This month, Donald Trump officially did something none of his predecessors (since 1995) had mustered the moral courage to do (despite posturing for two consecutive terms that they would). Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; he did it less than one year into his presidency.
Taking the fight to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly, Trump’s appointed ambassador, Nikki Haley, stunningly scolded the outpouring of opposition: “Today, buried in diplomatic jargon, some presume to tell America where to put our embassy. The United States has a sovereign right to determine where and whether we establish an embassy.”
Trump’s persistence on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a clear change of course in America’s foreign policy; it’s a message that America’s policies won’t be written by the fancies of fascists.
Moving forward, similarly high on the queue when it comes to long overdue matters from the office of the presidency, is the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Between 1920 and 2017, there have been a grand total of 30 official statements issued by sitting U.S. presidents regarding the Armenian Genocide (One from Woodrow Wilson, one from Carter, one from Reagan, one from Bush, seven from Clinton, eight from W. Bush, ten from Obama, and one from Donald Trump).
Previous administrations all alluded to the Ottoman Empire’s systemic extermination of 1.5 million Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Christians under the fog of the First World War, with tepid statements, avoiding the use of the term “genocide.” Prior to taking office, Obama even said: “As president, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” He never did.
Despite past abject failures from American presidents to recognize the Ottoman government’s atrocities, the verity of the horrid happenings known as the Armenian Genocide are well known and documented by historians, journalists, and survivors alike.
It’s been recognized by a plurality of civilized nations, and 48 states in America, yet the world willingly allows the Ottoman regime’s atrocities to go unanswered, all to appease the Turkish fundamentalist government.
The only reason recognition of the historic truth is mired in controversy is that the rest of the world has somehow decided that to preserve a nominal alliance with Turkey, the nation’s crimes can freely go unanswered.
Proponents of prolonging the United States’ denial of Turkey’s acts of genocide argue that deviation from past administrations will undoubtedly have long-lasting implications for our foreign affairs relationship with the autocratic state. But so what? Trump’s recognition of one historic truth — Jerusalem’s standing as Israel’s capital — already left Turkey’s President Erdogan fuming.
Speaking in Ankara, Erdogan said, “With their decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has become a partner in this bloodshed.”
Later, speaking with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Erdogan highlighted the need to “Halt the Judaization of Jerusalem.” And speaking at a party convention, Erdogan reportedly alluded to a prophecy hailing the annihilation of the Jews: “Those who think they own Jerusalem better know that tomorrow they won’t be able to hide behind trees.”
Should then every policy decision enacted by the American president be prescient to a praetorian despot? Appeasement of Erdogan’s exigencies would suggest Ronald Reagan ought to have never called for Gorbachev to “tear down the wall”; Trump should never have recognized rudimentary historic reality regarding the Jewish capital of Jerusalem, and Trump (or any president) should never recognize the first genocide of the twentieth century.
Trump’s campaign was centered on one message: “America first.” To wit, no external force or lobby of opinion would write America’s policies for her. “America first” doesn’t mean “America first but insofar as Turk autocrats or the United Nations General Assembly is okay with it”; it means abiding by what is morally right. Trump has the opportunity to enshrine his legacy as the most morally uncompromising president in over a century with the foreign policy acumen to boot. But to do it, he has to stick to his message: America first.
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