Race and Ethnicity - Size often not a barrier



American Jews and Cuban Americans, respectively 3 percent and 0.50 percent of the national population, are two groups with enormous influence in shaping foreign policy even though they are relatively small in number. Other similarly marginal groups in terms of population have demonstrated that size alone is not always an impenetrable barrier. One such group, Armenian Americans, were at first unsuccessful when they sought American support against Turkey during World War I. From 1915 to 1923 Turkey engaged in a policy of genocide that cost approximately one million Armenian lives. Yet when Armenia declared itself a republic independent of Turkey in 1918, Armenian Americans waged a campaign that resulted in Wilson extending de facto recognition of the new state. Similar efforts to prevent the United States from recognizing Turkey during this period proved futile.

More recently, Armenian Americans, who number over one million, have demonstrated that they wield a certain degree of influence in their particular area of interest. A California-centered group whose politics leans to the Republican, Armenian Americans lobbied Congress in 1990 to commemorate the aforementioned genocide. Even though Turkey's long-standing record as a crucial NATO military ally of the United States might have suggested different treatment, Congress nearly passed the resolution. Even though the administration of George H. W. Bush opposed it, it took a Senate filibuster to defeat the resolution and prevent a likely break with Turkey. If Congress had approved the measure, which used the term "genocide," Turkey made it clear that a grave crisis would result. Even though they lost, the political acumen of the Armenian-American lobbyists in nearly securing passage of a measure that had significant implications for diplomacy had to be acknowledged.

Although Turkey was firmly integrated within American defense policies during the Cold War, Greek Americans were able to lobby successfully in favor of punitive diplomatic measures against that nation in the wake of bitter Greek-Turkish disputes over Cyprus in 1974. Even though Greece was governed by militarists who had overthrown elected democratic leaders, and had instigated the troubles on Cyprus, the fact remained that there were one million Greek Americans whose lobbyists knew how to use political leverage to affect foreign policy. Washington responded to the pressure by placing a three-year embargo on military sales to Turkey and agreeing to provide Greece with 70 percent of the military aid that would be given to Turkey in future years. Ethnic politics prevailed over what was accepted to be the national security interest in maintaining good relations with a crucial geopolitical partner on the Soviet border.

Finally, the intervention of the United States in the Balkans in the 1990s revealed not only that the Balkan nationalities themselves were broken into competing factions, but also that the conflicts among the various nationalities within America presented policymakers with another kind of Balkanization. U.S. troops entered Bosnia, and then Kosovo, in an effort to block Serbian territorial expansion and genocide ("ethnic cleansing"). As a strategy to stop Serbian genocide in Kosovo, and at the same time limit American armed forces personnel in the campaign, President Bill Clinton in 1999 began a massive bombing campaign within Serbia.

Constituencies in the United States associated with those nationalities that benefited from American intervention supported Clinton's action. Orthodox Christian ethnic groups, including Serbian Americans, Greek Americans, and Russian Americans, all protested. Although there are Serbian enclaves on the east coast, the most politically sensitive Serbian population is made up of the 250,000 who live in Chicago and comprise the largest community of Serbs outside Serbia. Orthodox Christians in America charged Washington with being insensitive to the suffering of their coreligionists in the Balkans while overlooking the excesses and favoring the cause of western Christians and Muslims.



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