9 Nisan 2009 Perşembe

Obama’s Visit to Turkey: A New Beginning for Both Countries

The visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Turkey created a wave of excitement in the country. The visit is in general evaluated as successful for both of the countries. In the process of reconstructing American hegemony in the world, Turkey was one of the stops on the President’s list. After sending off Obama to Iraq, Turkey is talking about the meaning of his cleverly prepared speech given in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) word by word and the future relationship between the two countries. In a country like Turkey, which has a Muslim-dominated population but is secular in constitution; is in the Middle East but also has non-Arab roots; is paving the way to enter the European Union; and is increasing its voice in the last summits; it was very well-received speech because of the parallelisms, such as his Muslim parents and the Muslim world, the Armenian issue, and the U.S.’s history with the Native Americans. In contrast with Bush’s discourse, Obama did not mention moderate Islam, but mostly the secular and democratic character of Turkey, although his sensitivity towards Islamic values was highlighted during the visit. Touching upon Turkey’s role as a bridge, Obama said that he is ready to construct the bridge, because he overcame racial barriers in his past and has roots in different religions, drawing a parallel between himself and Turkey.

As a result of the Bush Doctrine and Bush’s policies in the region, antagonism against the U.S. increased in Turkey, although recent surveys indicate that more than half of Turks approved of Obama. Now people are debating his sincerity, and while some say he is too romantic, others argue that he is also a realist, as he has learned from the faults of his predecessors. But we see that the same characteristics of Obama that drew American citizens to vote for him also influence Turkish citizens; this is another parallel between the two countries.

It is sure that Turkey is in a place in which the U.S. has an interest. In the past Turkey was seen as having potential in its region, but in the last decade it has been using its potential to solve problems in its region, although chaos sometimes arises due to sensitive domestic issues. Although the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey is not a strategic partnership because they are not equal powers and it is an asymmetric relationship, it may be said that there is a “model partnership” between the countries.

A striking transformation has occurred in Turkey’s Middle East policies in the last decade. After many years of ignoring the region, Turkey’s turned its attention to the region’s political, social, and economic issues and increased its soft power and visibility. It was particularly concerned with the U.S.’s occupation of its neighbor, and Turkey’s position on the energy basins increased its geostrategic importance. Long years of discussions regarding the Kurdish establishment in the north of Iraq and the U.S.’s deployment in Turkey have escalated the discussions among Turkish decision makers. Today both the U.S. and Turkey want to increase the soft power elements in their foreign policy tools. As a peaceful opening to the Islamic World and keen interest in playing a role between the conflicting parties with its Islamic-rooted governmental, Turkey also wants to cooperate with the U.S.’s new approach. Although the position is advantageous for the region’s countries, its leading position may increase the feelings of rivalry between the countries’ leaders. Obama has a list of many issues to solve, beside his country’s economic troubles. Turkey is also involved in many issues with the U.S., such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the liquidation of the PKK from northern Iraq, the energy issue, the Syria-Israel talks, combating terrorism, the Caucasus, Armenia, Russia, and relations with Muslim countries.

The timing of Obama’s visit helped Turkey to enforce its relationship with the new U.S. president. The G-20 and NATO summits before the Alliance of Civilizations conference were like a preparatory stage to meeting with Turkish officials. The disagreement over Rasmussen showed again Turkey’s capacity to resist on some events. Although some European leaders perceived Turkey’s position as deliberately blocking a decision, Turkey’s resistance to a candidate like Rasmussen, who has a tarnished image due to his stance on the cartoon issue, actually contributed to its soft power in the Middle East. And Turkey’s objection to Rasmussen’s allowance of PKK-supporter Roj TV in Denmark underlined the sensitivity of the PKK issue in Turkey.

Despite Germany and France’s opposition on the European Union issue, Obama reaffirmed the U.S.’ support of Turkey’s EU accession, as have previous U.S. presidents. In the Middle East Turkey’s efforts to enter the Union is a confusing point in the minds of the people, and Turkey’s lengthy negotiations have been interpreted as futile. Although the process is long and tiring for Turkey, its duty is to explain its aims to the Middle Eastern countries and intensify its visits and relations with European leaders to revive the relations after a long period of stagnancy in the relations. The Armenian issue was another question related to Obama’s visit for Turkish foreign policy analysts looking towards the approaching date of 24 April. Although we know Obama had made some promises regarding the issue, Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s speech emphasizing the establishment of a committee to study the archives and his desire for the participation of other nations to the committee as third parties showed Turkey’s confidence on the issue and its openness towards solving the issue. When we take into consideration Obama’s personality and approach, it may be hoped that the call of the Turkish President will be evaluated.

Obama’s visit to Turkey one month after Hillary Clinton’s visit makes clear that Turkey is seen as an important actor for the newly formed U.S. government. The visit is different from Obama’s visits to other countries thus far, because Turkey is the first Muslim majority country for Obama to visit as president, and the visit is not a part of an international event. Turkey is seen as a helper after the strained relations since 2003, and the U.S. is keen to regain Turkey’s friendship in line with its theme of “making of peace with Islam,” and Turkey is aware of its role. For the Turkish government the past week’s summits and Obama’s visit, after the recent surprising results of the time-consuming local elections, provided a chance to turn to international events to define its agenda again for the future projections of its foreign policy.


USAK Center of Middle Eastern Studies (JTW)

Thursday, 9 April 2009

After Gaza Attacks: Does Arab Initiative Possible for the Middle East?

After the cease fire on 18 January, three weeks after Israeli assaults, we have enough data for an evaluation of the events. In 2006 (Israel's War on Hezbollah in Lebanon), we saw that Hezbollah was more successful than today’s Hamas –if we measure the success with the number of dead people-. Hezbollah killed 120 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians. Apart from the ideological and deeper relationship with Iran, Hezbollah won the right of veto in Parliament after its long resistance which resulted in postponement of presidential elections for 19 times. On the side of Hezbollah there were more than 1200 dead and a big damage of infrastructure in the country. To gain the veto right also shows that Hezbollah was the winner after the war. Hezbollah provided electricity to the places where even government was not able to provide electricity and big amounts of money were transferred to affected families in the war. The positive atmosphere reflected to Israel in a opposite way. Increased criticism, demonstrations against Olmert government and Winograd reports were all disclosed bad balance sheet of Lebanon war for Israel. Olmert has been waiting the February elections to leave his office as a result of Tzipi Livni’s failure to establish the government after his resignation.

When we focus today’s situation in Gaza, according to UN, the numbers of dead people is 1314 (at least three fourths are civilians) and on the Israeli side there are 9 soldiers and 4 civilians who were killed. For the war Avigdor Lieberman, chair of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), said that “it returned our national pride to us”. Here both parties are claiming that they reached to victory. Our minds are confused with the statements of Olmert and Hamas, both said they reached to victory. At the beginning, the rockets were shown as one of the main reasons of the assault by Olmert, but when the ceasefire was announced, the rockets were still being launched. Thus we know that the reason of the ceasefire was not to stop of rockets. Besides that Israel couldn’t get Gilad Schalid back.

Before the ceasefire, Hamas announced its demands for ceasefire: 6 months of ceasefire, the opening of borders, transfer of the coastal and air space control to Hamas. There were some missing points in the Saturday’s cease fire : Although Olmert said that they reached to their goal in the attacks, there is no concrete condition for the ceasefire. Although the troops completed their pulling out from Gaza, there is no statement about borders or any international negotiations. The fundamental question here is that “shouldn’t be the ceasefire between two parties?” (the same way of the peace negotiations or the last tacit ceasefire for six months). After the assault Israel believes in that it gained its dissuasiveness power again. When Israel was announcing ceasefire expectation was the convincement of Hamas by Egypt. Apart from a partner for a ceasefire, another point is the lack of an observer for the continuation of the ceasefire. In the first ceasefire both of the parties blamed each other to break the ceasefire. Another point is that a ceasefire without specific conditions will be broken by rockets or air strikes.

After all, at the end of the assaults one of the main losers is the United Nations. Its respectability has already deteriorated for years. As a cold war body, UN is not seen as an important actor in international conflicts because it proved its failure in Somalia, Ruanda, Bosnia and Palestine. The visit of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon to the region after more than two weeks of the assaults, was perceived more as an indication of good faith. Today international bodies are the ineffectiveness in the region. The US, active in the region since 1970s, has not been mediating in the region after Clinton. All these conditions enforced Israeli to wage assault when it feels insecure. In the context of human rights and law of war there has not been any deterrent decision by international bodies for any future Israeli assault.

Considering Arab countries, the approach of the countries not to participate to meeting on Palestinian issue in Qatar and to participate Kuwait meeting after two days proves the polarization among the Arab countries. Although some of the countries in Qatar called for suspension of Arab Peace Initiative except Lebanon. In the Kuwait meeting, Saudi King Abdullah said that even one drop of Palestinians’ blood is more valuable than whole money in the world. This kind of speeches was given by the Arab leaders after the announcement of the cease fire. They donated 2 billion dollar for Gaza. Israel is trying to prevent the money to go Hamas. Besides that Israeli officials are calling for refraining from accepting Hamas as a legitimate power and it wants to cut the any link with Hamas.

Saudi King accused Israel of using disproportionate power against Gaza and called for the application of Arab Initiative. Arab Initiative, which was brought into agenda in 2002 by Saudi Arabia and approved by the members of Arab League –except Jordan and Egypt as they didn’t participate to meeting-, is the first general agreement made by Arab countries against Israel. There were some conditions in exchange for the recognition of Israel and for normalization of relations with Israel. According to this decision the conditions were: withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories after June 4 1967, reach a common solution for Palestinian refugees (UN Resolution 194), establishment of an independent Palestine with its capital, East Jerusalem (Security Council Resolution 1397). The Plan is based on the land for peace principle instead of war with Israel. The Plan is coming up in each Arab League meeting and it was renewed by Saudi Arabia in 2007. Apart from the discussions on whether the Plan is dead now or not, the Plan seems as the only way for a common Arab decision on the topic since it is comprehensive and has the potential to provide solutions.

After a month of the issue of the Plan in March 2002 we witnessed Jenin massacre in Palestine. But importance of the Plan is that it was argued by most of the Arab leaders in an atmosphere of the increasing antagonism against Israel in 2002. If the leaders insist on the application of the Plan by the new Obama government it will prove that Arabs can come together to reach a common ground and they can find solutions to maintain peace in the region.


Middle East Desk – USAK

Monday, 26 January 2009