- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

The Clinton administration helped pragmatism trounce principle last year, when it lobbied to kill a bill that would have recognized the genocide of the Armenian people in Turkey under the Ottoman Empire, more than 80 years ago.

To America's chagrin, France has achieved the moral leadership that the U.S. Congress and White House failed to fulfill. Last week, France's President Jacques Chirac approved a bill the parliament recently approved that officially recognizes as genocide the slaughter of about 1.5 million Armenians killed in Turkey during and after World War I, while trying to establish their own autonomous state. Authorities in Paris also voted to erect a memorial to the genocide of these people, who comprised a Christian minority in largely Muslim Turkey.

Turkey has insisted that genocide never occurred, and that 300,000, rather 1.5 million, Armenians and thousands of Turks were killed as the Ottoman Empire tried to quell civil unrest. But evidence, including the testimony of a U.S. official in Turkey at the time, demonstrates the slaughter of Armenians was widespread, intentional and brutal.

Despite Turkey's threats of economic and diplomatic retaliation, France's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, gave unanimous approval of a text reading: "France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915." The Senate had approved the bill in November. As expected, Turkey responded to the passage of the bill by recalling its ambassador to France and breaking two deals, each worth about $200 million, with French companies Thales and Alcatel. "There are French companies participating in ongoing tenders. Of course, the so-called Armenian genocide bill will play a determining role in our evaluations," said Turkey's minister of defense, Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, last week.

Unfortunately, U.S. policy-makers degraded America's stature last year by cowing to this type of crass bullying by Turkey. Indeed, the Clinton administration scarcely mentioned the genocide of Armenians when it lobbied against last year's bill. Presumably, this would be the central issue, but administration officials instead highlighted Turkey's potential usefulness in helping to build a new oil pipeline in the Caucasus and the country's $6 billion yearly consumption of U.S. goods. During a congressional hearing, Marc Grossman, director general of the foreign service, said Bill Clinton opposed the bill because "he believes it would be counterproductive."

This type of Clintonian reasoning is chilling, considering the atrocity in question. America deserves a president that will put moral mandates above short-term, economic considerations. And Mr. Clinton was myopic even in his unprincipled logic. At some point, the United States will be pressured to recognize the genocide of the Armenians. The European Parliament, Italy, Belgium, Argentina and now France have already done so. Postponing this acknowledgment after eight decades is counterproductive.

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