Friday, November 14, 2008

Thoughts on Obama

From Sevgi Akarçeşme:
Aside from such a historic change coupled with his rhetoric along the same lines, should we expect much change from the Obama administration? I do not think so. Despite his unconventionally diverse background for an American president, Obama has not followed a completely different path from his predecessors. As an alumnus of Ivy League schools Columbia and Harvard, he gained a similar world outlook as a "WASP" (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Not do only his education and training make Obama of the same kind, but he also started building his political career at a local level in accordance with the "rules of the game." After all, as political scientist Louis Hartz argues, Americans seeks the "same estate" and make a choice among liberals only.

Although Obama's background and his early exposure to the rest of the world might give him a better understanding of the "other," his first choice for senior staff hints that not much will change in the course of US policies.

. . . .

As far as Turkish-American relations are concerned, there is no doubt that at least a different mood will mark the new era. Notwithstanding the constants of American foreign policy, we might expect the new administration to be at least more open to dialogue. It is public knowledge that mutual mistrust and frustration determined the tone of US-Turkish relations in the post-March 1, 2003, era despite periodic efforts to mend fences. From the end of the Cold War until that date, there was already a need for a redefinition of relations as the assumptions of the Cold War era coupled with the complacency that they brought about disappeared. The relations were no longer on "automatic pilot," but in the lost years of the 1990s, Turkey was overly occupied with domestic tensions in the absence of a stable government let alone a visionary leader to draw up a new framework for US-Turkish relations.

With the adoption of a proactive foreign policy in the 2000s, Turkey began to seek a leadership role in the region while trying to reduce problems with its neighbors. In addition to emphasizing the already well-known yet unique features of its identity (being the only secular Muslim country in such a strategic and troubled region of the world), Turkey wanted to assume the role of an arbiter in the most contentious matters in the Middle East. Considering the never-ending domestic tensions and the struggle to constitute the primacy of civilian politics at home, Turkey might not have had an upper hand. Yet, despite its domestic chains, Turkey has not quit its efforts to be a more active player in the region. In a way, these efforts paid off when Turkey was elected a temporary member to the United Nations Security Council.

It seems that an American administration that would avoid military means as much as possible and prefers diplomacy and dialogue over pre-emption would be much easier to cooperate with for Turkey. Although Turkish society was overly focused on Obama's stance on the Armenian question, when looked at a macro level, a proactive Turkey that targets zero problems with its neighbors is likely to have a broader overlap of interests with the Obama administration than with the neocons. Having said that, I do not suggest ignoring the Armenian issue. Yet, we have to acknowledge that this issue has almost a public relations dimension. Unfortunately, because of decades of poor lobbying, we seem to be losing the hearts and minds of the international community in that respect. Rather than seeking the support of the US president regardless of his convictions, we have to have a long-term strategy of changing the public opinion in the first place. In such a framework, it is clear that Turkey's move to ameliorate the relations with Armenia was a constructive step that will give us leverage in such a touchy subject.

No comments: