Friday, December 31, 2010

US Foreign Policy Gains with Recess Appointments

Fortunately, President Obama has finally shown some backbone and made several important recess appointments that are critical for US foreign policy. Three of the key appointments are those of ambassadors to Turkey, Syria and Azerbaijan.

Frank Ricciardone is the new ambassador to Ankara ending five months without representation in Turkey, a key player in the region. In proceeding with the recess appointment President Obama has filled a gaping hole in the ability of America to have a voice on the ground in a critical area of the world. A gaping hole produced by the rank stupidity of the Republicans and their anti-Turkish allies who would sacrifice a relationship with the most powerful and influential country in the region for the pitiful, Russian ally, Armenia.

Similarly, American, not Armenian or Israeli interests, will be served well by the appointment of late Wednesday, Obama announced recess appointments of Matt Bryza to be ambassador to Azerbaijan and Robert Ford to Syria.

Bryza’s confirmation had been put on hold by pro-Armenian Democratic senators Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez; Obama’s recess-appointment decision was protested by the largest and most influential U.S. Armenian group.

Bryza is a career diplomat but was opposed by some in the Armenian-American community because of comments he made in his previous position as deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs while trying to negotiate an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, an intractable issue largely controlled by Russia.

Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America said “Armenian-Americans are deeply troubled by President Obama’s decision today to circumvent the U.S. Senate and use a recess appointment to send a deeply flawed diplomat to represent America in Azerbaijan” .

“The president’s push to send Matt Bryza to Baku without Senate approval represents a disservice to American diplomacy that will, sadly, undermine our nation’s ability to advance our interests and values in the Caucasus region”.

Mr. Hamparian, with all due respect, is full of it. Armenia is a Russian ally. It is unbelievably corrupt and undemocratic despite, or perhaps as a result of, being the recipient of hundreds of millions of US aid dollars. It recently signed a treaty with the Russian Federation renewing the military base in Gumri and all its borders are guarded by Russian troops. The California Armenians are very willing to fight to the last local Armenians in defense of retaining the NK as a part of Armenia. Yerevan’s values and interests have nothing to do with Mr. Hamparian’s values and interests. Furthermore, from a geo-political standpoint, keeping Azerbaijan independent of Russia is vastly more important despite it’s less than stellar political system.

For a taste of what Mr. Hamparian is touting as Armenian values, one case currently before the European Court of Human Rights is an appeal to review the case of Armenian opposition activist and former newspaper editor-in-chief Nikol Pashinian.

His attorney filed suit at the Strasbourg court against Pashinian's unjust prosecution, prison conditions and limitations to visiting hours. Pashinian was arrested in 2009 on charges of inciting violence against the authorities and organizing mass unrest on March 1, following a February 2008 election, an election that was questionably handled.

He was convicted by an Armenian court and ordered to serve a 7 year sentence. He is currently being held in Artik prison. Artik prison is an atrocious facility.

Pashinian is the editor-in-chief of the daily Haykakan Zhamanak (The Armenian Times), a popular daily known for its support for Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosian, and has written a number of severely critical articles about President Serge Sarkisian and his predecessor Robert Kocharian.

His lawyer is not allowed to see his client in private to discuss the course of the trial. This is an open violation of human rights and, I might add, violates even Armenian laws. Further, his wife has claimed that he had been assaulted in prison several times in the last two months by masked people. Having lived and worked in Armenia, I would give this claim credence. She has said she feared for his life and is only allowed to see her husband once a month for four hours.

His situation is just an example of the crippled state of Armenian democracy and how human rights and the freedom of speech are persecuted in the country for the political ends of the few.

And here is another: Armenia has denied a broadcast license to an independent television station, A1+, despite a European Court of Human Rights judgment that previous denials violated freedom of expression, an international Human Rights watchdog reported this week.

"Today's decision is another setback for freedom of expression and information in Armenia," said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It's clear that keeping a critic off the air is more important to this government than its international legal obligations.

So when a head of an Armenian-American lobbying group talks about values he needs to take a pill and face reality. It is not in American interests to support an un-democratic Russian ally with delusions of regional importance.

The Turkish appointment is vastly more important than the one to Azerbaijan. Turkey is a NATO member and a balancing force with a vibrant economy and strong military. The Russian Federation actually pays attention to Ankara and as the US has found out, without a voice on the ground it has far less influence in Turkey’s foreign affairs decisions.

Also, from a geo-political standpoint, engaging with Syria is a major component in US middle-eastern foreign policy. As much as the current Israeli government, under the control apparently of its thuggish foreign minister, might prefer to isolate Syria that policy has been a mistake. Syria is intent on regaining what it considers historical control of Lebanon and to that extent is not entirely happy with the level of Iranian intervention through Hezbollah. Turning Syria would only help Israel as nothing gets to Hezbollah from Iran without Syrian acquiescence. Iran knows this as well so the appointment of a US ambassador to Damascus will be of great concern to Tehran.

Good for President Obama.

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