The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. April 17, 2017:”We will be out of the office until April 18. Ed.”
Table of Contents
- Turkey’s Erdogan celebrates victory as count points to tight win
- A people killed twice
- Donald Trump Channels Hillary Clinton, Attacks Syria: From America First To America Last
- FBI Facial Recognition System Gives Officers an Investigative Lead
Turkey’s Erdogan celebrates victory as count points to tight win
April 16, 2017
by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Humeyra Pamuk
ANKARA/ISTANBUL-President Tayyip Erdogan celebrated what he said was a clear result in a referendum on Sunday to grant him sweeping new powers, but opponents said they would challenge the vote count which gave a narrow 51.3 percent lead to Erdogan’s supporters.
Nearly all ballots had been opened for counting, state-run Anadolu news agency said, although a lag between opening and counting them could see the lead tighten even further.
Erdogan called Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the leader of the nationalist MHP party, which supported the “Yes” vote, to congratulate them, presidential sources said. They quoted Erdogan as saying the referendum result was clear.
The result appeared short of the decisive victory that Erdogan and the ruling AK Party had campaigned aggressively for. In Turkey’s three biggest cities – Istanbul, Izmir and the capital Ankara – the “No” camp appeared set to prevail narrowly, according to Turkish television stations.
Addressing a crowd outside the AKP’s headquarters in Ankara, Yildirim said unofficial tallies showed the “Yes” camp ahead.
“A new page has been opened in our democratic history,” Yildirim said. “We are brothers, one body, one nation.”
Convoys of cars honking horns in celebration, their passengers waving flags from the windows, clogged a main avenue in Ankara as they headed towards the AKP’s headquarters to celebrate. A chant of Erdogan’s name rang out from loud speakers and campaign buses.
A “Yes” vote would replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with an all-powerful presidency and may see Erdogan in office until at least 2029, in the most radical change to the country’s political system in its modern history.
The outcome will also shape Turkey’s strained relations with the European Union. The NATO member state has curbed the flow of migrants – mainly refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq – into the bloc but Erdogan says he may review the deal after the vote.
The opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) said it would demand a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes, protesting against a last-minute decision by the electoral board to accept unstamped ballots as valid votes.
A people killed twice
It is the forgotten 20th-century catastrophe. In 1915, under cover of world war, Ottoman Turks wiped out a third of the Armenian population. To this day, Turkey denies blame – and, behind it, Britain stands firm among a dwindling band of nations that fail to acknowledge the massacres were holocaust
January 27, 2001
by Julia Pascal
Today is Britain’s first Holocaust Day, and already the row has started. January 27, Auschwitz’s Liberation Day, is the symbolic memorial for the Jewish holocaust, and that will be the focus of a ceremony in Whitehall. The holocausts in Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda will also be remembered. But what about the Armenians, whose holocaust was the first of the bloody 20th century? Originally they were to be excluded from the ceremony entirely. Following intensive pressure, the government has made a concession: a few Armenians have been invited to the event, and mention will be made of the hundreds of thousands of deaths in 1915. This immediately provoked an angry reaction from the Turks – without satisfying the Armenians who were planning to hold a silent vigil in protest outside the Home Office on the night before the ceremony.
At the end of 1999, there was a collective feeling that the year 2000 would begin with a clean slate: the Jewish holocaust was part of the past century. That changed when the new millennium brought with it the David Irving trial, plunging British law into the sensitive area of holocaust-denial. Currently, Jewish writers and historians are making connections between holocaust deniers such as Irving and Turkey’s refusal to accept the bloody anti-Armenian policies of the Ottoman Empire. And, across the sweep of the century, a real link between the Armenian and Jewish holocausts becomes clear. Just as Hitler wanted a Nazi-dominated world that would be Judenrein (cleansed of its Jews), so in 1915 the Ottoman Empire wanted to construct a Turkic Muslim empire that would stretch from Istanbul to Manchuria. Armenia, an ancient Christian civilisation spreading out from the eastern end of the Black Sea, did not not fit into the plan. In a terrible coincidence, both Jews and Armenians lost a third of their population through holocaust. Both are still recovering.
Already, at the end of the 19th century, Ottoman Turks had murdered between 100,000 and 250,000 Armenians. We can now see that these pogroms were a warning of what was to happen in 1915. Tens of thousands fled. In 1901, Protestant missionary Theresa Huntington Ziegler chronicled a massive haemorrhaging of Armenians towards France, Egypt, Lebanon, South America, Palestine and the Sudan. Today, the majority of diaspora Armenians live in California.
Who exactly are the Armenians? Their language is Indo-European and their culture dates back to more than 2,000 years BC. In AD303, as an act of collective identity against assimilation by the Persians, they were the first nation to declare Christianity a state religion. St Mesrob Mashtots is their literary hero. He created the 36-letter Armenian alphabet in AD405. Armenian culture is a multilayered heritage of music, dance, theatre, literature and extraordinary poetry. Armenia was an independent state in medieval times but was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, from the 15th century right up until 1920 when it was briefly declared a republic. Two years later much of it became part of the USSR; now – with the break-up of the Soviet Union – there is once again a Republic of Armenia. The entire diaspora speaks western Armenian; only those living in this independent homeland of Armenia speak eastern Armenian, with its structural and phonological differences.
A certain amount of romance has surrounded Armenian culture since the 19th century. Lord Byron went to Venice to study Armenian in the belief that “Armenian is the language to speak with God”. William Gladstone said, “to serve Armenia is to serve civilisation”. But, of course, geography is all. Armenia, in 1914, was uncomfortably sandwiched between the warring sides of Tsarist Russia and the sultanate of Mohammed V. In the first world war, conscripted Russian and Turkish Armenians, just like German and British Jews, were fighting their own cousins in the trenches.
At the beginning of the last century, civil rights for European minorities became a serious issue. A modernisation of the Ottoman Empire was promised by the 1908 revolutionary movement of Young Turks, and Turkish Armenians hoped for equality. In fact, the Young Turks continued to target Armenians and other non-Muslims. As Sultan Abdul Hamid II put it, at the beginning of the century, “The way to get rid of the Armenian Question is to get rid of the Armenians.”
In 1915, the Young Turks, who had deposed the old sultan, carried out a systematic final solution, through mass shootings, concentration camps, starvation, abandonment in the desert, even gassing and mass deportation. This happened despite conscription, the year before, of 250,000 Armenians into the Turkish army. Christopher Walker and David Marshall Lang, writing for a journal in the Minority Rights Group series, detail Armenian loyalty to the Empire during the first world war: “When the Turkish war minister, Enver Pasha, was defeated by the Russians, it was the Armenian soldiers who saved him from being killed or captured by Tsarist forces.” But, remembering the 1896 assassinations and recent pogroms, some Armenians joined the enemy Tsarist armies as volunteers. This helped the Ottomans portray the Armenians as a dangerous fifth column.
By 1915, all Armenians had been forced to give up personal firearms. Armenians in the Ottoman army were assembled into labour battalions where they were starved, beaten or machine-gunned. On April 24, 1915, more than 300 Istanbul Armenian intellectuals were arrested and then murdered in a mini Katyn. This included MPs in the Turkish parliament. The Armenian community was now without able-bodied men and intellectuals. This lack of leadership was to have a profound political and emotional effect on the survivors. The loss is felt even today.
Memories from this holocaust make gruelling reading. There are stories of women’s breasts being cut off. Others were systematically raped and then murdered. Some were taken to harems and disappeared. In every province, town and village of Turkish Armenia and Asia Minor, the entire Armenian population was rounded up. The men were usually shot, and the women and children forced to walk in huge convoys to the Syrian desert. Even today, skeletons are still found from this journey to hell. Few survived the death marches. Those who did get through made sure their experiences were passed down to children and grandchildren.
Dr Susan Pattie, senior research fellow at University College London, is a 50-year-old US-born anthropologist. Her family was deported from the town of Kessab on the Turkish/Syrian border in 1915. Two of her grandmother’s children died on the death marches and two more were taken away by Turks. (Many Armenian children were used as slave workers, others were adopted and converted; the rest disappeared.)
Pattie, who grew up in Washington DC, has been profoundly affected by her grandmother’s early tragedy. “Although my father was American-English and my schoolfriends were mainly Jewish, I totally identified as Armenian, particularly as my grandmother lived with us. We were told about the deportation when we were growing up. It was part of being Armenian.”
Holocaust was decided at government level. Locally, gendarmes carried out the mass murders together with a special organisation (Teshkilat-i Mahsusa) of convicted criminals who had been offered a pardon in return for slaughtering Armenians. Survivors from the death marches were held in the infamous Syrian open-air concentration camp of Deir el-Zor, where many were murdered by camp guards.
Death came in various ways. In Trebizond, local Armenians were pushed on to boats then thrown overboard. Others were hurled off the edge of a gorge. Before 1914, more than two million Armenians lived in Turkey. After the holocaust, only 500,000 remained, destined to become refugees in what was to become known as the Armenian diaspora.
Talaat Pasha, Ottoman minister of the interior, was the holocaust’s main architect. He wrote, “By continuing the deportation of the orphans to their destinations during the intense cold, we are ensuring their eternal rest.” This uncannily prefigures the Nazis’ welcoming of the Jews to Auschwitz with the sardonic words, “Now you are on the road to Paradise.”
Jews bore witness to the Armenian holocaust from the start. Henry Morgenthau, a German-born Jew and America’s ambassador to Turkey, protested fiercely to the US government in an attempt to force its intervention. Writing in the Red Cross Magazine in March 1918, he said, “None of the fearful horrors perpetrated in the various zones of war can compare with the tragic lot of the Armenians.” Morgenthau has become a hero to the Armenians. But Jewish sympathy did not provoke any international aid for the Armenians, whose extermination was being veiled under cover of war.
After the war, France and Britain were anxious to seize whatever territory they could from the 1918 dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Palestine was to become a British mandate, the French took Syria and Lebanon. The fate of the Armenians was of little interest to the imperialist powers. In a 1915 dispatch, the Times war correspondent, J Norman, writes of “husbands mourning their dishonoured wives, parents their murdered children, churches despoiled, graves dug up, young of both sexes carried off”. He describes men being forced to dig trenches for their own graves. These are disturbingly prophetic images of events 26 years later, when the Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union forced Jews to do the same.
Turkey has never admitted to the holocaust, but there are too many independent witnesses for its denial to be credible. The Reverend Henry H Riggs was an American missionary in the Ottoman Empire. His book, Days Of Tragedy In Armenia, is one of the most detailed holocaust histories in English. The US National Archives have information on the slaughter and deportations on file and open to the public. There is even protest from Mehmet Sherif Pasha, former Turkish envoy to Sweden. Writing to the New York Times in 1921, he says, “The Armenian atrocities perpetrated under the present regime surpass the savagery of Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine.” Dr E Lovejoy of the executive board of the American Women’s Hospital wrote to the Times, “I was the first American Red Cross woman in France, but what I saw there during the Great War seems a love feast beside the horrors of Smyrna. When I arrived at Smyrna there were massed on the quays 250,000 wretched, suffering and screaming women beaten and with their clothes torn off, families separated and everybody robbed.”
The problem is that guilt admission sometimes takes centuries. The Vatican has taken nearly 1,000 years to apologise for the Crusades. Even in Britain, particular archives from both world wars remain closed, so it should be no surprise that the Turks are equally secretive. Historian Ara Sarafian notes how Ottoman archives fail to detail “abandoned” private properties or any compensation paid to individuals for “resettlement”. He also details how “no such records have emerged on the actual ‘resettlement’ [a euphemism for death] of the hundreds of thousands of Armenians deported during this period”. As recently as 1990, Turkey’s ambassador to the US, Nuzhet Kandemir, claimed the Armenian deaths were, “a result of a tragic civil war initiated by Armenian nationalists”.
Public Armenian protest did not emerge until the 60s. Until then, survivors were too busy picking up their lives to start retribution claims. When recognition of the Jewish holocaust gradually filtered into the popular imagination in the 70s and 80s, the Armenians felt that their story was being upstaged, especially as constant Turkish denial helped bleach out the facts.
In the late 70s and early 80s, the Armenian liberation army (ASALA) assassinated Turkish diplomats to focus media attention on the Armenian holocaust. In July 1983, a Turkish diplomat was killed in Brussels. In Paris, six people died and 48 were wounded when a bomb exploded in front of the Turkish Airlines’ check-in desk at Orly airport. ASALA killed 39 diplomats in a decade. Many of the gunmen were trained in Libya and had Palestinian connections. The Armenians have, at different times, identified with both Palestinians and Jews.
At a conference held in Lausanne in 1983, 200 Armenians met to discuss the creation of an independent Armenian state in northeastern Turkey; a country that might extend into Soviet Armenia. These Armenians described themselves as “something halfway between the World Jewish Congress and the Palestine National Council”. Their dream may have seemed utopian, but the idea of a Jewish homeland also appeared unrealistic at the first Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897. Although the Lausanne conference did not lead to direct political action, the assassinations stopped. Since then, the battle for who writes Armenian history has intensified, and the Armenians are beginning to gain ground.
In 1985, the UN Committee on Human Rights published a report declaring the Ottoman Empire responsible for the massacres of the Armenians in 1915 and 1916. Two years later, the Council of Europe agreed that Turkey’s refusal to recognise the holocaust was an insurmountable obstacle to Turkey’s admission to the EU. By the end of 2000, the European Parliament, France, Sweden, the Vatican and Italy finally acknowledged the Armenian holocaust. Of the major powers, only the US, Canada and Britain still hold back. There are too many conflicting interests at stake. Turkey, for instance, threatened to deny the US use of its air bases if President Clinton agreed formally to accept the massacres as a holocaust.
Perhaps the Armenians’ best hope is allegiance with the Jews, who have learnt the importance of stubbornly pursuing justice. They certainly have Jewish allies. But Jewish solidarity is not always certain. Turkey is one of Israel’s few Muslim allies and the Israeli state has not wanted to alienate the Turks. Enlightened Jews in the diaspora are less circumspect. In 1988, the Israeli Knesset signed a statement acknowledging the Armenian massacres during the first world war without mentioning Turkey, whereas in the US the Jewish Reform movement condemned the Ottoman Turks for “one of the most shameful events in history”.
Recently, Israeli political priorities have shifted. Since the current intifada, the Israeli/ Palestinian struggle for Jerusalem has intensified. Israelis have traditionally appreciated Turkey’s support, but they may now need Armenian sympathy even more: a sixth of non-Jewish, non-Arab Jerusalem is in Armenian hands.
Israel’s internal power shifts also change the perspective. In 1989, rightwing prime minister Yitzhak Shamir called the commemoration of the Armenian holocaust “not our business”. The Israeli left is usually more sensitive. The Jerusalem Post is highly critical of Turkey’s holocaust denial: “Turkey should be advised that the attempt by the old Ottoman rulers back in 1915 to make the ‘traitorous’ Armenians into authors of their own misfortune does not serve well as the basis of contemporary relations.” Jewish historians are alert to the fact that the murder of Armenians was helped by German officers and that Hitler saw the Armenian holocaust as an inspiration for the Final Solution. They also know that denying the Armenian massacres is only one small step away from denying the destruction of the Jews.
In 1995, Israel’s education minister, Ammon Rubinstein, wanted to include the Armenian holocaust in the school curriculum. But this was rejected by Hebrew University historian Michel Abithol and other “experts”, who declared the Ottoman critique “one-sided”. Armenian historians counter-attack: “Is there another side to Hitler who gassed the Jews?” Some Israelis are reluctant to ally themselves publicly, fearing that an emphasis on the Armenian holocaust might detract from the uniqueness of the Jewish holocaust, as if there is some crazy competition about who suffered the most.
For the Turks, the problem is enormous. An acknowledgement of the Armenian holocaust might result in land claims and reparations. They have only to look at recent German and Swiss history to take fright. It is no surprise, then, that they try to control who writes history. Turkey has offered funding for academic programmes in the universities of Princeton and Georgetown. Three years ago, UCLA’s history department voted to reject a $1m offer to endow a programme in Turkish and Ottoman studies because it was conditional on their denying the Armenian holocaust. Professor Colin Tatz, director for the Centre for Comparative Holocaust Studies at Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia, claims that Turkey has used “a mix of academic sophistication and diplomatic thuggery . . . to put both memory and history into reverse gear”.
The argument over who controls history continues, even on the internet. In August, the Turkish government tried to suppress a Microsoft online encyclopedia entry. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the Turkish government threatened Microsoft with serious reprisals unless all mention of the Armenian holocaust was removed. Authors Ronald Grigor Suny and Helen Fein refused to give in.
As for Jews in Turkey, their history has been easier than that of their cousins in Christian countries. Certainly, they have reason to be grateful to a land that welcomed them after expulsion by the 1492 Spanish Inquisition. Turkish Jews were a large pre-war minority in Turkey who felt a natural sympathy with Armenians. In the larger cities, both were considered a privileged, educated elite who, together with the Greeks, succeeded in business, culture and politics. They also had reason to thank their host country in the second world war.
Sixty-five-year-old Turkish Jewish novelist, Moris Farhi, now lives in London. He learnt about the Armenian holocaust when his family was living in Ankara and they took in two penniless survivors from the death marches. Farhi remembers, “an apocryphal story that Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state, was a Jew, as he was born in the very Jewish city of Salonika. In 1933, Ataturk offered asylum to Jews and leftwingers persecuted by Hitler. Thousands came to Turkey.”
But under Ismet Inonu’s government in 1942, a new crippling wealth tax was imposed on non-Muslims. Farhi’s father was breaking stones in a workcamp as punishment for his inability to pay these astronomical taxes. Despite family poverty, Farhi remembers never being hungry as food was offered by sympathetic neighbours.
The majority of Turks remained ignorant of the holocaust while it was happening, and have since. Mehmet Ergen, a 34-year-old London-based Turkish theatre director, confirms, “In our Turkish schools we never learnt about our history. The Armenian massacre was never mentioned. In London I heard that the Kurds were told that if they killed the Armenians they could take their lands. So they did, and then the Turks killed the Kurds.” Ergen, a multiculturalist, laments Turkey’s denial of “its own historical mosaic”. He says, “even Turkish theatre owes its birth to Armenian writers and actors. Armenian, Greek and Jewish culture has vanished, and Turkey is the loser.”
If the holocaust is now a central focus for Armenians, is this dangerous? Surely to fixate on disaster defines a people through destruction rather than achievement: as if the holocaust, Jewish or Armenian, becomes a new quasi religion. The majority of Jews and Armenians are not religious. They do not live in Israel or Armenia. If they don’t adhere to their faith, then what makes them Jews or Armenians, particularly when so many are marrying out? These two holocausts remain like a terrible icon dominating the present as well as the past.
The problem is that there has been no proper mourning. As psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Bruno Bettelheim said, a people cannot move on if it has not buried its dead. And the Armenians, as well as the Jews, had no bodies to bury. Therefore the unmourned are carried around in the psyches of the survivors and transmitted to children and grandchildren rather like ghosts. Sometimes the survivors are guilty of reconstructing so quickly that they forget to mourn. Israel’s choice of Modern Hebrew as the new language for the new Jews and its total abnegation of Yiddish was expedient. It was a deliberate act to end the stereotype of the Yiddish-speaking ghetto Jew forced into the gas chamber. But the loss of the language has also meant the assassination of a wealthy culture. Two generations have already lost their grandparents’ Yiddish heritage. In contrast, the Armenians have carried their language with them into the diaspora as a deliberate act of resistance.
Ani King-Underwood, a Beirut-born Armenian documentary film-maker, still owns the deeds to her family’s Turkish property. Her mother was 40 days old when the family left during the deportations with Nansen papers (Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian diplomat, explorer and 1922 Nobel peace prize winner, a kind of early Raoul Wallenberg, who provided an escape for 300,000 Armenians using League of Nations documents). The British refused Ani’s family entry into Palestine or Egypt, but finally permitted them to live in camps on Cyprus. Her 23-year-old law student son, Gregory, has an English father but is a fluent Armenian speaker. He takes an active part in the Armenian community and promotes the young Armenians’ website, www. hokis.co.uk. Here, the group RBO Unlimited have produced a rap song about the holocaust.
Living here, does he feel a dual allegiance? “Very much so. I am a British Armenian, but perhaps more British. I play rugby. I drink beer. I’m proud of being British. It’s multicultural.” So what does being Armenian mean? “Armenia is not a nation. It’s a culture. It’s an idea in our heads.” His mother interjects. “When he was a baby, I had him baptised. Not as a Christian but as an Armenian.”
Secular Jews and Armenians both fuse religion with cultural identity but, even if they share the trauma of holocaust, this does not automatically lead to solidarity. Are Armenians sometimes jealous of Jews? “Yes,” says Gregory, “the Jews have been very good at marketing the holocaust. And it is a good thing.” Synthesising the argument historically, Gregory says, “the problem is that the British were fighting the Nazis. Some liberated Belsen. They saw what was done to the Jews. But no outsider liberated us. The only people who know about the Armenian holocaust are the Armenians and the Turks.”
Clearly, the victims of both atrocities seek atonement from the murder state. German guilt-admission makes it easier for Jews to talk to Germans and even to work together. The process has to be gone through psychotherapeutically, by discussion and confrontation.
Then there is always revenge. In 1921, the Ottoman Hitler, Talaat Pasha, was assassinated by the Armenian Soghomon Tehlirian in Berlin. The agent of retribution was released on grounds of temporary insanity and lived out his days as a hero in the Armenian paradise of California. There were similar murders of former Ottoman leaders in Rome and Tbilisi, Georgia. In March 1943, Talaat Pasha’s remains were sent by Hitler from Berlin as a gift to the Turkish government. They were reinterred on Turkey’s Hill of Liberty in a ceremony attended by the representatives of Hitler’s ambassador to Turkey. Although Armenians are Christians, they are not turning the other cheek.
Reverend Dr Nerses Nersessian, an Iranian-born Armenian scholar and priest, is the curator of the Hebrew and Christian Middle East section at the British Library. His Christian name is Vrej, a very popular first name for boys. Vrej means “revenge”.
Turkish-born Armenian author, Agop Hacikyan has written A Summer Without Dawn. The book is based on the experiences of his grandparents, who fled to Jerusalem during the holocaust before returning to Turkey in 1920. In 1955, Hacikyan was called up and spent 18 months in Izmir as a translator between the Turkish Port Detachment and Nato. As a soldier in uniform, he remembers stopping to go to the public toilet. Looking down, he saw that the urinal had been constructed from Armenian gravestones. Forty years after the mass murders, Turks were happily making people urinate on Armenian graves. He now lives in Canada, which has a large Armenian community. Here, there are very few – shamefully, only 200 Armenians were allowed to immigrate to Britain between the wars, whereas France absorbed 63,000.
As the century ended, the Armenian Shoah seemed to fade out of public consciousness. There seemed to be just too many holocausts to absorb.
On July 26 last year, a group of British parliamentarians from both houses petitioned Tony Blair to recognise the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as holocaust. The government refused – and the concession concerning today’s Holocaust Day ceremony does not alter that. But the problem will not go away and, if prominent supporters of the Armenian cause are championing their case in the US and Israel, the debate is surely going to take root here. On September 27, eminent British Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert talked publicly about the Armenian holocaust at Washington’s Holocaust Museum in a deliberate attempt to push the issue deeper into Jewish consciousness.
As Thomas Bürgenthal, an Auschwitz survivor, lawyer and member of the UN Human Rights Committee, says, “I don’t know why the Turks can’t admit it, express sorrow and go on. That is the worst. You do all these things to the victim and then you say it never happened. That is killing them twice.”
The following is a partial list of Turkish massacres between 1822 and 1904:
1822 Chios, Greeks 50,000
1823 Missolongi, Greeks 8,750
1826 Constantinople, Jannisaries 25,000
1850 Mosul, Assyrians 10,000
1860 Lebanon, Maronites 12,000
1876 Bulgaria, Bulgarians 14,700
1877 Bayazid, Armenians 1,400
1879 Alashguerd, Armenians 1,250
1881 Alexandria, Christians 2,000
1892 Mosul, Yezidies 3,500
1894 Sassun, Armenians 12,000
1895-96 Armenia, Armenians 150,000
1896 Constantinople, Armenians 9,570
1896 Van, Armenians 8,000
1903-04 Macedonia, Macedonians 14,667
1904 Sassun, Armenians 5,640
1909 Adana, Armenians 30,000
Donald Trump Channels Hillary Clinton, Attacks Syria: From America First To America Last
April 13, 2017
by Doug Bandow
Donald Trump spent the presidential campaign insisting that Washington’s first duty was to protect the American people. His vision was inconsistent and incomplete, but still sensible enough to horrify Washington’s bipartisan war party.
Almost exactly a year ago he gave a major address to the Center for the National Interest in which he criticized nation-building and especially the disastrous Iraq and Libya interventions: “After losing thousands of lives and spending trillions of dollars, we are in far worst shape in the Middle East than ever, ever before.”
He also promised to step back from confrontation from Russia. “I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength [not] only is possible, [but] absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon,” he explained.
He applied both principles to Syria. He insisted that the Islamic State was America’s primary objective in Syria. He said President Barack Obama should not intervene even if Damascus crossed the latter’s chemical weapons “red line.” And candidate Trump urged cooperation with Moscow in Syria. He offered a radical but welcome departure from Obama administration policy. Until last week he and his appointees followed this line. For instance, on March 30 UN Ambassador Nikki Haley declared: “Our priority is not to focus on getting Assad out.”
Candidate Trump went on to make a promise extraordinary for Washington, that “unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct.” Warrior wannabe Republican and Democratic leaders sniffed their disapproval, but he well captured the frustrations of the American people who do the paying and dying in America’s many conflicts. Just last week he declared that “I’m not, and I don’t want to be, the president of the world.”
Alas, less than three months after taking office for President Trump has begun channeling Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. Despite almost six years of war and the deaths of several hundred thousand people in Syria, he apparently was not aware that the conflict had resulted in extraordinary human hardship. So after seeing what he called “horrible” photos of some of the scores of dead from an apparent Syrian chemical attack the president ordered strikes on a Syrian military base. And that may not be all: his aides talked about taking further military action.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson initially said “steps are under way” to develop a new international coalition to oust Assad: “it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people,” he announced last Thursday. Over the weekend, however, he backpedaled, insisting that the administration’s focus on the Islamic State was unchanged, since a political resolution would require “participation of the regime and the support of their allies.” He also expressed his hope “that we can work with Russia and use their influence to achieve areas of stabilization throughout Syria.”
In contrast, Ambassador Haley spewed fire and brimstone while seeming to push aside her nominal boss. Peace is impossible “as long as Assad remains in power,” she insisted: “we’ve got to go and make sure that we actually see a leader that will protect his people.” She allowed that “Getting Assad out is not the only priority”: The U.S. also has “to get out the Iranian influence,” which is necessary “for peace and stability in the area.”
Moreover, Haley insisted that Moscow and Tehran “now have to answer for” their support for the Assad regime. When it comes to sanctions against the two states nothing “is off the table.” She promised that the president “won’t stop here.” Indeed, if “he needs to do more, he will do more.” The administration will exercise “strong leadership,” whatever that means, she insisted.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster implausibly contended that there was no difference between the positions taken by Tillerson and Haley: “There has to be a degree of simultaneous activity, as well as sequencing the defeat of ISIS first.” He added: “the resolution of the conflict will entail both of the elements that you’re talking about.” In short, the U.S. must both destroy the Islamic state and overthrow Assad, but do so in the right order.
Critics of Donald Trump exhibited a strange new respect for him after he launched the missiles. He had acted “presidential,” said one. Apparently nothing wins acclaim in Washington like killing foreigners in the name of doing good. No matter the disastrous consequences of Washington’s oft-attempted global social engineering.
The war lobby also pushed back against Secretary Tillerson’s apparent retreat. For instance, the irrepressible Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has yet to find a war that he doesn’t want others to fight, claimed “regime change is now the policy of the Trump administration. That’s at least what I’ve heard.” The equally war-happy Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the secretary of state for focusing on ISIS. “You cannot have a stable Syria without jihadist elements on the ground with Bashar al-Assad in power.”
The ivory tower commentariat, too, went into full war cry. Its members are never so eloquent as when demanding that others go to war. Argued Briton Piers Morgan: Assad will “keep doing this until somone stops him. WHO will stop him?” Certainly not Morgan. That obviously is the American military’s job. But journalists and policy analysts will enthusiastically cheer on the sacrifice by U.S. personnel.
Candidate Donald Trump got Syria right. Nothing in the conflict warrants Washington’s involvement. Last week he declared that as president he now has “responsibility” for Syria. Actually, he is responsible for America, the liberty, security, and prosperity of its people. And that requires staying out of unnecessary wars, like Syria.
Syria’s fate has little impact on U.S. security. During the Cold War the regime, headed by Assad’s father, was allied with the Soviet Union. After being defeated by Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Damascus retreated to a cold war with Israel. Syria meddled in neighboring Lebanon, but with little impact on anyone else. Despite Syria’s friendship with Iran, the latter remained well behind the military capabilities of Saudi Arabia and its Sunni coalition.
Even if Syria mattered more it would not justify intervention by the U.S. Policymakers have turned military action into a first resort, but war is different in kind and not just in degree from other policy options. It should be reserved to protect America, which is not threatened by the Syrian civil war.
Today Syria is a wreck and has international significance primarily as a battlefield. Even if Iran and Russia are able to “save” Assad fils, the regime will be a ghost, a remnant of what it once was. Indeed, the Assad government is a costly investment: it is wasting its allies’ lives and materiel while generating international hostility toward them. There’s no reason for Washington to join the fight.
War advocates tend to stretch the concept of “vital” interests to nothingness. For instance, President Trump said it is in the “vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” even though they weren’t going anywhere. In contrast to nuclear and biological weapons, chemical agents typically are not mass killers.
President Trump declared that “These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.” Chemical weapons are awful, but not obviously worse than bombs or even well-aimed bullets. Treating death by chemicals as so much worse than death by other weapons makes a moral mountain out of a policy molehill. The difference does not justify Washington joining the war.
Secretary Tillerson argued that the potential of insurgents grabbing chemical weapons posed an “existential” threat to America, but ISIS already is believed to possess them. Anyway, Tillerson’s scenario is implausible at best: smuggling them in and using them would be extraordinarily difficult. Rep. Trent Franks declared “making it clear that innocent victims of terrorism and evil do have at least one friend in this world” is a “vital American interest,” which, if true, means both nothing and everything are vital interests.
Of course, Syria is a humanitarian tragedy. But it is a civil war, not genocide. Most of the casualties have been combatants, not civilians. The regime may kill more prodigiously, but primarily as a result of its greater capability rather than lesser morality. While there undoubtedly are liberal, democratic insurgents, there is a surplus of bad guys on both sides.
Indeed, the conflict features a who’s who of America’s dubious friends, frenemies, adversaries, and enemies all at each other’s throats: Assad government, Sunni jihadists and terrorists, Iranian-supported militias, Russian, Saudi, Qatari, and Turkish forces, Kurdish fighters, immoderate “moderates,” and more. Last month Washington deployed U.S. forces to separate Turkish-backed and Kurdish forces, which had clashed. The most important difference among them for Washington is that many of Assad’s opponents are interested in killing Americans and other people outside of Syria, most notably the Islamic State and other jihadist groups.
And there should be no illusions about who would do the fighting if Washington jumped into the Syrian war. Noted Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky of the Woodrow Wilson International Center and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, respectively: “one of the more stubborn realities of the Syrian conflict is that America’s Sunni Arab partners—with the exception of small Jordan and vulnerable Lebanon—have talked tough but done little in the way of absorbing refugees or contributing forces to the actual fight against ISIS.”
The desire to end the suffering is laudable, but impractical. The U.S. has no simple means to bring liberal order out of brutal chaos. Air power alone is unlikely to defeat Assad: “boots on the ground,” as the saying goes, would be necessary. And ousting Assad would not end the fighting. Instead, it would just set off a new combat round in a situation dramatically, even exponentially, more complicated than previous conflicts.
Moreover, given the debacles in Iraq and Libya, Washington could not simply walk away after defenestrating Assad. Imagine the ISIS flag rising over Damascus and angry victors slaughtering Alawites, Christians, and other religious minorities. Even in “victory” Washington would find a host of new tasks to perform: defeat radical forces, protect victimized minorities, create stable governance, eliminate Iranian and Russian influence, mediate between Turks and Kurds, and whatever other fantasies filled the minds of Washington’s social engineers. The likelihood that the Trump administration could create stable democratic rule Syria is even less than the chance it could do so in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
Washington’s humanitarian record is a bit threadbare. Its Mideast allies include Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, all of which have dubious human rights records. America’s support for Riyadh’s horrid war in Yemen makes Washington complicit in the death of thousands of civilians who have done nothing against the U.S. or its people. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds, but it still matters in foreign policy, especially when the president of the United States reportedly is basing his decisions on casualty photos.
While there’s no good reason for Washington to jump into the Syrian imbroglio, there are several powerful reasons to stay out. To start, the president has no legal authority to attack Syria—the post-9/11 congressional authorization obviously doesn’t apply and Damascus has not attacked or threatened America or even an American ally. The Constitution places the decision to initiate hostilities with Congress, not the president. Indeed, candidate Trump urged President Barack Obama to get legislative authority before bombing Syria. In 2013 the former declared: “Obama needs Congressional approval.”
War advocates ignore the obvious, that attacking Assad inevitably empowers the Islamic State and other radical Islamists. Many so-called moderates do not appear to be very moderate, and they have not demonstrated the ability to defeat Assad as well as assorted jihadist movements. Ironically, they have been targeted by Damascus because the prospect of Western support made them particularly dangerous to the Assad regime.
Moreover, moving toward war in Syria sets up a great power confrontation with Russia, the one nation with a nuclear force which allows it to go head-to-head against America. Sen. John McCain, perhaps the Senate’s most belligerent member, dismissed the danger of such a clash: they “will not want a confrontation with the United States of America. And if they do, they will lose, because we are superior to them militarily.”
However, with far more at stake, Moscow is willing to spend and risk far more. Last October candidate Trump warned against starting “a shooting war in Syria, in conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia that could very well lead to World War III.” Additionally, the Putin government can help advance or hinder U.S. policy objectives in Europe, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea. One need not like Vladimir Putin to realize the importance of having a working relationship with its government, which, despite its aggressiveness on Europe’s periphery, nowhere threatens fundamental American security interests.
Confronting Tehran in Syria undercuts the possibility of liberalization in Iran. Along with discouraging the Islamic republic from developing nuclear weapons, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear accord, increased the likelihood of internal political change. Expanding economic opportunities for younger Iranians gives them a greater incentive to fight for political change. Unfortunately, continuing U.S. restrictions have impeded such a transformation. Creating a security crisis would make positive change even less likely. Having a friendly regime in Damascus matters far more to neighboring Tehran than distant America, so the clerical regime is willing to sacrifice much more than Washington to “win” in Syria.
Finally, the president’s potential diversion back into the Middle East likely is causing high-fives all over Beijing. President Trump came into office challenging the People’s Republic of China on a range of issues. He’s already appeared to back down and move toward a more normal relationship. But Chinese President Xi Jinping probably never imagined even in his fondest dreams that yet another Washington administration would rush toward into yet another no-win Mideast war—and so early after taking office.
President Trump seems to know better than to entangle America another Middle Eastern imbroglio. After being criticized for his newly discovered militarist instincts, he proclaimed: “We are not going into Syria.” Three years ago he opposed demands that President Barack Obama bomb the same regime for the use of the same weapons. But after seeing “horrible” photos, he launched a barrage of cruise missiles. On that basis, the president easily could end up taking America into even more wars in coming years.
Syria is a human tragedy of extraordinary proportions. But normally the U.S. “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” proclaimed Secretary of State John Quincy Adams a century ago. Sometimes war is necessary. But only very rarely. Washington’s overriding duty is to safeguard America, not remake the world. That principle is only likely to grow more important over time.
FBI Facial Recognition System Gives Officers an Investigative Lead
The powerful tool replaces legacy technology and lets police officers automatically compare a suspect’s digital facial image against more than 20 million images, but it has accuracy limits and has raised concerns among privacy groups.
October 20, 2014
by Jessica Hughes
Government Technology and Emergency Management
New FBI facial recognition technology released in September means more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies can search potential criminals by face in addition to fingerprint.
The facial recognition tool, called the Interstate Photo System, lets officers automatically compare a suspect’s digital facial image against the 20 million and growing images available for searches, giving officers an investigative lead.
“What this does for our criminal justice community is it provides them another tool to be able to go out and identify criminals,” said Stephen Morris, assistant director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI.
The facial recognition tool is part of CJIS’ Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, which is a 10-year IT project begun in 2008 to replace the decades-old legacy Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The project has been launched in stages, but the September release marks the biggest rollout and the official end of the legacy system. The facial recognition technology was piloted in six states and developed in collaboration with law enforcement agencies nationwide. NGI currently operates in about 75 percent of the country’s law enforcement agencies.
“This is a long overdue effort to replace legacy technology, old technology, with new, relevant, more efficient, cheaper technology and, more importantly, more accurate technology,” Morris said.
The facial recognition technology represents the first time officers can search CJIS’ criminal mug shot database, which can store up to 92 million photos, against digital photos culled from investigations. Previously, there was no way to automatically search against the images collected along with fingerprints taken during booking or incarceration. Law enforcement officers would have to submit photos to the CJIS Division for facial recognition processing. With the new system, officers can choose between two and 50 candidates for review.
Any image used for search purposes is in law enforcement’s possession pursuant to a lawful investigation, Morris said. Digital photos, for example, can be taken from surveillance cameras or from digital devices that are seized with a search warrant. The ability to use the images captured on these devices is where the value in the tool lies, he said.
“Obviously you can’t pull a fingerprint off of a phone, but if there are images on a phone and you know that it’s that person’s phone, it’s the next best thing,” said Morris.
Facial recognition technology, however, is less reliable than fingerprint identification, with the Interstate Photo System returning the correct candidate a minimum of 85 percent of the time when a matching photos is in the repository. Any facial recognition hits are therefore investigative leads, not positive identifications, Morris said.
“In other words, it’s not an absolute identification,” Morris said. “When that agency gets that result back, they then have to go out and do the follow-up investigation.”
Additionally, controlled environments are best for facial recognition, a relatively young technology, which can be explained as an algorithm that make sense of millions of pixels describing facial features, said Chenjgun Liu, associate professor of computer science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. DMV photos, for instance, are a good use for the technology.
“There is no such thing as a system or program that can recognize people without any constraint,” Liu said. “That is a fiction.”
Liu, who has received funding from the Department of Defense to support his research into improving the technology, recognizes the benefit of using the technology with digital images to narrow down the number of suspects in an investigation, reducing the search effort dramatically.
“The potential benefit is of course also obvious. We have nowadays images almost everywhere,” he said.
CJIS has put into place specifications to ensure photo quality for people submitting digital images to its database, requiring they be frontal facial images with no shadows, and be taken in controlled environments. The accuracy of the photos both in the database and for those that are searched against are correlated with faster and more accurate search results, Morris said.
And although it’s not an absolute, searching for both photo and fingerprint matches for one person can give officers almost virtual certainty of someone’s identify, he said.
“For the folks out there worried about it falsely identifying people, I would say it actually closes the gap and reduces the chance of an individual being falsely identified,” Morris said.
Indeed, the fact that law enforcement can search against such a large database of digital images, has some groups uncomfortable with its possible surveillance capabilities. The facial recognition technology received attention in the spring from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Morris said NGI has been subject to privacy threat assessments and privacy impact assessments, and that abuse of the technology using photos on social networking sites is “patently false.”
“First and foremost all of these things are done with absolute guarantee that privacy and civil liberties are of first concern,” he said.
Cost of the technology overhaul is another concern. The entire NGI System is a billion-dollar project. But Morris said the high price tag is an investment. “Over a long run, over a 20-year span, the return on that will be significant. You’re talking about savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
That’s because the technology was built on a flexible framework, scalable as new biometric capabilities become economically and technically feasible. One such technology, iris image recognition, was just piloted under NGI.
Although the technology is not ready to be added to NGI’s set of biometrics tools, it soon may be, Morris said, just as facial recognition technology has come around.