Monday, June 23, 2008

Genocide resolution at "crunch point," U.S.' Iraq policy

This was originally published in August 4, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

From Washington, in brief
by Emil Sanamyan

Genocide resolution seen approaching “crunch point”

With elections in Turkey wrapping up, the House Resolution on the Armenian Genocide (H. Res. 106) will approach a “crunch point quite soon,” according to Alan Makovsky, a senior staff member on the House Foreign Relations Committee. But he anticipated no action until the August recess was over.

Mr. Makovsky said this in his personal capacity in response to a question from former Congressman and long-time Turkish lobbyist Stephen Solarz during a July 23 discussion at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an audio of which is available on its web site.

Prior to his congressional appointment, Mr. Makovsky headed WINEP’s Turkey program and in that capacity he publicly opposed the 2000 House Genocide resolution, according to reports in the Turkish media at the time.

Both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Majority leader Steny Hoyer have had a “long-time personal commitment on this issue,” Mr. Makovsky noted, and “if they had their way [H. Res. 106] would pass.” At the same time, the Bush Administration has been intensively lobbying against the measure. The senior congressional official recalled that two types of arguments have been made against the resolution. The first argument is “strategic,” in terms of potential consequences for U.S.-Turkish relations, and, the second one is that of timing linked to elections in Turkey.

“We [the U.S.] don’t want to become a factor in the elections,” Mr. Makovsky said, and “that point resonated with a lot of people [in Congress].” Now that the Turkish electoral process is about to wrap up (the general election was held on July 22 and a parliamentary vote for president is expected in the next several weeks), that second argument is about to become irrelevant.

Also participating in the WINEP discussion, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza thanked Mr. Makovsky for referring to the Administration’s work in opposing the resolution and promised that it “will continue that approach.” Mr. Bryza reiterated the State Department’s position that it “do[es] not deny anything one way or another” but believes that “those horrible events” should be addressed through dialogue between Armenians and Turks. “How do you do that, I don’t know,” he said but added that that is the approach favored by the Administration.

Referring to “somewhat ominous” comments by Mr. Makovsky that “things are going move” on the resolution, Mr. Bryza argued that “we really need something from the Turkish government that… moves towards normalization of relations with Armenia, it is time for that to happen.”

As of this week, 224 of 435 members of Congress have officially endorsed H. Res. 106. Mr. Makovsky said that the fact that more than half of the House members back the measure was “psychologically significant, but in itself does not mean anything operationally.”

Still, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Morton Abramowitz said that the resolution was very likely to pass in the House after Congress’ August recess, the Turkish Daily News reported on July 26.

A vote on the resolution depends on a decision by the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives.

Be watching…

Our readers in the Washington area take note that this Sunday, August 5 at 8 p.m. the local PBS affiliate WETA channel 26 will be re-airing Andrew Goldberg’s film The Armenian Genocide. This documentary first aired on PBS nationally last year, when it received critical acclaim both in the United States and abroad. For more information connect at

Reputed plans for U.S.-Turkish “secret operation” against Kurds leaked

Speaking at the Washington Institute for the Near East Policy on July 23, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza hinted that in the immediate future the U.S. is likely to take action against anti-Turkey Kurdish groups in northern Iraq. Mr. Bryza agreed with Turkey’s claims that the U.S. has not done enough to clamp down on forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, usually identified as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who Ankara has accused of fueling a growing anti-government insurgency within Turkey.

Both the military and the government in Turkey have threatened to invade Iraqi Kurdistan unless the U.S. takes measures of its own. “The attitude has shifted here in
Washington,” Mr. Bryza revealed. “We have to produce concrete results and I’m confident we are going to soon… in the next few weeks or months.”

In his July 30 Washington Post column Bob Novak offered details of one potential such action. According to Novak’s sources, during the previous week Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman gave select members of Congress a confidential briefing on plans, in Novak’s words, “for a covert operation of U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks neutralize the PKK. They would behead the guerilla organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK leaders that they have targeted for years.”

But, according to the Post columnist, the idea was not well received by at least some in Congress. Its opponents believe that any such U.S. action would undermine progress made in Iraqi Kurdistan, the only stable part of the country. Predictably, U.S. and Turkish officials declined to comment on Novak’s claim.

Most commentators suggested that the leak intended to scuttle any such operation. The
Administration-friendly Washington Times, in its editorial on July 31 blasted the unidentified congressional sources that leaked the contents of Mr. Edelman’s briefing. The Times concluded: “now that it has been made public, the operation has been severely compromised – if it hasn’t been forced off the table altogether.”

But mindful of the Administration’s penchant for secrecy and tendency not to share information with Congress, Blake Hounshell, web editor for the Foreign Policy magazine, wondered on his blog if Mr. Edelman’s briefing to Congress was made with an intention for its details to be leaked. “So perhaps the plan was simply being floated in order to buy more time with the Turks, and Congress was used in order to kill it,” Mr.
Hounshell speculated.

Whatever the case may be, senior Turkish officials continue to threaten to invade Iraqi Kurdistan, although Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan acknowledged earlier this summer (see this page in Jue 16 Reporter) that the Kurdish resistance is based mostly in Turkey rather than in Iraq. Turkey’s real concern appears to be with the existence of a defacto Kurdish state on its border.

A referendum on the status of the Kurdish-populated and oil-rich city of Kirkuk, expected to result in its unification with Iraqi Kurdistan and opposed by Turkey, may yet lead to a fresh escalation in tensions if it takes place as is currently planned before the end of this year.

Think tank study argues for Iraq partition

Frustration over continuing sectarian violence in U.S.-occupied Iraq has sent Washington policy-makers scrambling for policy ideas that could provide for a long-term stability in Iraq. In recent years, a view that Iraq can no longer function as a centralized state has increasingly gained ground.

Last month, a prominent national security scholar and an experienced conflict-management practitioner issued “The Case for Soft Partition of Iraq,” a policy paper in which its authors Michael O’Hanlon and Edward Joseph argue that such an approach “would involve the Iraqis, with the assistance of the international community, dividing their country into three main regions. Each would assume primary responsibility for its own security and governance, as Iraqi Kurdistan already does.”

The paper was published by the Brookings Institution – one of the more respected and less partisan think tanks in Washington – and received considerable attention both in Congress and in the media.

Nonetheless, the plan has also been criticized because it would entail continued U.S. occupation of Iraq at the current levels for at least another two years, as well as major population relocation within Iraq, certain to cause additional humanitarian crises.

U.S. policy initiatives are frequently vetted through think tank studies, although only few of them become blueprints for government action. A policy paper prepared last year by the pro-Administration American Enterprise Institute, which argued for a “surge” in U.S. troop presence in Iraq as a way to contain the sectarian violence in the country, was one such example. The “surge” policy has been in effect from early this year and has received mixed reviews so far.

This September, the U.S. military commander in charge of the plan is expected to report on whether the approach is working and based on the outcome of that report whether it should be modified or abandoned in favor of troop withdrawal. Mr. O’Hanlon, of the partition study has been supportive of the Iraq invasion as well as the most recent “surge” policy, and may expect to have the Administration’s ear.

U.S. to begin major arms infusion into Middle East

Secretaries of State and Defense Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates this week traveled to the Middle East, bringing along an aid package that includes many billions of dollars worth of U.S. military hardware for its Arab allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and smaller Persian Gulf states, as well as Israel. “The United States is determined to assure our allies that we are going to be reliable in helping them to meet their security needs,” Ms. Rice was reported as saying on July 31 by news agencies.

Israel, which is already the biggest recipient of U.S. military assistance to the tune of $2.4 billion a year, is expected to receive $30 billion over ten years (a 25 percent increase from the current level). Arab states are due to jointly get an additional $33 billion over the same period, with aid to Egypt doubled from $1.3 billion a year. The aid, including naval vessels and missile defense systems, is intended to check the perceived increase in Iran’s regional power following the devastation of Iraq and amid Tehran’s continued progress over its nuclear program, in spite of U.S.-championed international sanctions.

The U.S. Congress would need to approve the aid. That, despite some reservations over aiding countries like Saudi Arabia, seems likely since the plan has Israel’s support. As part of its efforts to contain Iran, U.S. also poured arms into Lebanon in the effort to limit the influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah there. The U.S. is also supporting one of the two main factions in Palestine; aiding Azerbaijan through the multi-year $100 million Caspian security program and funding opposition groups within Iran itself.

Iran’s reaction came from its Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar. “[The U.S.] are engaging in psychological warfare in the region in an effort to save the American military industry,” he was quoted as saying by news agencies. “U.S. plans are designed to create a security belt around Israel,” Mr. Najar said. “We have no problem with neighboring or Muslim countries, and should any of these countries acquire weapons. This would only make the Islamic world more powerful,” he suggested.

No comments: