Streetwise Professor

April 24, 2021

Two Self-Inflicted Diplomatic Wounds. But At Least We Don’t Have to Worry About Mean Tweets, Right?

Filed under: China,History,Politics,Russia,Turkey — cpirrong @ 9:07 pm

The Biden administration self-inflicted two serious diplomatic wounds in the space of a single day.

First, even though India is experiencing a wave of covid infections and deaths, its worse so far, the administration refused to relent on a ban (imposed by the Trump administration) on the export of vaccine ingredients.

Yes, the policy was originally Trump’s, but (a) you’d think that would be a bug not a feature with this administration, (b) India’s circumstances are far more dire today than they were when the ban was implemented, and (c) in the US, vaccine usage has nearly reached a saturation point, with many providers having shots wanting for arms.

India (both the government but especially the citizenry) has reacted extremely negatively due to this refusal, which is not surprising given the state of covid panic in the country. The United States should be courting India, not alienating it. After decades of hostility to the US (due not least because of US support for Pakistan, India’s post-independence antipathy to colonial powers or their allies, and dependence on Soviet/Russian weapons), India’s existential conflict with an aggressive China had created an opportunity to make India if not an ally, a country with which the US could cooperate on issues of common interest–most notably containing China.

That underlying dynamic is still there, but this thoughtless refusal fuels the latent suspicions of the US among many Indians and makes such cooperation far, far more difficult. It benefits the health of Americans virtually not at all, but alienates a country we should be courting.

The second self-inflicted wound involves Biden’s official recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire during the depths of WWI. (Do not underestimate how this war scarred Turkey. The Ottoman Empire suffered a greater percentage loss of population during the war than any other nation, even if one deducts the Armenian dead. The Ottoman Empire was dismembered, and Turkey itself was almost devoured in the aftermath. Only Ataturk’s miracles in the War of Independence saved Turkey from being divided among the Western powers and the Greeks, and left as an Anatolian rump that no one else wanted.)

Yes, the fate of Armenians was horrible. Well over a million died. Numberless others were displaced, often to desolate camps in the Syrian desert. If you meet someone whose name ends in “ian” they are almost certainly the descendants of the Armenian diaspora. (Those with names ending in “yan” are usually post-Soviet emigres). Their martyrdom was widely acknowledged in the US. In my parents’ era, children were told to eat their vegetables, because of the starving Armenians.

Like all historic episodes, especially those that occurred in the crucible of WWI, the story is complicated. But regardless of where the guilt lies, it happened more than a century ago. Those who committed the atrocities, and those who suffered them, have long since died.

But living Turks of all political persuasions are neuralgic about being blamed for these long-ago events. Even ardent Erdoğan haters in the CHP are of one mind with him on this issue: calling what happened in the long-dead Ottoman Empire a genocide is a red line. Those who do so are Turkey’s enemies.

Turkey’s response was immediate. It recalled its ambassador to the US, and its foreign minister gave a bitter statement, claiming that this will irreparably harm Turkish-US relations. He also said that the US should not cast stones, given its historical treatment of Native Americans. (The administration’s repeated condemnations of America’s historical actions make it a particularly attractive target for such barbs.)

Many in the US, particularly in the Armenian community, dismiss this. They say that it will blow over.

Don’t be so sure. Under Erdoğan Turkey has been wobbling away from the American (and Nato) orbit. Given Erdoğan’s dicey domestic circumstances, stoking the resentment and taking real steps to distance the country from the US are natural political moves. Russia will clearly notice–and seize upon–the opportunity. Erdoğan will be quite open to their blandishments.

And do not underestimate the power of Turkish nationalism. In my experience, they are among the most chauvinistic people in the modern world. (Han Chinese are the only rivals for the title.) They are not postmodern or post-nationalist, like most Europeans. This is deadly serious to them. It will not blow over.

Turkey has geopolitical importance, not least because of its geographic position. It has been a difficult country for the US in recent years, in large part because of its mercurial and grandiose leader. Provoking it unnecessarily will bring the US many policy headaches. Virtually at the same moment as Biden’s announcement, Turkey escalated its conflict with America-aligned Kurds in Iraq. The genocide announcement will make it all the more difficult to try to manage that conflict.

And for what? This gesture will not bring anyone back from the dead. It will not undo what has been done. America helped in the best way possible–by welcoming tens of thousands of Armenians. (Including the Kardashians. Isn’t that sacrifice enough?) It is moral preening that will not reverse past atrocities, nor prevent future ones. And it is contrary to US national interests.

And Turks–including in particular Turks in the US–believe that Biden’s action does not even rise to the level of moral preening. In their eyes it is corruption, political venality, repaying Armenian-Americans (in California in particular) for massive campaign contributions, given in exchange for his promise to do what he just did. Given the absence of any other plausible explanation, this seems very reasonable. And very despicable

One day, two pointless gestures that do significant damage to relationships with two geopolitically important nations with which the US has had difficult relations. I see zero upside for US interests in these actions, and much downside. God help us if these are harbingers of US policy over the next four years–which alas is extremely likely.

But hey. At least we don’t have to worry about mean tweets, right?

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  1. Didn’t Russia recognize Armenian genocide in the 90-s?

    Comment by mmt — April 25, 2021 @ 7:45 am

  2. If it is true that China is your enemy then you, the USA, should repair relationships with countries worth having as allies. That certainly includes Russia, India, and Vietnam. Burma, perhaps. Maybe Iran too.

    As for Turkey under President Thinskinned; why put its nose out of joint?

    Even rather cack-handed Putting America First was far preferable to Biden buffoonery.

    Still, three months in office and not started a new war yet – unless the trouble in Burma is the CIA in action.

    Comment by dearieme — April 25, 2021 @ 8:39 am

  3. The Turks are definitely #1 in the chauvinism department.
    Han Chinese? Maybe #3 in the world.
    You missed out on the good old US of A which, while it does not fancy itself chauvinist, has staged more wars and military interventions since the end of WWII than the rest of the nations combined. Deeds count for more than words, methinks. So a deserved place for Amerika on the podium of (dis)honor surely, no?

    Comment by Simple Simon — April 25, 2021 @ 10:13 am

  4. @Simple Simon I don’t think there is direct connection between American chauvinism and military interventions. There were surely wars caused by chauvinism like Philippine–American War, but there were also humanitarian interventions in Yugoslavia and in Libya. Moreover, some American chauvinists tend to be isolationists ( Pat Buchanan and others).

    Comment by mmt — April 25, 2021 @ 10:27 am

  5. @mmt–And that matters why, exactly?

    Comment by cpirrong — April 25, 2021 @ 2:27 pm

  6. @Simple Simon. There are chauvinist Americans, to be sure. But the avowedly anti-chauvinists are in charge now. Or haven’t you noticed the daily ritual of self-flagellation by various members of the “Biden administration”? Including Dopey Joe himself, not to mention “his” UN ambassador, various cabinet and sub-cabinet nominees, press secretary, etc. And a large fraction of the US electorate is anti-chauvinist.

    You have no fucking clue about the Han. At all.

    Comment by cpirrong — April 25, 2021 @ 2:30 pm

  7. @cpirrong You mentioned possibility of strengthening ties between Russia and Turkey as result of this recognition. It would seem weird for Turkey to unite with Russia against America because of USA holding the same position as Russia. But maybe timing of this decision is important.

    Comment by mmt — April 25, 2021 @ 2:39 pm

  8. “humanitarian interventions … in Libya”: if you believe that, sir, you’ll believe anything.

    What considerations in the intricate domestic and political life of President Clinton motivated the aggression against Serbia I don’t know. Does anyone?

    Comment by dearieme — April 25, 2021 @ 5:10 pm

  9. And let’s not forget the Prof prefers to not comment on the most important foreign policy announcement, namely the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by Sep ‘21. I have a hunch that may be because he actually, secretly, agrees with Biden’s policy but is afraid to say so.

    Comment by [email protected] — April 25, 2021 @ 5:10 pm

  10. @dearieme:

    “if you believe that, sir, you’ll believe anything.”
    The US doesn’t seem to have gained a lot from that intervention, so I don’t think it’s particularly hard to believe that humanitarian goals were at least high up on the list.

    “What … motivated the aggression against Serbia”
    I don’t think that’s a fair criticism. I would imagine that the main motivation was the utterly shameful failure of the rest of Europe to recognise and act against Serbian (or Serbian-supported) war crimes right on our doorstep.

    Comment by HibernoFrog — April 26, 2021 @ 5:39 am

  11. “The US doesn’t seem to have gained a lot from that intervention”: it doesn’t seem to have gained a lot from many of its adventures in my lifetime. So I doubt if you can infer motivation from those failures.

    As for Serbia, it is an odd one. After the fact it was claimed that the Serbs had been ethnically cleansing Albanians out of Kosovo. But in fact the great flight of Albanians started after it became clear that the US was going to bomb, not before. The ethnic cleansing from Kosovo after Serbia surrendered was a cleansing of Serbs (and Gypsies) to which the world seemed entirely indifferent. I may be biased; my own interest was engaged only after it emerged that TV News video that we’d been shown in Britain of Kosovo Albanians imprisoned in the open air behind barbed wire had been entirely fake. “Why” I asked myself “are journalists going to the trouble of faking an outrage? Is there a shortage of real outrages to report on?” That’s still a fair question after all these years.

    In matters like this it’s probably wise to assume that Slick Willie acted entirely in hope of accruing some domestic political advantage.

    Comment by dearieme — April 26, 2021 @ 7:27 am

  12. what’s the long term goal of the Biden apparatchiks in recognizing the genocide? In the short run, US Armenians are happy-but most of them vote Republican so it doesn’t make sense to do it for domestic politics unless I am missing something.

    I want to know what the inmates running the Biden asylum think. Because certainly Sleepy Joe can’t and when he does you Costanza him and do the opposite.

    Comment by Jeffrey Carter — April 27, 2021 @ 1:01 pm

  13. @#3 Simple — you left out the Soviet Union, which sponsored murderous wars of national enslavement all across the third world. Why don’t those count?

    And for chauvinism one can’t beat Arab Muslims, whose Arabist racism is encoded into their religion. All of arab North Africa and the near east is the result of their colonialist project. Even when the autochthons convert to Islam, they’re an oppressed second-class population unless they manage to take on an Arab façade.

    As to antagonizing Erdogan and Turkey, I’ll differ from Craig on this one. Erdogan has imperial intentions toward Europe, rooted in fostering Islamism there. He’s no friend. The US doesn’t need bases in Turkey anymore. The USSR is dead. Russia is a regional power with nuclear weapons.

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 27, 2021 @ 2:20 pm

  14. By the way, I see nothing wrong in officially remembering the Armenian genocide. It was a deliberate religio-racist attempt to exterminate a despised population. One Turkey has never regretted.

    The US has stood up to its past. So has Germany. Turkey, never, and has remained hostile to any mention of it.

    The Soviet Union was guilty of genocide against minority populations, and China is presently obliterating both the Tibetans and the Uighurs before the eyes of the world.

    None of that should be brushed aside for political expedience.

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 27, 2021 @ 2:27 pm

  15. Annnd immediately following this post America agrees to send a whole array of aid to India. Poor timing/not reading the runes, or perhaps this blog is read in the halls of power?

    Regarding Armenia, I reckon Erdo and the vast majority of Turks give precisely zero f*cks about this declaration. Sure, it was genocide by any agreed measure, but jeez it was like a billion years ago. Anyhow, the Armenian diaspora have got a brand new reason to be p*ssed with Turkey, given the spanking that was handed to them at their hands earlier this year in Nagorno-Karabakh (not forgetting of course how Putin cut Armenia loose when the going got tough). As for this pushing Turkey further into Russia’s sphere, talk about grasping at straws.

    Have to say this is all pretty thin gruel for the masses. Whatever happened to Hunter’s laptop? Forgotten already??

    Comment by David Mercer — April 28, 2021 @ 6:11 am

  16. The death by induced starvation of 3-6 million Ukrainians — jeez it was like a 0.8 billion (David Mercer) years ago. Why shouldn’t everyone give zero f*cks about it anymore?

    And the holocaust — murder of 6 million Jews and another half million Gypsies and homosexuals — jeez it was like a 0.6 billion (David Mercer) years ago. Why shouldn’t everyone give zero f*cks about it anymore?

    And the peacetime murder of 60 million people in the old Soviet Union — — jeez it was like a 0.8 – 0.9 billion (David Mercer) years ago. Why shouldn’t everyone give zero f*cks about it anymore?

    And the peacetime murder of upwards of 100 million people in Communist China — — jeez it was like a 0.5 billion (David Mercer) years ago. Why shouldn’t everyone give zero f*cks about it anymore?

    And so it goes.

    You’re a special piece of work, you are, David.

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 28, 2021 @ 10:28 am

  17. @ Pat. Ach stop being soo literal. Point was it was several lifetimes ago, those responsible being long dead and buried, and much water has passed under the bridge ever since (a veritable tsunami of late). It was a symbolic and hollow declaration, and if Erdo gets the ar5e as a consequence (which is unlikely given his precarious position), who really cares? As you yourself noted, they’re not really on ‘our’ side any more.

    It is funny to see Craig now blogging about the importance of Turkey as a US ally. How times change, and so quickly? (Almost as funny as you publicly confessing you agree with a Biden action – shock horror! Any more lapses like that and you’ll be cast out of Church of Pirrong).

    Comment by David Mercer — April 28, 2021 @ 1:22 pm

  18. @17 David – my comment was to your point. What difference if the Armenian genocide was lifetimes ago. It happened. Its impetus was ideological demonization. Just as was the Jewish holocaust.

    In those cases, religious ideology. Pol Pot’s impetus, and Stalin’s, Mao’s, and Castro’s was political ideology. Your indifference is exactly what’s needed to repeat the crimes.

    I see that freethinking still confuses you. Why shouldn’t I agree with Biden when he’s correct.

    Maybe your askance should be directed to Biden, who has evidenced agreement with a freethinker.

    The decision was unlikely his in any case. Presuming Biden runs the administration ignores the reality of his failing mind.

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 28, 2021 @ 8:40 pm

  19. Here’s Biden’s DNI’s threat assessment,

    Some scary stuff there.

    I think Taiwan invasion will happen sooner than anyone believes possible.

    Comment by The Pilot — April 30, 2021 @ 5:43 am

  20. @Libte–or is it @Libtard? I have long been a skeptic of the Afghan adventure. FFS, during the early years of the Obama administration I said “go large or go home.” Look it up–it’s from around 2009 or 2010. I have been against the US strategy in Afghanistan for years. I had no need to say “I told you so.”

    Comment by cpirrong — May 2, 2021 @ 4:05 pm

  21. Yo, Prof!

    Just caught your response 🙂

    You really need to open your eyes, look around and then look in the mirror.
    Chauvinism – in the dictionary definition – relates to glorification of one’s country, fanatical patriotism and excessive enthusiasm for the military. Americans fly the flag more than other people on the planet, glorify the military tradition. I don’t think you realize how different Americans are from the rest of the planet. As for the guys now in charge, haha, they aren’t quite as chauvunist as Trump, that’s for sure. But when push comes to shove, they will assuredly revert to type. Ready to bet bucks on that.

    As for the Han Chinese, are you talking the Han – all 1.5 billion of them (inside and outside the territory of the PRC including the many many Chinese living next door to you)? Or are you talking the CPC? The latter are certainly chauvinist, rivalling the Russia/KGB State apparatus in the global race for … supremacy.

    But the thing about Han chauvinism is that the tradition of Tainxia 天下 is that centering the world on China logically means that its reach is more local than global. And if you study your Chinese history you see the preference has always been for tributary and/or buffer states on the periphery. The present dynasty has not shown any inclination to break away from the historical pattern. When they do, it’ll be time to check for Chinese under the bed in Cuba 🙂

    Comment by Simple Simon — May 9, 2021 @ 10:43 am

  22. Pretend it never happened? You are walking very close to the line of holocaust denial. Oh but someone’s feelings are hurt and someone wants to get on with their next genocide, of the Kurds, so let’s rather stay tactfully stumm.

    Comment by Michael van der Riet — May 21, 2021 @ 6:18 am

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