U.S. President Joe Biden recently called the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a genocide. The declaration provoked outrage in Turkey and dramatically worsened relations between Ankara and Washington, which have been military allies in NATO since 1952. The United States operates a major air base in Turkey, reportedly with nuclear weapons, while Armenia isn’t an important strategic partner for the U.S. at all. Why would Joe Biden jeopardize ties with a key military ally over an event that happened more than 100 years ago?

For Steven A. Cook, a Washington-based senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a sign of deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Turkey. The allies now have different values, interests, and goals. As Cook sees it, Biden’s move could appeal to Armenian-American voters, as well, and it also echoes the administration’s early promises to pursue a foreign policy grounded in moral values—even if the extent to which Biden and his team will follow through on that promise remains an open question.

Michael Bluhm: Why did Joe Biden do this?

Steven A. Cook: It’s a really good question. It hinges on three things. First, President Biden has come into office and emphasized that values are going to inform his foreign policy. In the first 100 days, that has largely been the case—certainly, at a rhetorical level.

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