The Campaign Spot

Obama Addresses the Turkish Parliament

This morning, President Obama addressed the Turkish parliament.
It was somewhat refreshing to see an Obama speech not punctuated with applause every two sentences and getting a relatively stone-faced reception. (Most of the parliament was listening through translation, obviously.)  The Turks, I suspect, are a little less wowed by rhetorical flourishes about hopes for tomorrow, and reaching together for the joint future, while the speaker remembers to note that his clean-energy plans won’t make the various Turkish oil and natural-gas pipeline projects obsolete.
Interestingly, President Obama compared the condition of Kurds in Turkey to the condition of African-Americans in the U.S. “not too long ago.” It will be interesting to see if that comparison rankles with the Turkish public, as the Turkish government claims that PKK-related violence has killed 30,000 in recent decades. He did, later in the speech, denounce the PKK, in reference to Iraq. A lot of Turks aren’t inclined to give the Kurdish communities the benefit of the doubt.
He avoided using the word “genocide” to describe 1915 slaughter of Armenians, which was wise if he wanted to emerge from the parliament in one piece. However, Dan Riehl reminds us that this violates another campaign pledge. Expiration date achieved.
Beyond that, I note that as usual, Obama depicted the U.S. relationship with its ally as straining the moment Bush took office, and that a new golden era is beginning with his ascension to the presidency. From firsthand experience . . . balderdash. It didn’t take long for the Turks to recognize that the Iraq War meant a changed reality on their border, and that they would have to adjust to it; in fact, they’ve had several incursions across the border to target PKK camps in recent years. Relations gradually and steadily improved from an abysmal low after the Iraq invasion, and government-to-government relations were better when I left in 2007 than when I arrived in 2005.
Beyond that, it is hard to overstate the paranoia that is mainstream in Turkish political culture: I suspect that the old conspiracy theories of President Bush secretly plotting an invasion of Turkey will soon be replaced by new conspiracy theories of President Obama secretly plotting an invasion of Turkey.
The problems between the U.S. and other countries are more than just a personality dispute of President Bush and world leaders – they stem from differing interests. Turkey is no exception.


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