HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, prime minister of Turkey, will visit the Oval Office on Monday, Dec. 7, to have a lengthy talk with U.S. President Barack Obama. While Obama has been very busy deciding the Afghan strategy, trying to figure out a way to contain Iran, struggling to boost the ever-fragile Arab/Israeli peace process and dealing with many other grave domestic issues at the same time, I think the presence of the Turkish entourage in Washington, D.C. still ought to be paid more attention, as today's Turkey, directly or indirectly, plays a role in America's most problematic foreign areas.
Though it must be noted that Obama, not Erdoğan, is not the same popular leader that he was once, who visited Turkey in April. For example, Obama's visit to East and Central Asia a week earlier was widely criticized in the American media. Despite the fact that Obama declared himself as the "first Pacific president" while touring four different countries in the region, his visits, meetings and touring program throughout the eight-day visit attracted an extensive range of criticism. During these visits, we heard many slogans from the American president, such as “breaking the pattern of the past” to “strategic alliances.” At the end of the visit, however, the team Obama has not been able to bring any concrete achievements or breakthroughs back home.
Though it is not like it’s the first time Obama is coming home empty-handed from a foreign visit, Obama so far has not been able to make any breakthroughs on any front in foreign affairs. So the question is, why it is now that the criticisms against his dealings in foreign affairs are piling suddenly?
The reason, I think, that Obama has now started to receive heavy criticism in the international affairs arena is because Obama's extraordinary, multi-ethnical personal story is also wearing out, along with the belief in his magical journey is ending. And this grim outlook displays itself with plummeting job approval ratings, which, according to the latest Gallup polls, are now below the 50s in America. The biggest specialty of Obama, his stump speeches, which were the most visible components of his previous visits, whether in Ankara, Cairo or Ghana, were missing in his Asia visit. In Shanghai, China, Obama held a "town hall" meeting with students, who, according to the New York Times, were carefully vetted and prepped for the event by the Chinese government, and the event was not broadcasted across China, like the previous U.S. presidents' speeches.
After more than a year since Obama was elected, now the people and the pundits alike think that it is about time to ask about the campaign promises that Obama, as a presidential candidate, never shied away from giving. Rapprochement with the Iranian regime, progress on the Israeli/Arab peace process, “resetting the button” with the Russians, and in the domestic politics arena: worsening job market, overhauling the health care sector and many other issues are either progressing very slowly, on hold or stalled. While many voted for Obama because they thought as an outsider – he was only a mere two-year senator when he started campaigning for president – he could change the culture in Washington and crack the nasty Washington politics as a post-partisan and post-racial president, now their hope is also on hold.
It is not that Obama is not capable of doing the things he promised, says Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, the problem is, Friedman adds, "American system is capable of producing only sub-optimal solutions to the problems." America today cannot offer solid solutions to its health care problem, cannot revolutionize the energy technology, or change its financial sectors. America is still going through one of the deepest economic crises of its history that its very own financial sector helped to create, yet, after years of economic recession, the American Congress has not made necessary legislation to fill the gaps. It is not that America has a president who does not have a majority in the Congress or is politically against these ideas of the reform. On the contrary, America has a president who promised to solve these very problems and have a majority in both wings of the American Congress, though still has made little or no headway to pass any legislation after almost a year.
It is only a year after the presidential elections, and it is not unusual to come across TV pundits who talk about the next presidential elections in 2012 and potential candidates. One of those supposedly next presidential candidates, Sarah Palin, John McCain's vice presidential nominee in the 2008 elections, tells fairy tales to the American people, from cutting taxes further to creating new jobs, with no concrete solutions. And according to the same polls, now the gap between the likeablity of Palin and Obama has got smaller ever.
In the international arena, Obama is trying to adjust and land American superpower status to a more of a leading power status in a multi-polar world. There are still many in the press and especially in the opposition, who do not want this reality to sink in and try to stay in a constant denial. Those opposition forces will want America to act and impose orders on other nations, like nothing happened in the last decade. The American people, indeed, should be thankful that they have a president who seems to have clear understanding of the new world order.
This sobriety does not mean America is leaving the world scene and getting into the determent era. This era, is mostly adjusting America's power once more and positioning itself in a way to stay relevant and still influential with regional cooperations and partnerships. In this era, Turkey can be a great partner in the Eastern Europe/Middle East region amid its increasing profile and popularity in the Muslim world. Though, Obama must come up with more tangible offers for the pragmatic Turkish leadership rather than trying to position them to choose between the ideologies of the West and the East.
When it comes to America's domestic politics area, things are much more complicated and grim. America, with a president popular worldwide, with all the support this new president received from the American public for the last year, has not been able to solve one single big problem domestically. And amid the looming mid-elections of 2010, there are very few signs that America can solve its own problems to leap forward bolstered with its traditional innovation spirit. America already tried a unique leadership for the last year, and it did not work. Maybe it is time for the Americans to try a unique citizenship spirit to do things from the bottom to the top.