Lobbyists

The Armenian genocide dispute is just the latest example of the negative influence of ethnic lobbies on U.S. foreign policy.

U.S. foreign policy matters, especially to other countries. Just ask the citizens of nations invaded or bombed by Washington, or suffering under American sanctions, or simply annoyed by our tendency to hector, pester and insist regarding all manner of issues, big and small.

Today Washington is deeply involved in a war in Afghanistan and ongoing civil strife in Iraq. The United States continues to threaten Iran with military action. Washington has promiscuously issued security guarantees throughout Asia and Europe. American bases and troops circle the globe; American ships and aircraft dominate the oceans and atmosphere. The price for this presence is high: at a time of budget crisis, the United States spends more, adjusted for inflation, on the military than at any point since World War II and accounts for nearly half the globe's military spending.

So what issue is roiling Congress today? Whether the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against its Armenian subjects during World War I. It is a bizarre question. And it is being asked only because foreign policy has become yet another battlefield for influential interest groups. Americans now are routinely held hostage by ethnic groups determined to use the U.S. government to aid their families, friends, and co-ethnics abroad. Policy toward Cuba, Eastern Europe, Haiti, Israel, Turkey and more has been deformed by domestic politics.

Consider the Armenian genocide resolution, approved by one-vote margin by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Why are American congressmen judging the character of mass killings which occurred nearly a century ago halfway around the world?

The nation accused of committing genocide no longer exists. Every government official who plotted the murders and almost certainly every soldier or civilian who committed a murder is dead. Whether or not the actions technically constituted "genocide" does not affect the obvious brutality and inhumanity of the killings.

And the pronouncement of Congress will not matter. American legislators can neither make a genocide where none existed nor eliminate one that did occur. No historian will care one whit how a majority of American lawmakers opine.

Indeed, if U.S. policy makers are entitled to judge the Ottoman Empire, why stop there? Perhaps Congress should charge Great Britain with committing genocide through the Irish potato famine. Even more bloody was London's partition of its Indian colony.

Certainly much should be said about the casualties caused when Attila the Hun and his hordes ravaged Eurasia. Rome could be charged with genocide in the destruction of Carthage; even the Nazis did not sow with salt the lands which they conquered. And who can forget the death, destruction and rapine set off by the French Revolution continuing on through the Napoleonic Wars?

Obviously, the resolution on genocide against Armenians has nothing to do with genocide against Armenians. Instead, the measure has everything to do with criticizing Turkey. Members of the 80,000 member Armenian-American community are in the lead, aided by many Greek-Americans who have their own reasons for disliking Ankara (the invasion and occupation of Cyprus, mistreatment of the Orthodox Church in Turkey, threats of war against Greece over border issues, and more). Turkish-Americans, backed by the Turkish government, are on the other side.

There are plenty of genuine policy issues at stake with Turkey. Whether American policy makers really should view it as a security bulwark for the United States increasingly is in doubt. Turkish policy towards Cyprus and the Kurds in particular raise important issues for Washington. None of these have anything to do with Armenian genocide, however. Getting Congress to vote on this "issue" won't encourage sensible policy formation elsewhere.

Another ethnic immigrant group similarly holds U.S. policy towards Cuba hostage. It is easy to understand the anger within Florida's large Cuban-American community toward the prolonged Castro dictatorship. That anger, however, offers no justification for the continuing trade embargo against Cuba.

Sanctions made sense during the Cold War; at least one could imagine war between the United States and Soviet Union, with Cuba as an advanced base for Moscow. But the Cold War is over and the embargo has manifestly failed. Today Fidel Castro & Co., apparently as secure in power as ever, is facing its tenth American president. All Washington has managed to do is turn the petty dictator of a small, impoverished island penal colony into a celebrated symbol of international resistance to Yanqui imperialism-while offering him an excuse for his own manifest economic failures.

America's large Eastern European ethnic diaspora long has played a role in U.S. policy towards that region. Much of its work was laudable: reminding the world of the brutality of Soviet rule in the "Captive Nations."

However, once the Berlin Wall fell, the Warsaw Pact dissolved and the Soviet Union disintegrated, there was no longer any need for NATO, or at least a U.S.-dominated NATO. Yet Eastern Europeans applied their considerable political clout towards speedily expanding the alliance eastward to nations never thought to be important let alone critical for American security.

Pages