Hellenic News of America
May 2 2009


Obama's First Trip to Europe: Five Serious Political Missteps



By defeating John McCain, the Republican Candidate for the Presidency
of the United States of America, and more so by defeating the Clintons
(we should not forget that he was running against Hillary and Bill)
during the prolonged campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination,
Barack Obama proved to his supporters and his opponents alike and
beyond any doubt that he is a very smart and competent man. His
conduct in Office during the first 100 days, especially the actions he
has taken to solve the global economic crisis and to restore the US
moral standing in the world, serve as indicators of the same fact.

After eight long years of the disastrous George W. Bush
Administration, Americans are fortunate to have at the helm of their
state-ship a man who can think comprehensively and speak clearly to
them and to the world at large. But the world as a whole and American
citizens in particular expect much from this President, whose actions
at home and abroad they will watch carefully and judge judiciously.
Even his political friends, who supported Obama from the beginning,
would not hesitate to point out to the New President any missteps that
he has taken or may take in the road ahead, as he attempts to create a
peaceful, prosperous, democratic, dynamic, united, harmonious, and
better world ecumenically.

As one of those who supported Barack Obama publically and in writing
both for the Nomination of the Democratic Party and for the Presidency
of the USA, I feel entitled and even obligated to give him publicly
and frankly my advice and my sympathetic critique regarding his first
trip to Europe and Turkey. The trip over all went very well, in my
view, for the newly elected and popular President Obama and the
competent and gracious First Lady Michelle Obama. As long as they were
together, the President of the United States made no serious mistakes
worth mentioning in dealing with the members of the G-20, the NATO
members, and the British Royalty. But things changed towards the end
of the trip and they took a turn to the worse, when Michelle returned
to America and Barack decided to visit Turkey alone.

Even in Turkey for the most part the President of the United States
kept his usual coolness in his address to the Turkish Parliament as
well as in his dealings with the diplomatic Turkish President,
Mr. Abdullah Gul, and the volatile Prime Minister, Mr. Tayyip
Erdogan. However, during his official trip to Turkey, President Obama
made five missteps, which he could and should have avoided, because
they were unnecessary moves in the wrong direction. I would like to
mention and discuss briefly each of these missteps, in hopes that my
friendly comments may be of interest or help to the President and his
advisers in planning his future trips abroad, especially to the
European Union or to the Muslim world.

First Misstep: Mustafa Kemal compared to George Washington. In my
opinion, President Obama went too far in his praise of Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk. As a head of State in an official visit to a NATO member
country, like Turkey, the President was obliged of course by the
protocol of the day to lay a wreath at the Ataturk Memorial and to
mention the man in his address to the Turkish Parliament. But for
President Obama to compare uncritically this tough Turkish Dictator
with the Founding Father and First President of the United States of
America, the honorable George Washington, was beyond his call of
duty. It was rather a-historical and un-necessary. For those who knew
the man and his horrific acts, Mustafa Kemal has had nothing in common
with George Washington, except the military title, General. Unlike
Washington, and much like Hitler or Mussolini, Kemal kept the Turkish
Presidency by force until his death. It is true that Kemal introduced
certain educational reforms, especially the introduction of the Latin
alphabet, in an effort to `secularize' and westernize this Asiatic and
Muslim country, and to separate it from its Arab neighbors. But he
also established Kemalism as a political force, which has controlled
political developments in Turkey with the support of the military for
almost a century now. Thus, President Obama's comparison of
Kemal Ataturk to George Washington might have pleased Kemal or the
Kemalists, but it would have made the latter turn is his honored
grave. His hot rhetoric in this case seems to have run ahead of the
President's usually cool head. Kemal was not Washington,
for sure!

Second Misstep: Turkey considered as a Muslim country. While he was
eager to over-praise Kemal Ataturk and his political achievement,
President Obama by advertizing his visit to Turkey as his first visit
to a `Muslim country' insulted the Turkish General, who wanted above
all to make Turkey a `secular country.' In the 1920ies this was
fashionable in Europe and the surrounding territories. Lenin and
Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler, Kemal and Tito later on, all had similar
aspirations. Of course, Kemal's secularism was nominal and superficial
for it did not affect the Muslim masses of Anatolia. However, it
provided the Kemalists and their military supporters with an ideology
to be used over the years to justify their monopoly of political power
and the militaristic interventions to keep the power in the right
hands. But these days, somehow paradoxically, the Turkish Presidency
and the Government of Turkey have been in the hands of the Islamists,
who make up the ruling Party of Justice and Development (AKP). Mr.
Obama had to please these folks too. So, he remembered that Turkey is
a Muslim country and, given his Muslim roots, he felt proud for the
privilege to visit Turkey too in his first trip to Christian Europe.
The point here is this, if Turkey is still a Muslim country, in spite
of Kemal Ataturk's strenuous efforts to m ake it a `secular country,'
then the General must have failed in his political project and,
therefore, did not deserve all that praise he received from President
Barack Obama. Apparently, he thinks that Turkey belongs in the EU and
wants the Europeans to take a note of his personal wishes and act
accordingly.

Third Misstep: Turkey willed into the EU. President Obama repeatedly
and publically, but rather un-diplomatically, declared that he wanted
to see Turkey as a full member of the European Union. This declaration
was meant to please the Muslim Turks, to be sure, and to make them
willing to provide help to American troupes in their way out of Iraq,
as they were not willing to help them get into that country. In 2003,
the Government of Turkey was again in the hands of the Islamists Gul
and Erdogan, but refused to allow the US to open a Northern frond into
Iraq. Turkey as a NATO member at that critical moment failed the test
of loyalty, and this cost the US dearly in treasure and blood of its
brave solders. In spite of this infidelity, President Obama and his
Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, wand to press the Europeans to
accept Turkey as a full member of their yet young and fragile European
Union. The Europeans, of course, have different views on this issue,
especially the Germans and the French are adamant in their opposition
to the Turkish membership. It is not surprising then that Mr. Sarkozy
reminded the American President that the EU membership is a matter for
the Europeans to decide carefully. The question, then, inevitably
arises: Does President Obama believe that Turkey, an Asiatic and
Muslim country in its overwhelming majority really belongs to the
European Union culturally and politically? Even if it is perhaps
strategically expedient for the US to have Turkey in the EU to be used
as a potential second Trojan horse (the first is the UK) to control
political development towards complete unification of the EU, the
American President could have been more tactful and diplomatic on this
thorny political issue at this time. He may hope that the Turks will
remember this favor, but he should not bet much on their loyalty, in
light of their earlier behavior regarding Iraq.

Fourth Misstep: Armenian genocide was conveniently forgotten. As the
Democratic candidate for the Presidency, Mr. Obama pledged to the
Armenians and other Democratic American citizens that as President of
the USA, if elected, he would do the right thing regarding the
Armenian genocide, that is, recognize it with its rightful name,
`genocide.' The elected President Obama, while addressing the Turkish
Parliament, had an excellent opportunity to advice the NATO allies and
EU aspirant Turks to come clear regarding this earliest `ethnic
cleansing' of the 20th century, but he missed it. Admittedly, it would
have been a little awkward to mention the `Armenian genocide' in a
political speech meant as a eulogy of Kemal Ataturk, who was a
protagonist of that historic and horrific event as well as in the
Greek expulsion from the Asia Minor. But the historical truth must be
recognized and be accepted by all those who desire to build a better
future for the Middle East and the world. Mr. Obama campaigned on the
promise of change and honesty, and was elected with the expectation
that he will keep his promises. Well, in this first trip to Turkey,
his promise to the Armenians and other Americans was conveniently
forgotten. We can only hope and pray that this would not become the
pattern of behavior of our newly elected President. Otherwise, the New
President would look much like the other one whom he replaced and the
American people despised and rejected at the end. He deserves better
than that, in my view.

Fifth Misstep: The Head of Ecumenical Orthodoxy Insulted. Perhaps the
most serious misstep of the American President during his first trip
to Europe, especially his visit to Turkey, was his failure to pay the
proper respect and due honor to the Head of the Orthodox Church
worldwide, His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
and New Rome. President Obama apparently yielded to the pressure of
the Islamist Government of Turkey to forego a visit to the
Patriarchate to meet with his Holiness, Mr. Bartholomew, as was
expected initially to console the Greeks and the Greek-Americans, who
had supported Mr. Obama with their votes and their dollars during the
campaign. Evidently they found it offensive that the newly elected
Democratic President with their overwhelming support had chosen to pay
a visit to Turkey, which is known for its Muslim Sultans, and
conveniently bypassed Athens, Greece, the birthplace of
Democracy. This mistake is equivalent to Obama's visiting Berlusconi
in Rome, but neglecting to meet with the Pope at the Vatican. At the
end and apparently to placate the furious Greeks, the American
President agreed to meet reluctantly with His Holiness in a hotel room
furtively and secretly for a few minutes away from the lights of
publicity, as if they were fearful and persecuted Christian Armenians
trying to avoid the menacing glances of the Turkish Sultans. What does
this kind of behavior from the Head of the only remaining Superpower,
the democratically elected President of the United States of America,
really say about democracy and openness, and honesty? President Obama
missed an excellent opportunity to tell the Turks the truth about
their aspirations of becoming a part of the European Union, the
prosperous `Christian Club' as they like to refer to it: That the only
possible road to the EU for the Turks goes through the Ecumenical
Patriarchate in the Phanar. The sooner they realize this reality the
better the prospect to overcome the European serious doubts.

Evidently, President Obama made all these missteps in his visit to
Turkey, when the First Lady was not present to protect him and perhaps
prevent him from taking the missteps. On the other hand, had she been
present, would she have to wear the Turkish headscarf to meet with
Madam Erdogan?

Dr. Christos Evangeliou is Professor of Philosophy at Towson
University, USA, and author of numerous papers and scholarly books
including the most recent, Themata Politica: Hellenic and
Euro-Atlantic.

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