Special for the Armenian Weekly
Billions of dollars grease the machinery of American electoral politics as the 2016 election season heats up. Promises will be made and broken. Hope will flutter and flounder. Voters will feel valuable in a courtship constructed by the 1%. And for the first time, our next president could be female, Latino, or thick with braggadocio.
As a modest but influential voting bloc, particularly in densely populated states and districts, Armenian Americans and their supporters pride themselves on embracing positions of nuance and principle despite the harsh tendrils of realpolitik.
To echo Harout Sassounian’s June 2015 piece in the Armenian Weekly, the promise of Armenian Genocide recognition should no longer serve as a litmus test for presidential endorsements. For decades aplenty, American politicians have wooed Armenian voters and financiers with empty promises to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Sassounian presents seven core “issues of significance” to evaluate as alternative barometers for directing support. He also suggests another strategy: Sit this election out “to avoid being misled by false promises” and later favor elected officials who promote these core Armenian issues.
Sitting out the 2016 presidential election would disempower voters in America and stakeholders the world over who are Armenian or care about core Armenian issues. Instead, the following points on corruption, human rights, and international affairs offer a fresh perspective on how to consider the impact of American left-leaning progressivism upon Armenian issues and how that impact should galvanize support from our community during the 2016 presidential election and beyond.
Reigning in Corruption: Oligarchs in Armenia and America
One of the primary distinguishing philosophies between Democratic and Republican politics is the matter of government regulation at the federal level.
Democrats espouse regulation to limit private sector corruption that withers the middle class. Remember the subprime mortgage crisis? Republicans seek to reduce federal governmental regulations and gut government spending (not the military, but entitlement programs like Medicare), arguing instead that America’s robust private sector will garner economic prosperity for Americans. Though America’s inception emerged from a revolutionary spirit opposing bureaucratic heavy-handedness, one must recognize the private sector’s ultimate interest in profit juxtaposed against the public sector’s ultimate interest in social welfare. The two interests may not necessarily be mutually exclusive, but the overlap is nominal. An honest assessment of Wall Street, K Street, and Main Street leaves one facing the stark reality of corporate America’s sheer power and the government’s limited capacity to tame that strength. Nevertheless, America has and can set an example to the rest of the world of what a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” should look like.
In this case, no example for just governance is more critical than the one that must be set for Armenia. The Armenian government’s culture of corruption has produced fraudulent elections, environmental catastrophes, the destruction of the middle class, bureaucratic largesse, and racist and sexist ideologies permeating society. One parallel in modern America involves Republican Governor Rick Snyder (R) of Michigan who looked the other way as citizens in Flint drank lead-contaminated water for months despite a $575 million budgetary surplus and ample warnings that something was awry in the city’s piping.
With a new administration forthcoming, America must encourage Armenia’s government towards a “better way” that loosens the shackles of regional governing practices. From big bank bailouts to Citizens United to the NRA’s destructive stranglehold on America’s public health, the United States teeters on the edge of oligarchy, if it has not fallen into the abyss already, and no amount of deregulation will promulgate the reforms necessary to reignite America’s middle class and the spirit of representative government. The United States must set an example by restoring integrity in the rule of law before a new wave of criminal millionaires and billionaires produce the next global financial crisis.
Human Rights: Minorities in Armenia and Turkey, and the American Left’s Civil Rights Record
America’s left has advocated domestic and international human rights causes from women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement to healthcare reform and beyond. Armenia’s need for leadership and support in human rights causes are manifold.
First, the state of minority groups within Turkey demands attention. This includes Armenians, Kurds, and others contending against an authoritarianism that permeates the region and heightens the palpable legacy and continuation of genocide. Indeed, it is in the political left of Turkey where Armenian activists and their sympathizers have found a voice to achieve unprecedented gains in confronting the deep and profound discrimination codified by the Turkish state.
Second, Armenia’s government must address the suffering of its own minority groups. Activists fighting to protect diversity in religion, political belief, economic policy, and sexual orientation in Armenia must not exist in a vacuum. Their cause correlates with a universal pan-progressivism present in all societies that promotes rule of law, environmental sustainability, and middle class development.
The (American) Republican Party’s rhetoric has underscored a troubling ideology: America for the Americans. This simplistic identity formulation, coupled with anti-immigration sentiments, promotes intolerance and erodes the tendencies that helped Armenians prosper in multicultural societies.
We must reject discrimination and recognize that the fight for civil rights around the world directly overlaps with left-leaning, progressive politics in the United States.
Hawks or Doves: The Republican Party’s Propensity for War and the Further Destabilization of the Middle East, Armenia
War and diplomacy offer tools to address the same issue: existential threats.
War harnesses military resources to kill enemies, destroy their infrastructure, and demoralize their will to fight. The military also employs humanitarian and coalition development strategies, though these do not represent its raison d’être.
Diplomacy functions to manage international relations around the world by working with friends and foes alike to resolve conflicts, strike deals, and promote values without force.
Though Democrats and Republicans utilize both of these tools, Republicans trumpet America’s military might and threaten devastating military incursions against enemies. Leading candidates for the GOP’s nomination have already showcased this trademark posture. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) threatened to “carpet bomb” Islamic militants to see if “sand can glow in the dark,” while Donald Trump said he would “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS.”
Democrats emphasize diplomatic resolutions to conflict before resorting to military force. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton led the charge in restoring America’s standing in the world after George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, while Bernie Sanders has voted against most American foreign military interventions during his 26 years in Congress.
Increased American military engagement in today’s fragile world will destabilize the Middle East, its Armenian communities, and the Republic of Armenia itself. Since the 1970’s, wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria have forced hundreds of thousands of Armenians to dismantle their homes and communities and start anew elsewhere. Today, the Armenians of Aleppo, Syria, are facing some of the harshest consequences of the Syrian Civil War. Should the United States engage Syria with the same heavy-handed approach with which it engaged Iraq, the consequences would be devastating. No amount of carpet bombing or Rumsfeldian conquests will solve the Rubik’s cube of Syria. Instead, look no further than the historic developments with Cuba and Iran to appreciate the seismic shifts possible through diplomacy.
It is hard to conceive of a true and lasting peace in the Middle East, but we cannot hope for better days with the specter of further American military intervention. The Syrian Civil War has brought tens of thousands of Syrian Armenians to an Armenia that has welcomed the new population with open arms and limited economic opportunity—a stark reminder of the nation’s fragile economy and virtually non-existent middle class. Armenia’s corrupt, oligarchical system offers a difficult environment for Syrian Armenians to grow their businesses. Instead, Armenia must focus on resolving the corrosive culture that has stymied its economy and society to reduce brain drain and recruit businesses, students, expats, repats, and new immigrants. Moreover, enhanced American military intervention in the Middle East will stoke Russian aggression, further destabilizing the Middle East, South Caucasus, and Eastern Europe.
Democratic tendencies to put comprehensive diplomacy before war will ultimately serve the best interest of Armenians in the Middle East, the Armenian Republic, and stakeholders throughout the global diaspora.
Reigning in corruption, protecting human rights, and emphasizing diplomacy over war represent three major touchstones in the American left that will benefit the sustainability of Armenia’s nationhood and diasporan communities. As a small but influential bloc of voters and stakeholders, Armenians in America and stakeholders the world over should lean left and help ensure America’s next president champions core values of progressivism.