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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Uncomfortable Truths vs. Political Convenience: When Should We Tell the Truth?

Uncomfortable Truths vs. Political Convenience: When Should We Tell the Truth?
Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster: National Archives
Click for full-sized Image

The growing division between America and Turkey would be almost amusing in its irony if it weren't for serious consequences that it could have for everyone. On the one hand we have George W. Bush, who launched an unnecessary war against Iraq even though it wasn't a real threat and without adequate planning; as a consequence, the entire nation is falling apart. On the other we have Turkey, a country which reluctantly agreed to help Bush but is now being told that the real threat they face isn't a good enough reason to invade Iraq themselves — and that threat is largely due to Bush's poor planning leading to Iraq falling apart.

Complicating all of this — as if it weren't complicated enough — is the debate in the U.S. Congress over issuing a declaration to label the deaths of so many Armenians early in the 20th century a "genocide." This is hardly irrelevant, since the Turkish treatment of the Armenians has a direct bearing on their treatment of the Kurds, an ethnic minority which is the source of their problems along the Iraqi border (among other places). Whether or not they are willing to own up to what happened also has direct bearing on whether the government can be trusted to be truthful about what happens in their conflict with the Kurds.

Domestically, there has been more debate over whether its a good or bad idea for the Congress to shout "genocide" about what happened to the Armenians than over whether Turkey should invade Iraq. Most of that debate has revolved around whether it's politically expedient or not — but shouldn't the first question be over whether it's true or not? First we should decide whether it's true, or at least reasonable enough to treat as true, and then look at the politics.

After all, if it's false then the political question hardly matters, because it's wrong to call something a genocide when it really wasn't. If it is true, though, then the political question becomes harder because we have to weigh our fidelity to the truth against our short-term political goals (when I say "our fidelity to the truth," I obviously don't mean anyone in the current administration or most Republican politicians — it's not a concept they have any understanding of).

Oh, that's right...that's why critics of the resolution don't want to deal with the annoying "truth" question. They don't want to make the political question any harder than it already is; indeed, it would be preferable if people didn't look at it too closely at all and just trust them about how bad the resolution is. Of course, many of those critics are also the ones who supported America's invasion of Iraq and current occupation, so trusting them on what's good or bad doesn't sound like such a great idea to me.

Would such a resolution upset Turkey and negatively affect America's relationship with them? Probably, and that's not an issue to dismiss lightly. It's not right to hurt friends. Aiding and abetting a friend's denial of their own crimes — past and present — is also not right, however. Turkey will never move beyond their current denial of reality nor stop persecuting Turks who try to shed light on the truth so long as the international community supports that denial by refusing to tell the truth. The timing of telling the truth right now is probably about as poor as it can get, but that's not the fault of the real victims here — and the victims aren't the Turks.

Perhaps it would be wise to tie up the resolution in committee for a while, but for how long? Are the circumstances really going to improve much in a year or two? You can always find excuses to avoid telling an uncomfortable truth, but you shouldn't suppress the courage to tell that truth when you finally find it. If the government in Turkey can't handle that, that will say a lot more about them than about the Congress — and one of those things that it will say is just how important telling the truth really is. This is a lesson the Bush administration could learn as they keep arguing that Congress should suppress efforts to tell a politically inconvenient truth...again.

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