The Turkish ambassador to Washington has gone home for ?consultations? after the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives approved a bill declaring that the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War was a genocide.
The White House tried hard to stop this bill. And all eight living former U.S. secretaries of state, both Democrat and Republican, signed a letter to the committee urging it not to approve the bill.
Bush promises that the bill will die in the Senate, but by then the damage will be done. The U.S.-Turkish alliance will be gravely damaged, and American use of Turkey as a major supply line for its troops in Iraq - 70 per cent of U.S. air cargo for Iraq goes through Turkey - will be at an end.
"I can assure you that Turkey knows how to play hardball," Egemen Bagis, an adviser to Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters in Washington.
Turkey may also send its troops into northern (Kurdish) Iraq, thus destabilizing the one stable and moderately prosperous part of that country.
But, then, it might have done that anyway. Fifteen Turkish soldiers and 12 civilians have been killed in the past week by Kurdish rebels who are allegedly based across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan. The political pressure on Prime Minister Erdogan to authorize another cross-border military operation is intense.
The Armenian desire to have their national tragedy given the same status as the Jewish Holocaust is understandable, but it is mistaken.
The facts of the case are horrifying and certainly justify calling the events in eastern Turkey in 1915-16 a genocide, but the key elements of prior intent and systematic planning that distinguish the Nazi Holocaust are absent.
When I was a young graduate student in Middle Eastern history, as a translation exercise I was given the hand-written diary of a Turkish soldier who was killed during the retreat from Baghdad in 1917.
"Mehmet Cavus" (Sergeant Mehmet) was a youthful village school-teacher who had been called up in 1914. At first he had a safe billet guarding the Black Sea entrance to the Bosphorus, but in 1915 his unit was suddenly ordered to march east to deal with a Russian invasion and an Armenian rebellion.
And then, in the diary of this pleasant, rather naive young man, I read the phrase "iyi katliam etmistik." Loosely translated: "We really massacred them." And he wasn't making a sporting analogy.
The diary was written in the old Ottoman rika, a version of handwritten Arabic script that never really served Turkish well, so I asked my teacher if it really said what I thought it did.
"Oh, yes," he said. "Those were different times." That excuses nothing, but it explains much.
The foolish young officers who led the Ottoman Empire into the war panicked when they realized that the Russians were invading from the east and the British were about to land somewhere on the Mediterranean coast.
Just at that point, Armenian revolutionaries (Dashnaks and Hnchaks) who had been plotting with the Russians and the British to carve out an Armenian state from the wreckage of the empire, launched feeble, futile revolts to assist the invaders.
The Turks responded by slaughtering many Armenians in what is now eastern Turkey and deporting the rest to Syria in long marching columns. Huge numbers were murdered along the way - at least 600,000, and perhaps as many as 1.5 million.
It was certainly a genocide, but it was not premeditated, nor was it systematic. Armenians living in other parts of the empire were largely left alone, and even in the war zone, those with money to travel by rail mostly reached Syria safely.
Today's Armenian activists aren't looking for justice. They want to provoke the Turks to extreme reactions that will isolate them and derail the domestic changes (including a gradual public acceptance of Turkey's responsibility for the atrocities) that are turning that country into a modern, tolerant democracy.
They do not want Turkey to succeed. And Western countries are for it.
firstname.lastname@example.org Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.