Pelosi's judgment questioned over Armenia issue
By Susan Cornwell Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Nancy Pelosi's pledge of a new direction took a detour when she fumbled an Armenian genocide resolution and raised questions about her leadership as the highest ranking member of the U.S. Congress.
Pelosi, 67, speaker of the House of Representatives and next in line to the presidency after the vice president, swore she would push the controversial resolution to a vote, then blinked when some fellow Democrats withdrew their support in the face of furious reaction from Turkey.
President George W. Bush warned the symbolic resolution to affirm the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide would harm Washington's relations with Ankara. But as long as it looked like it would pass, Pelosi stuck to her guns.
When Democratic support started waning last week amid protests from NATO ally Turkey -- which denounced the measure as "insulting" and hinted at halting logistical support for the U.S. war effort in Iraq -- Pelosi wavered.
Critics say she miscalculated.
"It's certainly not her finest moment," said Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"There's been no great harm done, but we do have to find some ways to mend the U.S.-Turkish relationship."
Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed in World War One, but denies they were victims of a systematic genocide.
Pelosi took office amid much fanfare 10 months ago. She proposed "a new direction" for America and vowed to challenge Bush on a host of fronts, including the Iraq war.
Her stumble on the Armenia resolution gave Republican critics more ammunition.
They called the bill another "irresponsible" or "dangerous" foreign policy gambit by Pelosi, who flew to Syria last spring when the White House was not on speaking terms with Damascus.
Pelosi also has tried for months without success to defy Bush's policy on Iraq with legislation forcing a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
NO 'DAMN ALLIES'
Even some of Pelosi's closest allies, like Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, say she misjudged the Armenian resolution.
Murtha, who opposes the measure on the grounds the United States doesn't have any "damn allies" and therefore needs to keep Turkey on its side, counted up to 60 Democratic votes against it and said it would fail if brought up.
Pelosi is one of several Californians in Congress with many Armenian-Americans in their districts. They have pushed similar proposals for years.
"She feels morally committed to this issue," said Murtha. "It's just, is it practical at this point to go forward with it?"
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich offered another excuse for Pelosi's misstep: she had too much on her plate.
This week House Democrats also tried and failed to override Bush's veto on a children's health program. A bill to revise rules for government eavesdropping on terrorism suspects had to be pulled from the floor at the last minute.
"The pace of this institution is not always conducive to a well-thought-out approach, to considering the consequences of a certain type of action," Kucinich said.
Pelosi still has not ruled out calling a full House vote on the Armenian resolution, which the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed on October 10.
Some conservative commentators suggested the genocide measure was part of a hidden Democratic agenda to undermine the Iraq war effort, but other analysts said that was unlikely.
"I think it's more domestic politics, playing to interest groups, than backdoor foreign policy," said George Washington University professor of international affairs Henry Nau.
"If members of Congress are plotting with interest groups to weaken Turkish support of U.S. policy in Iraq and thus undermine American forces in Iraq, the drama thickens beyond my capacity to comprehend," he said.