(Photo Credit: Dutchmetal’s photostream)
Amjad Atallah co-directs the New America Foundation/Middle East Task Force .
President Obama quoted this Turkish aphorism toward the end of his 27 minute speech before the Turkish Parliament. It was, in essence, a summation of his rejection of the policies of the previous eight years. The president provided a comprehensive overview of Middle East and Caucus politics that showed us a little bit of how he views the conflicts in the region.
And perhaps of more lasting import, Obama noted that the US is not and will not ever be at war with Islam, finally laying to rest the bastardization of the conflict of civilizations thesis promoted by so many neo-cons.
The President didn’t only rely on metaphors – he offered a concrete analysis of conflict from Cyprus and Israel/Palestine in the west to Nagarno-Karabakh and Pakistan in the east. And he admitted US weaknesses before he gently chided his hosts on their own.
First a little about that last point. Everyone hates hypocrisy – children are particularly good at noticing it in adults. Nations tend to be like that too. The President seemed to grasp that in his speech without letting anyone off the hook.
It has always seemed hypocritical in many nations around the world for the US to criticize a lack of democracy in one country while embracing it in another. Hard to criticize Turkey for not coming to terms with the 1915 killing of Armenians without admitting that the US has not come to terms with the full horrors of slavery and of the annihilation of native American nations.
On conflicts, the President tied, perhaps unconsciously, four ethnic conflicts over territory: Kurdish activity in Turkey and Iraq, the Armenian-Azeri ethnic dispute in Nagarno-Karabakh, Cypriot talks to re-unite the country into a “bi-communal federation” (as the president put it), and the US effort to partition Israeli control over both its own state and the Palestinian territory into two states “Israel and Palestine.”
On this last ethnic/territorial conflict in particular, the President seemed to want to do what few in his administration have so far been willing to – put an exclamation point on the differences between US and international interests and those in Israel who want to maintain the occupation.
He made a point of sounding fair – “The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” he said. “Both Israelis and Palestinians must take the steps that are necessary to build confidence. Both must live up to the commitments they have made.”
But he also used the future tense – noting that the creation of two states is a goal that “I will actively pursue.” For those who have noted the lack of a new implementation policy so far, that may have offered hope that one will be announced soon.
The President also tied in his now standard outreach to Iran emphasizing that Iran had a choice between seeking a weapon or economic integration. As the Financial Times noted today, this may be part of a shift in emphasis to preventing Iran’s weaponizing of its nuclear program rather than attempts to freeze its industrial (including nuclear) development.
On Iraq, he noted that the US was leaving soon and that everyone had to help to make sure that Iraq was secure and united (but he pointedly did not comment on how democratic it would have to be).
On al-Qaeda, he noted Turkey’s help in Afghanistan and emphasized the necessity of preventing the terrorist group a “safe haven” in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
This was not Obama’s “Muslim speech” we are told. But it was a good (and maybe precedent making?) speech to give in the Muslim country that has most entrenched its ties with the West while maintaining an Islamist modernizing government.
It was a pleasant juxtaposition with the embarrassing performance in Doha last week of the Arab League which applauded itself on feting Sudan’s indicted president Omar al-Bashir.
— Amjad Atallah