Some members of Congress have found themselves in trouble recently for acting irresponsibly and illegally and for demonstrating that they think they are above the law. And when members of Congress take it upon themselves to disregard official and longstanding foreign policy, they must be held accountable.
But what about lawmakers who flout the laws of foreign nations when they visit those nations? Three members of Congress did just that earlier this fall: Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), David Valadao (R-CA), and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). The trio of legislators visited Armenia and then, on September 20, made a side trip to Nagorno-Karabakh, a region where the Republic of Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan are locked in conflict.
“Pallone, Valadao and Gabbard paid an illegal visit to the occupied Azerbaijani territories, thus breaching Azerbaijani law,” a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said, according to Radio Liberty. “All three are added to the list of undesirable persons in Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijan’s government has declared Nagorno-Karabakh to be a sovereign territory of Azerbaijan that is under illegal military occupation by Armenia. By crossing Azerbaijan’s borders illegally and visiting the occupied territory without Azerbaijan’s official permission, the American members of Congress flagrantly broke the law of an American ally and, arguably, international law. Why did they visit Azerbaijan’s national territory without Azerbaijani permission?
There are only about 1.5 million Armenian Americans in the United States. So why would these members of go out of their way during a visit to Armenia to insult Azerbaijan, an American military ally?
If Pallone, Valadao and Gabbard say they want to improve American economic and cultural relations with Armenia, that hardly passes the smell test. The CIA World Factbook ranks it number 138 in world economies below Zimbabwe (133), Papua New Guinea (134), and is slightly above Haiti in rank (147). By way of comparison, Mexico is ranked number 20.
Imagine an American member of who can’t visit a military ally of the United States because he or she is “persona non grata” there. Consider how the United States would have countenanced a visit by, say, a member of the England’s Parliament to Richmond, Virginia when it was the capital of the Confederate States of America. What would the United States have done had these men violated U.S. law to visit a secessionist land?
There are compelling reasons why members of Congress should not visit any part of Azerbaijan without permission.
1. Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. It was part of Azerbaijan when Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union. The so-called referendum declaring independence from Azerbaijan by Armenian ethnics in the region was no more legal than secession by the Confederacy states of the United States in 1861.
2. To visit there without Azerbaijan’s permission can and did result in being “blacklisted” by a legitimate government for an illegitimate visit.
3. Azerbaijan is a military ally of the United States; Armenia is not. Azerbaijan not only has soldiers in Afghanistan, it gave air transit rights and support to American forces in route to Afghanistan.Armenia did not. Up to 40 percent of American materiel and personnel has flown through Azerbaijan since 2002.
4. Armenia is allied militarily with Russia, which has a huge Army base in Armenia with 5,000 soldiers. Russia guards Armenia’s borders with Iran and Turkey and controls Armenia’s air defenses. The fact of the matter is that Armenia’s armed forces are an integral part of Russia’s military. The United States does not recognize Russian proxies in the Ukraine, in the Republic of Georgia or in the Nagorno-Karabakh.
5. TheAnti-Defamation League has ranked Armenia as the second most anti-Semitic country in Europe.
Perhaps Pallone, Valadao and Gabbard should fly directly to Azerbaijan to thank Azerbaijan Airlines for buying $1.1 billion worth of Boeing airliners in 2017. The planes were made in South Carolina and Washington State. That visit would do the U.S. much good.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy,” (Berkeley Press 2017); “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade,” (Floricanto Press 2016). He formerly wrote for the New American New Service of the New York Times.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.