Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Turkey's Obama Euphoria

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on April 22nd, 2009- 
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 22 Nisan 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Two weeks after the historic Obama visit, the Obama euphoria is still in the air in Turkey. During the trip, President Obama touched all the right tones, pleased about all portions of Turkish people, even conveyed some sober messages that were hardly acceptable for the Turkish establishment without even attracting much wrath. His ability to bond, down to earth demeanor and the modesty have won the hearts of Turkish people and the visit became a PR masterpiece. 

One of the greatest detections of the visit came from Dr. Soli Ozel, of Istanbul Bilgi University, at the Brookings Institution’s discussion in Washington, DC, which was moderated by Amb. Mark Parris. Dr. Ozel said it was the messenger, not the message that made all the difference this time around. He went on to remind the audience that the last President George Bush’s speech in Istanbul in 2004 also integrated with great messages like embracing Turkey’s secular and democratic system, confirming Turkey as an example of that Islam and democracy can co-exist, and fully supporting Turkey to join the EU with the Bosphorus and the Ortakoy Mosque in the background. In addition to that, unlike Obama, Bush didn’t even raise much of thorny issues, and still couldn’t receive a fraction of the Obama love.

The Turkish people particularly fell in love with Obama when he embraced his Muslim heritage in the Turkish Parliament. Doubtlessly “I am one of [you]” note was a great start with the Muslim world. Not many people seemed to notice, but without officially declaring it, Obama happened to give his promised major speech to the Muslim world too, in Ankara, within his first 100 days in office. By no means do I desire to spoil the joy of the moment with reminding that the same Obama, persistently distanced himself from his Muslim  or anything remotely close to Islam during the 2 years of election campaigning on the road to the White House.

Obama’s stopover still seems like it was just too good to be true. And cynics like me, who has been following Obama closely over a year, and listened countless of his speeches, including live during the inauguration ceremony, can’t help but question this flawless visit. Obama’s dialogues and interchanges in Turkey harked back to those campaign rallies promises and someone who has no responsibility but is free to please everyone.

 There are many observers who would argue that the Obama’s speeches are more of style than substance, at least for so far. Though there is nothing wrong with hoping that Obama will be more receptive and sensitive to allies’ deportments when the time comes to make the real choices. The mistaken approach is to take this hope, package it and serve up as a proven upshot. Nobody can dispute the symbolic importance of this visit; still many commentaries we have witnessed lacked substance, and instead filled with rather solitary optimism and emotions. This outlook is far from helping to prepare a realistic terrain for the future Turkish-American relations and short of assisting the foreign policy makers’ tasks of the two countries.

Maybe taking some lessons from the American critics, who had their share of Obama euphoria in the past, would be more sobering. President Obama is about to complete his first 100 days in office and stands at whopping 63% of job approval rate, though still the White House decisions are receiving mixed reactions. Majority of the Obama watchers have yet to make their minds about Obama. On the other hand, as Mr. Cuneyt Ulsever argued recently, many veteran Turkish foreign commentators already have given absolute verdicts on Obama with a mere 2 day of pleasantries.

Not everyone was happy in America with Obama’s foreign visit, as he was stating regrets over the last 8 years. Many analysts in Washington, DC, called Obama’s Europe tour as “the Apology Tour” and displayed their irritation over these apologies. Obama also seemed to have disappointed the Armenian diaspora since he didn’t mention ‘genocide’ while he was asked during the press conference in Ankara. Hundreds of Armenian bloggers and threads went berserk after the press meeting. Though, Obama said his views are not changed over the issue and for people who can read between the lines, this stance enclosed an obvious implication. That did not bother anyone; and now everyone plucks the petals off a daisy one by one whether Obama will actually utter the word this week.

 I joined a discussion which was titled ‘the Islamic Resistance’ at the New America Foundation, bipartisan think tank in Washington DC, last week. Mr. Alastair Crooke, founder of the Conflicts Forum – an international movement that engages with Islamist movements broadly made a long presentation on the topic and talked on today’s Middle East.

Mr. Crooke, who has been living in Beirut for years, said that today’s Islamic World is alienated into 2 divisions: the resistant and US-ally countries. And interestingly enough, Mr. Crooke put Turkey into the resistant countries division along with Syria, Iran and a couple of other North African states. I asked him to elaborate this labeling; Mr. Alastair responded: “Yes, I would put Turkey in the orbit of Syria. It is basically a shared view [between these countries] on the region. I think that Turkey became a pivotal country in terms of shifting its perspective, and certainly Gaza played a big part of it.” And yes, the trip was made to win Turkey back, he affirmed. Right about the time that the hot debate of ‘losing Turkey’ seemed to be put in rest in recent months, hearing a similar analysis from a very reputable Middle East expert, at an unrelated discussion was worth noting.

Obama’s visit, at any rate, was a good chance to reiterate Turkey’s fresh ambitions, since Turkey is becoming “a significant actor in Middle East peace making and the diplomatic space it created for itself during the US absence.” However, the Turkish foreign policy pundits also should try to level with this striving to examine Turkey in a more sophisticated context. Turkey has wasted enough time to glorify itself and lived in its unparalleled world of euphoria in the past; there is no need to affix even more of that atmosphere at this time around. 

No comments: