- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009





President Obama travels today to the Republic of Turkey. This historic visit presents the United States with an excellent chance to assert and strengthen our relationship with a strategic ally and a critical trade partner. During this time of economic uncertainty and great military challenges, the United States must do all it can to build upon our ties to foreign nations and promote opportunities to grow the global economy.

Turkey plays an extremely important role in the U.S. economy. Billions of dollars and thousands of American jobs are dependent on exports to Turkey. During the last two years, exports to Turkey from the United States have nearly doubled, with our country sending more than $10 billion worth of goods last year alone. This upward trend demonstrates a flourishing financial partnership between our two nations that can only benefit our struggling economy.

In addition to exports, Turkish industries continue to grow and develop to the benefit of the United States. In 2009 alone, Turkey is expected to commit more than $20 billion in aerospace purchases. U.S. companies are well-positioned to win these contracts, creating thousands of well-paying jobs for American workers and pumping needed capital into our economy.

Turkey also plays an invaluable role in assisting our efforts to combat the global war on terror. Turkey provides extensive logistics support to American troops in Iraq and serves as a critical access point for the shipment of U.S. supplies into that country. Turkey has provided millions of dollars for reconstruction efforts and humanitarian assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan, helped to train members of the Afghan National Police and the National Army, and operates hospitals and schools in Afghanistan that serve hundreds of thousands of individuals. The time and resources Turkey has dedicated have been invaluable to our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More broadly, Turkey is a key diplomatic partner in a hostile region of the world. With the only secular and democratic government in a predominantly Muslim nation, Turkey is uniquely poised to work with surrounding countries such as Syria and Lebanon. These ties can only serve to help the United States in its dealings with the Muslim world as well as in bringing stability to the Middle East.

With Turkey’s record as such a steadfast ally to the United States during troubled times, it would be a dangerous misstep to unnecessarily risk alienating the Turkish people. Yet efforts are, once again, afoot in the Congress to label as genocide the deaths of ethnic Armenians during the final days of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. This sort of proclamation, which bears no legal effect, would almost certainly be seen as a slap in the face to Turkey and a harpoon to U.S. relations with the country.

As a global leader, the United States should continue to play an active role in ending atrocities throughout the world. As friends and allies, we should always be able to tell Turkey how we really feel when we disagree with their policies and actions. But the “Armenian genocide” issue remains a matter of debate by historians, making it foolish, arrogant and dangerous for politicians to make historical claims for political points.

Turkey and Armenia have made great strides on their own in improving relations between the two countries. Turkish President Abdullah Gul has visited Armenia and held discussions with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan as part of ongoing efforts to reconcile. With the two countries already working in step to resolve their differences and advance their relationship, U.S. involvement in the situation appears unnecessary and intrusive.

The ties that bind Turkey and the United States are strong and will continue to be strong as we combat threats to both our nations and work to bring stability to the Middle East. At this decisive juncture, the United States needs to be mindful of the consequences of actions that will be ill-received by a nation so important to our country.

Ed Whitfield, Kentucky Republican, is a member of the House of Representatives and co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Turkey.

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