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April 13, 2015 9:03 pm

Obama’s Hypocrisy on the Armenian Genocide

avatar by Shmuley Boteach


President Obama. Photo: White House.

Last week, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times interviewed President Obama about the Obama Doctrine. After two weeks of watching the President appease the Iranians and then publicly legitimize dictator Raúl Castro –  all while continuing to assail Israel’s democratically-elected leader Binyamin Netanyahu – we might define the Obama Doctrine thus: a steadfast refusal to be repulsed by evil.

There seems to be almost no dictator on earth whom the President will punish for their cruelty to their own people, no autocrat to whom he will not reach out in the naïve belief that his recognition will change their behavior. A powerful case in point of the President’s refusal to identify evil is his broken promise to recognize the Armenian genocide, the 100th anniversary of which is this month.

Last Sunday, Pope Francis showed moral courage in openly calling for recognition of “the first genocide of the twentieth century.” Turkey, run by the increasingly brutal dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan, immediately recalled its Ambassador, as befits a bully. Why won’t President Obama recognize the genocide, especially since he promised as a presidential candidate that he would do so?

CNN’s Chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper captured the President’s failure succinctly: “For the sixth year in a row President Barack Obama has broken his promise to the Armenian community, made when seeking their votes as a senator and a presidential candidate, to use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. He did this in deference to the government of Turkey, which – historical revisionism aside – the Obama administration regards as a more crucial ally.”

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President Obama won’t recognize the genocide of the Armenian people for fear of provoking the Turkish tyrant.

It was back in January of 2008 that then-Senator Barack Obama said: “Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. The President’s emphatic promise that he would recognize the Armenian genocide was followed by six years of broken promises and obfuscation.

But, the best part is this: President Obama won’t even acknowledge having broken his commitment. On the contrary, he does verbal summersaults to show that he has honored it, as he did in April of 2009: “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”

And yet, all it would take to acknowledge those “facts” is to simply use the word “genocide” to describe the Armenian slaughter. Just one Presidential speech with the word genocide would do it. But Obama steadfastly refuses to do so.

President Obama later said: “On this solemn day of remembrance, we pause to recall that ninety-five years ago one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century began. In that dark moment of history, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.”

We hear the word “massacre.” We hear the words “marched to their death.” But still, he won’t call it what it was and what he promised to acknowledge: genocide.

“It’s a sad spectacle to see our President,” said Armenian National Committee of America executive director Aram Hamparian, “who came into office having promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide, reduced to enforcing a foreign government’s gag-rule on what our country can say about a genocide so very thoroughly documented in our own nation’s archives. We remain profoundly disappointed that he has, once again, retreated from his own promises and fallen short of the principled stand taken by previous presidents.”

But Hamparian should not be surprised. An inability to call out evil has been the hallmark of this presidency. From the President’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia where he made no mention of the kingdom’s vast human-rights abuses, to his reconciliation with Cuba without any demands that they stop the grotesque persecution of political dissidents, to turning a blind eye to Erdogan’s destruction of Turkish democracy, to refusing to enforce his red line against Syria when Assad gassed Arab children —President Obama is the quintessential leader who hears no evil and sees no evil.

The bigger question about Obama’s refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide is how this sits with American Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. I offered significant public support to Samantha for the position of Ambassador when she was being assailed by American Jewish leaders for being anti-Israel, and I did it because of my reverence for her as one of the world’s strongest voices against genocide. Samantha won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2002 book A Problem from Hell where she condemned successive American presidents for doing next to nothing when it came to calling out genocide.

Now that she is an actual part of an Administration that refuses to acknowledge a genocide, will she speak out? Has she challenged President Obama about his broken promises on Armenia? Will she pressure the Administration to do the right thing, or risk becoming part of the same “problem from hell” for not confronting genocide?

The next few weeks, as the centenary is commemorated, will be telling.

In the final analysis, it was President Obama himself who said in 2008 that “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president.” Intentions are meaningless. Action is everything. Keep your word, Mr. President. More than 1.5 million victims are waiting.

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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