Thursday, October 11, 2007

The power of single-issue voters, Armenian edition 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has voted 27-21 to move H Res 106, the resolution on recognition of the Armenian genocide, for a vote of the full House. Based on email I'm getting, the reaction of most Armenians is ecstatic. The Turks, meanwhile, have moved to recall their ambassador for "consultations".

Ed thinks this is wasting time and pointless, and the White House is in full damage control. I talked about earlier efforts here. The truth is that Armenian-Americans understand the value of being fickled voters (just as sports economists have hypothesized that teams are more likely to put winners on the field when their fans are more fickled about showing up only for winners.) As the story Ed linked shows, bill sponsor Adam Schiff only got his position after Armenians flipped on his Republican predecessor after the Republicans had pulled back a previous genocide bill for a vote. People and politicians respond to incentives, and the Armenian lobby has been quite effective in this regard. (Please note, the interest of full disclosure, that my last name is Armenian and I work on economic issues in Armenia.)

I do not think one can say that the current government is faultless in the genocide when it continues to fund deniers. This isn't much different than the Saudi funding of centers which many have criticized. One might ask whether, if the issue was not being fought by the Turkish government currently elected, why the reaction to a simple committee vote?

No doubt the US would like to have good relations with Turkey for geopolitical reasons, and no doubt too that Armenia neither offers the same strategic advantages, nor should consider this the most pressing issue. (Again, for full disclosure, I have been part of a conference discussing the value of opening the border to trade between the two countries, something that I still feel would be beneficial to each side.) Still, recognition of injustice is part of the step of reconciliation, and having the West say that at some point reconciliation is needed seems sound foreign policy, regardless of which party supports it.

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