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Obama asked Turkey to dance. But, is Turkey ready?
Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States of America (USA) came to Turkey at the last stop of his Europe travel. It is possible to attach a number of meanings to this visit; however, we believe that there is a single objective: to make damage control. After the Bush administration dominated by unilateral decisions, the top priority in the US agenda is fixing the damages in the relations between allies. Therefore, damage control for Turkish-American relations was initiated with the visit of Obama to Turkey. And it started with a quite healthy offer. Let us see what is that offer.
How must Turkey approach Obama's Turkey visit? We observe to extreme ends in the approach to the issue. The first is the "There must be something behind this" approach. Here, the dominant feeling is suspicion. It is a skepticism full of questions like "Wait and see what is behind this. Why are they humoring every issue? I wonder what they will ask from us this time." And the second extreme is the "Turkey is an important country in the region" approach. This approach argues that "Since Turkey is an important country in the region; it is inevitable that the US will ask Turkey's approval when designing policies for the region." Under such an approach, the purpose of the visit is to prepare or get the approval of Turkey for a policy framework already designed in the US. Therefore, though appears to be different, both approaches are based on a common hypothesis. And the said hypothesis is wrong. The speech Obama delivered at the Parliament shows that currently there is no framework Turkey will approve or be forced to approve.
This is the first point: Foreign policy framework of the Obama administration is not yet shaped. And the second point: Policy framework is yet at the stage of formation; however, there observed a new approach to the style of policy design. And the existing offer mentioned above is related exactly to this change of approach. That the USA carried out bilateral military operations in the region without paying regard to any other party is an integral part of the current problem. The problem Obama has to manage stemmed from the unilateral US operations in the region. This is valid for both Iraq and Afghanistan. It was an erroneous decision not paying regard to countries of the region. The thing that made Obama say "You cannot put out fire with flames" and emphasize the tasks to complete with means beyond military power was the unilateral "I did it; that's it" policies. And it is a good thing that this approach will change. This is the second point to make.
A point Obama underlined in this speech at parliament was significant with respect to methodology. Obama stated that "the problems of the regions can be solved in the region with the dynamics of the region". This points out a change in approach, and this is important. Turkey is in this sense an important country. This is so for two reasons. President Obama also referred to the first reason and underlined that Turkish democracy was developed through Turkey's own dynamics. This is a correct statement. In this respect, the biggest achievement of the Republic is the National Assembly. The second reason which was not touched upon by Obama is the Turkish economy which also developed through the own dynamics of Turkey. Broad and dynamic Turkish economy which covers a high-variety of activities differing from other countries in the region is the second biggest achievement of the Republic of Turkey, which is also of significance for the region. This is the third point to state.
So, how can Turkey assume a more active role in the region? Certainly by reconciling with its history and geography. This is where the importance of "to deal with the past" message delivered at the Parliament lies. Turkey already has to settle with its history and geography under the roof of the National Assembly. One aiming to be a regional power and ensure stability in the region must first have a plan on how to solve its own problems with the neighboring countries in the region. And this is the fourth point.
The last point to make is: Turkey can play an active role in the design of US policies for the region. The world has changed. In the post-Cold War period, a country can have some say in the course of the world only if it has an idea/policy on the course of the world. Turkish-American relations enhance through more active participation of Turkey in the process of joint policy design. The conclusion to be drawn here is that "It takes two to tango". If Turkey does not undertake the role that must be undertaken, there will be no strategic partnership.
Can Turkey contribute to the joint policy design process with the US? In theory, it can.
Obama's visit must be considered as an "invite to dance". This is what Obama's speech at the Parliament makes us think.
This commentary was published in Referans daily on 07.04.2009