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The Morning Dispatch: Biden Acknowledges Armenian Genocide
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The Morning Dispatch: Biden Acknowledges Armenian Genocide

Plus: A grant priority proposal for anti-racism programs at the Department of Education.

Happy Monday! It’s mRNA shot two week for a few of your Morning Dispatchers, so be nice to us while we convalesce!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The New York Times obtained a leaked audio recording of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaking candidly on a wide range of sensitive topics, including his fraught relationship with General Qassem Suleimani and the tight control of the country’s affairs held by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. The audio and the explosive revelations it contains are expected to roil Iranian politics and reverberate through the international community.

  • Following two meetings by the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the Food and Drug Administration and CDC decided on Friday to lift the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine that was put in place following a few reports of severe blood clotting. “The FDA has determined that the available data show that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older,” read a statement announcing the decision.

  • CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday that the agency officially recommends pregnant women receive COVID-19 vaccines, citing a peer-reviewed study from the New England Journal of Medicine that found no “obvious safety signals” among the women who received the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

  • A new malaria vaccine was found to be 77 percent effective in Phase II trials according to a University of Oxford study released Friday—the most effective on record. Malaria kills an estimated 400,000 people per year, most of whom are children under the age of five.

  • President Joe Biden on Saturday became the first American president to formally recognize as genocide the mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians more than a century ago. “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Biden said.

  • Gen. Austin S. Miller—head of the U.S. military coalition in Afghanistan—said Sunday that the U.S. military has officially begun withdrawing its last few thousand troops from the country. The Biden administration aims to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.

  • Democratic Louisiana State Sen. Troy Carter won a special election over the weekend to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by Cedric Richmond, who resigned his position back in January to serve as a senior adviser in the Biden administration.

  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the New York Times yesterday that fully vaccinated American tourists will once again be allowed to visit the European Union beginning at some point this summer.

  • The United States confirmed 33,478 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 2.3 percent of the 1,464,979 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 285 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 572,199. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 34,488 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 3,020,948 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 139,978,480 Americans having now received at least one dose.

Biden Acknowledges the Armenian Genocide

106 years after the multi-year mass killing and ethnic cleansing of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks began, the United States became the thirtieth country worldwide to formally recognize the wartime violence as a “genocide.” President Biden marked the occasion on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. “We honor their story,” he said of the 1.5 million dead or deported in a statement. “We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

Administrations of the past have been reluctant to label the atrocities as “genocide” in deference to NATO ally Turkey, which continues to deny a racial motivation for the killings and rejects the estimated death toll as inflated. But after sustained pressure from the country’s large Armenian American community and bipartisan groups of U.S. lawmakers, Biden followed up on campaign promises and broke from his predecessors.

“Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future—toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security,” Biden’s statement continued. “Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.”

While the move rhetorically signals a reprioritization of human rights in American foreign affairs, it also indicates a deepening divide between the U.S. and Turkey. Under the fiercely anti-West leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has fallen out of its historical position as the U.S.’ foremost strategic ally in the region—despite the strongman leader’s congenial relationship with former President Donald Trump. 

In December 2020, the Trump administration moved to sanction Ankara for its purchase and testing of the Russian-manufactured S-400 air and missile defense system. A year earlier, the U.S. removed Turkey from its F-35 joint strike fighter program, a venture that would have lent the ally vital military technology and access to a steady stream of revenue for the repair and manufacturing of the warplanes.

Accordingly, Biden’s rejection of the longest-lasting foreign gag rule Saturday marked the culmination of a multi-administration distancing from Ankara as a strategic partner. 

“The designation confirms the obvious: U.S.-Turkey relations have never been worse. Traditionally, those opposed to recognizing the Armenian genocide argued both that we should defer to Turkey’s sensibilities because it was an ally and because Turkey might stop cooperating with the United States after recognizing genocide,” Michael Rubin, expert on Turkey at American Enterprise Institute, told The Dispatch. “Erdogan has become so hostile to Washington, however, that few consider Turkey an ally and we’ve made alternate arrangements for the future, for example, with Greece, Cyprus, and Romania.”

Erdogan, who spoke with Biden Friday, denounced the new designation as “slander with political motivations.” Turkey’s foreign ministry, led by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, released a lengthier statement Saturday condemning the decision as “made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups.”

“This statement of the U.S., which distorts the historical facts, will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people, and will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship,” the statement reads.

Armenians at home and in diaspora, meanwhile, have praised the administration’s decision as a positive step toward confronting a painful history with modern day repercussions.

“I highly appreciate your principled position, which is a powerful step on the way to acknowledging the truth, historical justice, and an invaluable of support [sic] for the descendants of the victims of the Armenian Genocide,” Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote in a letter to Biden. “The acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide is important not only as a tribute paid to the 1.5 million innocent victims, but also in terms of preventing the recurrence of similar crimes against mankind.”

Anti-Racism at the Department of Education

As President Biden prepared to take office earlier this year, one of the most interesting questions about his upcoming term was how he would reconcile his cheery-uncle demeanor and unity-first message with his party’s leftward drift on hot-button culture war issues like race relations. Up at the site today, Andrew has a piece digging into a small—but symbolically significant—move Biden’s administration took last week: a proposed Department of Education rule for a small discretionary grant program for civics education that would prioritize projects incorporating “antiracist practices into teaching and learning.”

What is the program in question, and what would the proposed change do?

The rule concerns the American History and Civics Education programs, a small Department of Education initiative that distributes a few grants a year to schools and education organizations to design civics enrichment programs for teachers or high-school students. The rule, a draft of which was entered into the Federal Register last week, would prioritize “projects that incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives into teaching and learning.”

To qualify for a grant under this priority, an applicant “must describe how its proposed project incorporates teaching and learning practices that take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”

In explaining the purpose behind the change, the rule elaborates:

There is growing acknowledgement of the importance of including, in the teaching and learning of our country’s history, both the consequences of slavery, and the significant contributions of Black Americans  our society. This acknowledgement is reflected, for example, in the New York Times’ landmark ‘1619 Project’ and in the resources of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History. Accordingly, schools across the country are working to incorporate antiracist practices into teaching and learning.

If this rule goes into effect, how pronounced would its effect be?

Because the program is so small, as a practical matter, the proposed rule’s immediate concrete impact would be extremely muted. It’s rather what the move symbolizes that some critics find alarming: that the Biden administration is displaying a willingness to put a thumb on the scales in favor of schools teaching a particular and controversial view of U.S. history.

“Even though it’s quite small, and it’s still a draft, it’s the federal government more directly saying ‘You should teach or instruct in these things—critical race theory and all that’s connected with it,’” said Neil McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. “The size, you might say, is negligible. But the principle of what they’re doing is pretty significant.”

Are the people arguing over this only arguing over symbolism, then?

Some coverage of the proposed rule within conservative media has characterized it as a bombshell move that will unleash a monsoon of woke ideology across U.S. public schools. A Washington Free Beacon report asserted it would “flood public schools with woke curricula” and “increase grants to woke groups across the country.” Given the scope of the actual programs in question—which awarded three total grants in 2018—this seems premature. 

But what is unquestionably significant is what the rule signifies about the sort of civics education the Biden administration sees as worth investing federal money in. That doesn’t mean much now—but it’s likely to become more important in the months ahead. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been tossing around the idea of dramatically beefing up federal investment in civics education. The Educating for Democracy Act, which would appropriate $1 billion of federal money per year for new discretionary grants for teaching civics, was introduced last year with bipartisan cosponsors in both the House and the Senate.

According to Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the question is what will happen “if the federal money gets authorized and appropriated in large quantities and is then administered through the same political sensibility as this little program we’ve been talking about.”

“There is a larger-scale mischief on the horizon,” he said, “if we get a big bucks program on the heels of this little one.”

Worth Your Time

  • The entire New York Times article on the leaked Iranian audio is worth a careful read. Foreign Minister Zarif spoke with stunning candor with an interviewer for what was to have been an internal oral history. Zarif makes clear that his power is limited and that major decisions come from Iran’s supreme leader or its Revolutionary Guards Corps. “In the Islamic Republic the military field rules,” Zarif acknowledged. “I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy.” In one eyebrow-raising passage, Zarif shares that John Kerry, secretary of state under Barack Obama, shared sensitive information with him on Israel’s military operations in the region. According to the Times, “Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times, to his astonishment, Mr. Zarif said.” 

  • For more on the history of the Armenian genocide, James Hookway at the Wall Street Journal has an informative, sobering rundown. “Paramilitary forces eradicated entire villages of Armenians, who are predominantly Christian. Other Armenians were forced to convert to Islam, and others saw their property seized before being deported. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians are believed to have died in 1915 and 1916 when they were marched from their homes in the eastern Anatolia region into the Syrian desert, where they were executed or died of starvation or disease.”

  • Ross Douthat argues in his latest New York Times column that American conservatism is facing two crises: The Republican Party doesn’t know how to win majorities, and the right doesn’t know what it’s conserving anymore. “This set of problems explains the mix of radicalism, factionalism, ferment and performance art that characterizes the contemporary right,” he argues. “Can conservative energies be turned away from fratricide and lib-baiting and used to rebuild the structures and institutions and habits whose decline has pushed the right toward crisis? And will liberal institutions, in their increasingly ideological form, allow or encourage that to happen, or stand permanently in its way?”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On the website today, Chris Stirewalt has a thoughtful and moving look at America’s long struggle with race. Even with some of the country’s loudest voices seeking to separate Americans by race and ethnicity, many Americans are making different choices. 

  • David’s Sunday French Press uses Genesis Chapter 4 (the story of Cain and Abel) to explore themes of biblical justice—particularly in light of the Chauvin trial verdict last week. “We should hope and pray that last week’s verdict and last month’s settlement mark a turning of the tide in American law,” he writes. “We owe good police our gratitude. We owe them the resources and training they need to do their job well. Our nation must not, however, privilege its public servants over its population, and when Christians ponder American law, they must remember to never, ever prefer the great over the small.”

  • In his Friday G-File, Jonah explores the difference between treating problems and fixing them. “Treating problems—minimizing their effects, curtailing their growth etc.—is often important and necessary,” he writes. “But fixing problems is always better, in the same way that putting out a house fire is always better than containing it.” In the final third of the “news”letter, Jonah applies this line of thinking to climate change. “Why spend trillions on treatment rather than a cure? Nearly all of the proposals to deal with climate change involve simply slowing its advance and mitigating its worst aspects.”

  • Sarah was joined by former U.S. Attorney Zach Terwilliger on Friday’s Dispatch Podcast to discuss the verdict in the Chauvin trial and what comes next. What goes into sentencing calculations? Does the defense have any case for an appeal? And does this case represent a broader shift in how police misconduct cases are handled?

Let Us Know

Have you seen any of the movies nominated for Oscars last night? Which were your favorites of this very strange year for film?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).