster, we lose one of the few non-military deterrents we have to the violence. Particularly in this age, where it has become clear that the world community either doesn't have the heart or stomach to physically intervene to stop genocide, it becomes all the more important to utilize whatever resources we have in our arsenal to stave them off before they occur. In this fight, moral suasion is a surprisingly effective weapon -- but only if it is known that it will be deployed.
And what of the opposition of all the Secretaries of State? I think it's important to understand where they're coming from. Certainly, passing this resolution would make their jobs harder. Turkey undoubtedly will retaliate as best it can, and this will harm many vital US interests across the board. I concede that. But guess what? Our diplomats aren't supposed to have easy jobs. They're supposed to do their jobs. And their job is to negotiate American interests and morals within an ethical framework we set up that, on occasion, obliges us to do things that make our life harder. It might be easier for us to crush the insurgency in Iraq if we were willing to carpet-bomb the nation. But we recognize that "ease of victory" is not the only consideration. Basic ethical guarantees -- such as that genocide should be recognized and its perpetrators should not get a free pass -- should not be seen as chess pieces to be manipulated to our greatest advantage. They should be built into the playing field as part of the reality our diplomats have to deal with. It's tougher terrain than if we simply jettisoned ethics all together. But you know what? Sometimes, that's what it means to be the good guy in the world.