Bush administration officials have been engaged in a quiet debate about how eagerly to seize a chance to improve French-U.S. relations during President Nicolas Sarkozy's Washington visit, which started yesterday.

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Washington is obsessed with the war in Iraq, the danger of Turkish troops clashing with Kurdish militants and President George W. Bush's possible showdown with Iran over its nuclear weapons ambitions.

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There's plenty of blame to go around for the most-irresponsible, self-defeating and short-sighted congressional foreign policy action of this year.

Start with Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, President George W. Bush and the Turks themselves.

The issue in question is last week's decision by the House Foreign Affairs Committee to approve a non-binding resolution to brand the Ottoman Empire's 1915 mass killing of Armenians as genocide. The measure now moves toward a full House vote. If approved, it will send Turkey, the U.S.'s most-important Muslim ally, into an anti-American frenzy.

The panel's sanction was a triumph of domestic politics over geopolitics. The measure was pushed by a California Democrat from a constituency with a large and well-heeled Armenian-American base, and it was backed by Pelosi. In the view of State Department officials who are picking up the pieces, she is more concerned with representing San Francisco than the national interest.

Bush tried to thwart the measure with a campaign involving his father and even former President Bill Clinton, but it was yet another ``surge'' that was too late and without sufficient firepower to make a lasting difference. Most of his effort came in the few days between a phone call from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and the Friday before the Wednesday, Oct. 10 vote.

For their part, Turkish leaders over the years have dodged, banned or prosecuted voices at home who suggested genocide was at play.

Yet the House resolution can only produce a nationalist backlash that will make it harder for those, such as Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, who have called for a more open historical accounting in a Turkey aspiring to European Union membership.

Modern Turkey

Turkish resistance to the prevailing global view that the Ottoman government tried to exterminate its Armenian population is a testimony to the tensions inside modern Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk aggressively forged the state from the remains of the Ottoman Empire 84 years ago and forced aside ethnic, tribal and religious identity to create Turkish civil society.

The House resolution thus is an outside intervention into a painful and long-repressed family debate, a match tossed into brew made more combustible by the country's rising religiosity and nationalism.

President Clinton was able to prevent a similar resolution from reaching a House vote during his administration through weeks of intense lobbying and ultimately by convincing then- Majority Leader Dennis Hastert that passage would endanger American lives. Pelosi said Bush hasn't made a similar effort.

Iraq Preoccupation

It was another example of an administration that has been so preoccupied with Iraq for so long that it misses the need for preemptive political action to contain rising dangers -- and this one will have considerable reverberations in Iraq.

Those who think this vote is about setting historic facts right aren't paying attention to the present. What we're dealing with isn't some rogue, failed state housing sworn enemies but Turkey, the only Muslim country in NATO, a potential European Union country and the most-important front-line state in the struggle against Islamist extremists. It is the West's leading bridge to and democratic model for the Mideast.

It also is the country through which 90 percent of cargo passes for U.S. and allied troops in Iraq. At the very least, U.S. logistical problems will increase.

Diminishing Restraint

More dangerously, Turkish restraint may diminish in dealing with Kurdish militant threats from northern Iraq. Turkey's top military man, General Yasar Buyukanit, spoke bluntly in the Milliyet newspaper on Oct. 15, when he said the U.S. had ``shot itself in the foot'' with the resolution. He also faulted the U.S. for not doing more to help Turkey clamp down on Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.

The Turkish military has been pressing its leadership for the right to cross the Iraqi border to attack rebels in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and it symbolically stepped up shelling over the weekend.

Passage of the resolution and insufficient U.S. help against the PKK will remove much of Washington's leverage to keep Turkey in check. In the worst case, U.S. and Turkish troops might even end up inadvertently standing muzzle-to-muzzle. It is that danger and others that prompted the U.S. to dispatch Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman and senior State Department official Dan Fried to Turkey late last week.

Needed Steps

So what to do now?

Pelosi should follow in the steps of Hastert and keep the resolution off the calendar for a vote. Bush should make the call she's been waiting for, and also provide help to the Turks against Kurdish militants. That would be sufficient to quiet the Turkish military and placate the Turkish public.

For its own part, Turkish leaders should appeal for calm to their citizens, reminding them that their long-term interests are best served in a close relationship with the U.S. It should tell them that the U.S. Congress may be the wrong place to deal with Ottoman-Armenian history, but they must follow through on their call this year for a joint international commission to review the events using long-closed Turkish state archives.

That may be far too reasonable a course to expect in these unreasonable times. Yet the stakes are too high and the risks too great for a failure.

Originally published by Bloomberg News. Republished with permission.


The questions I had scribbled in my notebook, going into what would become a three-hour dinner meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were key to knowing how dangerous he might be. 1) How much power does he have? 2) Is he as deranged as his rhetoric would suggest? Behind the first question was whether he shapes issues of peace and war in Iran, since he regularly pronounces on them. Or does he remain a distant second fiddle on foreign policy to the ostensibly more reasonable Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran? The second issue goes to whether Ahmadinejad would, if he could, push the nuclear button, leak weapons material to extremists or, at the very least, keep Iran on a confrontational course with the West and Israel. Given the growing inevitability of an Iranian nuclear capability, does he see himself as having a sacred calling that defies reasonable negotiation and thus might welcome war?

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In the past year, Russian President Vladimir Putin has morphed from a noisy irritant to the West who was reaching the end of his two-term limit to a swaggering antagonist who isn't going away. At least that's the view of senior Bush administration officials, who increasingly see Russia as a rising strategic challenge. They fear a serious and perhaps even dangerous showdown with Russia later this year over the independence of Kosovo as a breakaway Serbian province. It's just one of several explosive brewing disagreements. Putin's threat to retaliate by then declaring the Georgian region of Abkhazia to be independent may sound esoteric. Yet one senior official talks about the ugly events that may well follow: an Abkhaz ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the region, a Georgian military move to protect its minority, followed by armed Russian intervention and then Western retaliation of some kind. The best U.S. foreign policy minds don't believe Putin wants that sort of open conflict with the West, but they worry that in his current mood he may get it by overreaching. And unlike the floundering President George W. Bush, Putin is defying lame-duck status. He has deftly maneuvered the Russian political system so that March elections won't end his reign. Common Interests What's needed now, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates plan an October mission to Moscow, is a re-energized engagement on common U.S. and Russian interests: stopping the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb, fighting Islamist terrorism and perhaps reaching a deal that would allow them to work together on missile defense. The U.S. and Europe at the same time have to speak with a more determined voice with Russia on issues such as Kosovo and Georgia so that a miscalculation doesn't lead to an unwanted fight. The message has to be subtle but unmistakable: the West won't be bullied, but the door also is open to Russia's integration into the West, where its history and economic interest should naturally lead it. The trick will be to pull this off with Russian anti-U.S. sentiment at fever pitch, with high energy prices fueling growth and Putin smelling Bush's weakness like a Russian bloodhound. A senior official says that Russia's mood is reminiscent of the mid-1970s, when Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev believed that post-Watergate America was vulnerable. The result was the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Munich Speech The Bush administration's divisions about how best to deal with Russia have grown since Putin's speech at the Munich Security Conference early this year signaled the shift to a more aggressive policy. ``One country, the United States, has overstepped its boundaries in every way,'' he said. His surprised listeners chalked up the speech to Russian pre-election politics and Putin's need to articulate rising resentment over Russia's Cold War defeat and an aftermath that brought Western institutions such as the European Union and NATO to its borders. Since then, however, it appears the speech marked the beginning of Russian reassertion, pushing back on the changes of the 1990s that broke off the Baltics, the Caucases and Ukraine from the Soviet Union and ended its empire. Bush has urged restraint toward Russia. His point has been that the threat to the U.S. in the 21st century is Iran and radicalized Islam, not Russia. Yet a growing faction of U.S. officials believe giving Putin too much ground only encourages him to take more. These advocates of greater cooperation often wind up frustrated as areas of disagreement proliferate. Retaining Power Some U.S. officials figured Putin would be unable to maintain power after March elections and they thus could start anew. That has also changed. By naming the relative unknown Viktor Zubkov as prime minister earlier this month, followed by Putin's suggestions that Zubkov could run and win the presidency, he made clear term limits were little impediment to his ability to be the country's chief string-puller. Because the law only prevents successive terms and the prime minister's job may also be open to him, Putin's ability to hold power is virtually assured. In any case, resign yourself to many years of ``Putinism,'' the political and ideological system that Putin has spent eight years installing and which may have just as long a life in the 21st century as Stalinism had in the 20th. Putinism at Work Under this system, a strong and unaccountable executive holds power over a pliable media and subservient legislature, judiciary and regional and local political structures. Former and current state security officers -- once known as KGB but now FSB -- have custody of everything from Russia's nuclear weapons to its oil wells and natural-gas fields. In foreign affairs, Putinism is brash and muscular, wielding Russia's energy weapon more effectively than it ever did nuclear weapons in order to influence neighbors and entice friends. Yet diplomacy is about dealing with what exists. Putin is here to stay, as is Putinism. Now the U.S. and Europe must adjust and form a robust response. One must avoid needless fights. But the West can't compromise on the spread of democracy or Western institutions. These changes serve Moscow's long-term interests --if only the West can manage a host of escalating short-term dangers.

Frederick Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic CouncilOriginally published 24 September 2007 by  Bloomberg News. Reprinted with permission.


September offers a unique opportunity for a turning point on Iraq.

OK, before you roll your eyes and stop reading, we aren't talking about a turning point IN Iraq -- that will take more than President George W. Bush's Labor Day outing in Anbar Province or the rat-a-tat of expert reports and congressional testimony over the next few days.

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Turkish Electorate

For those who argue that Sept. 11 plunged the U.S. and the West into World War IV, a long struggle against militant Islam, this has been a dark summer.

Yet a Muslim-oriented party's sweeping parliamentary victory in democratic Turkey provides hope in a strategic place, provided Europe, the U.S. and the Turks themselves don't squander the opportunity.

"Turkey is to our national security now what Germany was in the Cold War,'' says Richard Holbrooke, a veteran U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to Germany and is now adviser to Hillary Clinton. ``It is our new frontline state.''

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