While using the Armenian issue as a political leverage against Turkey, the U.S. government has given Turkey a false sense of cooperation on the genocide accusations for years
Power considerations explain the lingering genocide accusation campaign against Turkey. In international relations, power means the ability to get another state to do what it otherwise would not do. From the perspective of the U.S., how does it try to get Turkey to do things that Turkey would otherwise not do? The fact that the U.S. and Turkey have been enjoying mutually beneficial military and economic cooperation has two clear meanings. One, it would not be rational for the U.S. to threaten Turkey through military action or economic sanctions and two, there is a strong incentive for the U.S. to find ways to maintain this high level of cooperation either through obvious rewards or through a semblance of them.. . .
For years the U.S. government has given Turkey a false sense of cooperation on the genocide accusation and the Armenian narrative. Turkish diplomats would meet with their American counterparts and ask for clarifications on the American position regarding the concerted efforts to issue accusations against Turkey that are based on what they call historical bias. In response, the Americans would gladly communicate to the world that they are cooperating with Turkey on this issue by refusing to recognize what an army of genocide scholars are claiming to have been genocide.
In truth, however, the controlled academic discourse on genocide has been in the service of U.S. interests all along. The genocide accusation against Turkey had begun its march toward systemization and institutionalization during the Vietnam War in the 1960s as the main feature of an attempt to divert the genocide debate from the American neocolonialist destruction of societies in Southeast Asia. Throughout the decades since then, this American enterprise has grown into an international machine that has been built through the unmatched power to publish in internationally-read academic journals and popular newspapers. The field of study of genocide had seemingly taken a life of its own to make it easy for the U.S. government to claim dissociation from the anti-Turkish content and then pretend to be cooperating with Turkey on this issue.
To make matters worse, this feigned cooperation has also made it to genocide literature. One of the common arguments made about the Armenian issue is that genocide is not officially recognized because of the U.S. government's cooperation with the Turkish government. The power of the pen would have people think that the U.S. is forced into this "failure" to recognize genocide because of its political ties with Turkey. This insincerity has thrown the debate into deep confusion. First, the very notion that a genocide ought to be recognized, or is on the verge of being recognized, is itself a product of discourse control. A truly free academic debate on the causes of the tragic events during the period, which affected many especially Armenians, would have allowed for a focus on the intent and actions of imperialist external forces to divide and conquer by pinning the Christian Armenians against the Muslim Ottomans. The entire genocide focus of the last decades is fundamentally unnecessary, except for its politics. Second, the scripted headlines on this supposed cooperation sustain the genocide claims because they make it seem as if Turkey is defended by politics rather than history. In other words, it keeps the genocide pressure alive and it keeps Turkey coming back for more of this illusory American cooperation.
Bringing clarity to this confusion, it must be said that when it comes to the Armenian issue, or through the Armenian issue, it is the U.S. that is imposing cooperation on Turkey, and not vice versa. This cycle of fake cooperation is an American achievement, a Hollywood production. In the study of international relations it is called soft power. In 1990, political scientist Joseph Nye began to articulate the coopted power that the U.S. has and other states do not. Soft power is the power to legitimize power, and it is the perfect complement to hard physical power. It means having the ability to convert military and economic dominance into information control through superior access to minds around the world in a way that allows a powerful state to get what it wants from weaker states without having to use coercive power. In order for soft power to be effective, the U.S. government has to make sure that the dissemination of information is successfully controlled without a loss of credibility. That is why, as far as American soft power is concerned, it is ideal to enlist "credible," independent experts, as the former U.S. administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, suggested in a 2009 article written together with Adrian Vermeule, "Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures," in the Journal of Political Philosophy.
The importance of credibility was highlighted by Nye in his 2001 book, "The Future of Power," in which he says: "The best propaganda is not propaganda." Meaning soft power is most effective when the intended audience is clueless as to the material's U.S. government origin. Thus, U.S. government interests are best served when in the guise of scholarly work. By producing an academic infrastructure of vast publications and various international institutions, its narratives then become prominent and impenetrable to outsiders or, as Nye put it: "Powerful actors can make sure that the less powerful are never invited to the table, or if they get there, the rules of the game have already been set by those who arrived first." This seems to describe what the field of genocide study has done to late Ottoman history.
Samantha Power's 2002 book, "A Problem from Hell," is the capstone of the genocide discourse that was constructed over decades by American soft power. Through the utilization of power, it combines the ability to promote a product with the ability to dictate the acceptance of its content. Characterized by bias, it is a masterful recitation of the artful language established by genocide scholarship. Significantly, it marks the transition accomplished by the U.S. handling of the language of genocide, from having to defend its military operations in faraway places in the 1960s to arguing - in the name of morality - for military operations in faraway places in the 21st century. In the process, she shamelessly tarnishes the name of the entire Turkish nation, without expressing any remorse to this day. It was convenient for her, as for the U.S. government, to make it seem as if the story of genocide begins with, and should be pivoted on, a "race murder" conducted by Turks. She is currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, not without relation to how the book was a big winner with soft intellectuals.
Soft intellectuals are readers, but not careful readers. They are those intellectuals who would accept the narrative of a seemingly scholarly book because of the author's public image because of a Pulitzer Prize and because of The New York Times best-sellers list. This is done without engaging in source criticism, without questioning the author's analysis and without grasping the soft-power purpose of the book.
Soft intellectuals in the U.S. would mock those who believe everything they see on Fox News, but they themselves would ignore the possibility that they are being mobilized by articles in the New Yorker, such as the one by Raffi Khatchadourian, "A Century of Silence," published in the Jan. 5, 2015 issue. Most readers of this magazine trust it so much that they would not think to question the integrity of the 22 page display of a twisted narrative or consider its soft-power purpose. Instead they would rather believe that it fell from the sky to the desk of the editor, and that sheer quality or human interest rather than political purpose had warranted the allocation of substantial space for it on this mainstream platform.
Among the targeted soft intellectuals are members of general American society who passively internalize the information they receive about Ottoman-Armenian history, leading to a designed consensus view. It also targets the members of the Armenian-American community who are expected to react zealously to these advertised notions of historical injustice against their people. Interestingly, Turks are also among the targeted soft intellectuals.
This was apparent in Thomas de Waal's article, "The G-Word: The Armenian Massacre and the Politics of Genocide," that was published in the January/February 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs, which is run by former U.S. government personnel. Aside from tampering with perceptions of history, de Waal attempts to prescribe a reality in Turkey by describing "a Turkish thaw" and commending those who oppose an "old dominant narrative" in Turkey. In other words, de Waal is using his U.S.-given soft power to affect Turkish readers in ways that a Turkish author would not be able to affect American readers, and to rhetorically manipulate his readers into thinking that there is denial in Turkey that ought to be negated.
In this manner, de Waal is trying to appeal to those who are intellectual enough to be reached by his writing and want to be accepted as intellectuals by the West, but not intellectual enough to notice his de-contextualization or recognize his soft-power purpose in the service of U.S. government interests. Soft-intellectual agreement with what people like de Waal are advocating adds pressure on the Turkish government and maintains leverage for the U.S. government to ensure that Turkey stays cooperative. It is the magic of soft power that makes a stick appear as a carrot. While American soft power preys on soft intellectuals, Turks might rise above it by showing the ability to discern between American-controlled information and genuine Ottoman history, just as one would be able to discern between a Big Mac and a doner kebab.
* M.A. in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Utah
March 1, 2015
How the US government ‘nudges’ its Armenians5th Nov 2014
Who generates the accusation of genocide against Turkey? It is a misconception to think that Armenians have masterminded this long lasting anti-Turkish campaign. The Armenian polemic is primarily an American issue. The accusation against Turkey serves American interests in two main ways; it keeps some skeletons of the Anglo-American imperialist past in the closet and it functions as a big stick in the U.S.'s present dealings with Turkey. Turkey's many spheres of influence are of high importance to the U.S., which throughout the latter half of the 20th century and to this day has often needed Turkish cooperation in regional affairs. However, because of Turkey's unique cultural history, it is not perceived in the U.S. as a natural ally, like the U.K. or Australia, but rather as requiring a "carrot and stick" approach.
A universal characterization of the events as genocide could lead to major property and compensation claims against Turkey as well as severely harm the Turkish image in world history. Such a universal characterization may very well become a reality if the U.S. issues a formal declaration that the events were genocide, begins working toward having this view be shared by other countries and officially be put into writing through international organizations.
The status quo in U.S.-Turkey relations means that the U.S. cannot be too obvious in its use of the Armenian polemic as a stick against Turkey for that would lead to a worsening in the working relationship between the two governments. Correspondingly, the U.S. does not seek to make any formal declarations that what happened to Armenians was genocide for that would negate the mobilizing utility of the stick and the very idea of benefiting from an alliance with Turkey. Therefore, the ideal presentation of the stick for the U.S. is to maintain the relevance and significance of the Armenian polemic without it appearing as instigated and controlled by the U.S. government.
How has this been done? The U.S. government has been "nudging" the American public - in particular Armenian-Americans - toward a belief that they are making their own historiographical choices when in truth they are following a mapped out plan. The concept of "nudging" was first introduced in the context of behavioral economics by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their 2008 work, "Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness." They argued that a parental-like management of individuals' choices is legitimate and even preferable when it leads to decisions that are conducive to their well-being. Nudging might mean that individuals may be led to make choices that are not clearly expressive of their wishes or best interest. Moreover, it seems as though Sunstein had in mind a governmental application of nudges. Following the publication of the book, he was appointed the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President Barack Obama with whom he had shared the same law faculty at the University of Chicago. Just prior to assuming the White House position that he would hold until 2012, Sunstein argued that the nudge idea - through the prodding of experts - should be used on behalf of government interests.
In the context of how to ward off "problems" of conspiracy theories against the U.S. government, Sunstein, together with Adrian Vermeule, suggested in an article titled "Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures" in The Journal of Political Philosophy 17/2 in 2009: The government can partially circumvent these problems if it enlists credible independent experts in the effort to rebut the theories. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that the government cannot be seen to control the independent experts. Although the government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes, too close a connection will prove self-defeating if it is exposed - as witnessed in the humiliating disclosures showing that apparently independent opinions on scientific and regulatory questions were in fact paid for by think-tanks with ties to the Bush administration.
It is important to notice three main aspects of this shocking quote by a man who was on his way to a lofty position in the U.S. government. 1) the use of "credible independent experts" is offered as a solution and a modus operandi for the U.S. government; 2) the successful blend of "credibility" and "control" is only achieved if secrecy is maintained and the public does not know that the alleged independent experts are U.S. government-dependent; 3) the problem with this practice, as in the case of the Bush administration, is not the act of manipulating the public, but rather it is getting caught in the act. Sunstein may not have invented this concept, but articulated it and advanced it through the term "nudge," and he still does. Another book on nudging by Sunstein was recently published. Sunstein also recently produced a book on conspiracy theories, though it does not contain the article from which the above quote is taken.
One of the most famous "choice architects" of the Armenian polemic or "credible independent experts" on genocide is Samantha Power, who wrote "A Problem from Hell" (2002) and would later marry Sunstein. By describing Turks as "perpetrators," Armenians as symbols of morality and the British as a force for good in what might be the most popular book on genocide Power disseminated information that works in the U.S. government's favor. She made it seem as if the U.S. is destined to play the role of judge and savior in atrocities, highlighting the term genocide to cover up great power instigation of conflict. The term genocide is not currently equipped to be applied to great powers as the main actors in setting up local massacres. Power wrote her book without academic training in Ottoman history and without caring to learn whether her discussion of Raphael Lemkin presented fiction as fact. Despite the book's lack of academic integrity, it was catapulted to, and by, a Pulitzer Prize and now Power is advocating the U.S. government's interests officially as its ambassador to the U.N. in New York.
Prior to writing the book, Power came under the mentorship of Morton Abramowitz as an intern at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Abramowitz, then the president of the think tank organization, had previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 1989 to 1991 and as assistant secretary of State for Intelligence and Research from 1985 to 1989). After Power, his protégé, nudged the American public - and especially motivated Armenian-Americans - into thinking that they are making the right historical and emotional choices about what happened in Anatolia in 1915 and 1916, Abramowitz, along with Henri J. Barkey, could raise the stick and write in the November/December 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs that "The AKP [Justice and Development Party] government [.] has failed to come to grips with the question of whether the Ottomans' treatment of the Armenians a century ago constituted a genocide." Who has been raising this question from behind the scenes? Who wants this question to be asked?
In another article, "The Never-Ending Armenian Genocide Resolution," posted online on March 19, 2010 on The National Interest, Abramowitz provided a clear view of the trickery. Once notions of genocide have been created, Abramowitz could then write as if he is merely describing the public mood and the existing political pressures. He described the routine of the congressional resolutions as an outside observer, but continued the nudging of the public by claiming, as if reporting, that "The Turks vehemently deny genocide occurred" and that "Turkish governments complain bitterly when resolutions are introduced in other countries." He also associated the Turkish government with emotional labels such as "rage" and "anger," while he coolly continued to reap the fruits of a nudged public and a biased discourse. He was not taking away people's choice by telling them what to think, but he was nudging them in that direction by saying that "Most Americans who pay attention to the issue probably sympathize with the Armenians and believe historical evidence supports their claim of genocide." The American trick is not to make an accusation of genocide, but to create an image of history by using the words "Armenian" and "genocide" together to establish a common phrase, as he did in this article.
The nudging of the American public, and mainly that of Armenians, has been going on for decades through many "choice architects" - some less obvious than others. The field of genocide study has its share of seemingly independent credible experts. The New York Times functions as both source and space for "choice architects." The newspaper's high status allows for the nudging of readers to form a world view of politics and history according to its opinions and areas of focus. Furthermore, experts cite its articles from World War I as if they were fair reports even though they were reserved for pro-British wartime propaganda. The World War I mini-series, "1914-1918: The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century" that came out in 1996 was supported by the governments of the U.S. and U.K. It was produced by the BBC and the Imperial War Museum as well as by KCET in Los Angeles, the same company that produced the annual "Armenia Fund Telethon" that collected money for the construction of a highway that would connect Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. The fact that this product, in which Turks are accused of genocide, was distributed by the American Public Broadcasting Service, means that one branch of the U.S. government enabled the diplomatic branch of the U.S. government to say to Turkey: the public seems to think that Turks committed genocide.
As a result, the public is continuously nudged away from historical fact, Turks are vilified and the U.S. government continues to act as if it is doing Turkey a political favor by holding off public pressure, which was generated by the U.S. government itself via nudges. After years of being nudged into passionate beliefs and political activity in the U.S., some Armenian lobbyists might be "choice architects" themselves, but most Armenians are simply nudged toward a twisted view of their people's history.
Nudges such as this are a danger to any democracy, even the proud American one, and may be interpreted as policies of a "submerged state," as defined by Suzanne Mettler in her 2011 book "The Submerged State." She described such policies of "soft paternalism" as having a "stealth presence in the lives of most Americans." She warned that "the submerged state threatens to undermine the basic principles encapsulated in the idea of 'government of the people, by the people, for the people.' "
If, by nudging, the U.S. government is implementing its policies stealthily, then while American citizens may maintain their freedom of choice, they are limited in their view of what their government is actually doing and are therefore kept under-informed or even misinformed. Prior to being able to make decisions about government freely, citizens must be able to form an opinion about government performance. Even if the U.S. government is under the impression that this Armenian nudge is beneficial to its citizens because of national interest, such a policy presents a compromise of core democratic values.
* PhD candidate at the University of Utah's Department of Political Science