THE AMERICAN PROMISE 'OBAMA'
By Mustafa Gokcek

Today's Zaman
Sept 3 2008
Turkey

It was set to be a historic speech long ago. The Democratic Party's
nomination acceptance speech was scheduled to be on the 45th
anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech.

When it became clear that Barack Obama would be chosen as the first
black presidential nominee of a major party in American history, it was
in the minds of many that Obama was King's dream coming true. However,
rather than associating himself closely with King and the black rights
movements, Obama rightly chose to appeal to all Americans and picked
the overarching theme of his speech as "the American promise."

The four-day Democratic National Convention was organized
as a festival, much like a concert, as well as a political
event. Performances by famous singers, old and new, and speeches by
established Democratic leaders, including Ted Kennedy, the Clintons,
Al Gore and the Kings were accompanied by testimonies from people
on the street. Each speaker made sure to emphasize Democratic unity,
show strong support for and confidence in Obama and harshly attack the
Bush administration and McCain. Obama took the stage on the last day
as the last speaker, and his speech was as inspiring and as powerful
as any other Obama speech. Despite the live coverage on 10 commercial
networks reaching over 40 million viewers, almost 85,000 people
gathered in Mile High Stadium (all these numbers setting records in
US political history) as proof of their eagerness to support Obama,
and many among them burst into tears of joy and excitement as they
witnessed this momentous event.

The enthusiasm of Democratic voters and their appeal to the larger
public reached its peak.

The convention aimed to accomplish several goals. One of the primary
goals was to unite the Democratic Party, which was torn apart during
the long nomination contest between Hillary Clinton and Obama. Just
as the Clintons fought hard and long against Obama, now it was their
duty to put the house in order. More influential than Hillary Clinton's
acclamation was Bill Clinton's excellently laid out declaration that
"Obama is ready to lead!" These speeches ended any remaining doubts
about the Democratic Party's unity behind Obama. The convention did
end the clash between Obama and Clinton, not only officially, but in
reality as well.

Attacking and discrediting McCain was another goal throughout the
convention. The main and common point of criticism directed at McCain
was that his presidency would be "more of the same." He was equated
with Bush in every way possible and his presidency with the third
term of George W. Bush. Considering the low popularity of the Bush
administration it was an effective approach in attacking McCain. The
newly chosen vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden mentioned McCain's
wrong foreign policy choices, such as his support for the war in Iraq,
and repeated relentlessly, "McCain was wrong, Obama was right." Obama,
giving in to the criticism that he was not harsh enough on his opponent
and compromising his pledge not to lead a negative campaign, bashed
McCain openly, clearly and severely. He sarcastically exposed McCain's
disconnectedness from the ordinary citizen, brought up the fact
that McCain voted with Bush 90 percent of the time and successfully
connected it to his motto of change: "I don't know about you, but I
am not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change."

Another major goal that dominated the convention program was the
appeal to non-Democrats. In order to accomplish this goal the Democrats
invited ordinary people to speak at the convention, who brought up the
difficulties they faced in their daily lives and how they believed
Obama to be their hope for change toward a better future. These
real life stories touched on the shortcomings of the health insurance
system, jobs moving overseas and increasing unemployment, difficulty in
finding scholarships and loans for education and the lack of government
support for the needy. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower's
daughter made a speech titled "Not as a Democrat or Republican, but
as an Independent," and stressed the unity of the American people,
behind Obama, of course. More important than the others were several
converts from the Republican line to the Democratic who made a strong
case of why a Republican, too, can support Obama.

>>From the very beginning of the campaign Obama consistently endeavored
to go beyond the party lines and reach out to the independents and
Republicans that are neither pleased with the current administration
nor hopeful of a McCain leadership. Obama rightly learned from
historical experience where crossing party lines increased the
chances of winning and brought long-lasting strength to the party
and the president. "Reagan Democrats" and Clinton's concept of
"new Democrat" with a Republican flavor refer to the efforts by the
former nominees to find and emphasize common ground between the two
party policies and appeal to the followers of the rival party. Obama,
modeling his speech on Reagan's 1980 and especially Bill Clinton's
1992 acceptance speeches, made sure to focus his criticism on McCain's
personal approach rather than despising long-time Republicans. This
is one reason why, despite his several references to King's speech,
the central theme of Obama's speech was not one on King's dream
coming true, but a phrase that emphasized Obama's attempt to unite
all Americans: the American promise.

Obama and Turkey

The US presidential race is reflected in the Turkish media almost
solely on the basis of the candidates' views on the Armenian
allegations. Turkey's perspective of the US and the presidential
elections should not be hijacked by the Armenian issue. Regardless of
whom the president of the US is or will be, the Armenian question and
its influence on US-Turkey relations is an issue that Turkey has had to
deal with over a long period of time and at various levels, including
political, historical, social and cultural. Thus, independent of the
presidential elections or the US government's closeness to Turkey,
Turkey has to develop a long-term strategy to first contain and then
remove the effects of Armenian allegations involving Turkey in the
international arena. Furthermore, US-Turkey relations are based on
stronger pillars of mutual interest that from both Turkish and US
perspectives should reduce the centrality of the Armenian issue in the
perception and evaluation of each other. Therefore, when evaluating
the US presidential elections, the Turkish perspective should be more
concerned with the role of the US in international politics in an
increasingly multi-polar world, the US involvement in the Middle East
and the economic stability in the US rather than what each candidate
says on the Armenian issue.

Republican campaigns to discredit Obama with false accusations have
influenced the Turkish public as well. One question should be made
clear: While Obama's father is a Muslim from Kenya, Obama himself is
not a Muslim. He was raised Christian and has expressed his faith quite
explicitly on numerous occasions. However, there is no indication to
support the speculation that he will discriminate against Muslims or
foreigners living in the US. Quite the contrary, historically, the
Republicans have been more hawkish in foreign policy, especially as a
result of their intimate relations with the big arms and oil companies.

In 1961, at the end of his tenure as president, Eisenhower addressed
the American nation and warned them of a possible future threat to
the freedoms in the US: "In the councils of government, we must guard
against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or
unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the
disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Only
an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing
of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our
peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper
together." Eisenhower's historic Farewell Address points out the
ever increasing influence of the military-industrial complex on the
American policy-making processes.

The Republican idealism to "fight evil" and expand democracy, combined
with support for big corporations including the arms industry have
traditionally led to aggressive foreign policy moves. During the Cold
War this worked better for Turkey, which gained higher strategic
significance against the Soviet Union. However, as the perception
of threat moved away from communism and focused more on the Middle
East, an aggressive US foreign policy has proven to create serious
complexities for Turkey.

The direct implication of Obama's stance in foreign policy is what
he defended from very early on: pull out of Iraq and refocus on
Afghanistan. In an attempt to avoid criticisms that a quick withdrawal
might cause the collapse of the Iraqi government and embarrass the
US, he added the word "responsibly" and assured his audience that he
would do whatever necessary for the security of the US. However the
starting point and most significant aspect of his stance is still to
put diplomacy first and not hesitate to talk with the enemy, something
which the Bush administration has refused to do with Iran until very
recently. In his acceptance speech, too, Obama made it clear that
he will "renew tough and direct diplomacy with Iran and Russia" and
"build new partnerships." This perspective is certainly more in line
with the recent Turkish foreign policy initiatives, which indicate
an active diplomatic involvement in regional issues.

It is true that there is a chance Obama's actions might not follow
his words. But when his alternative, McCain, promises a continued
and expanded war in the Middle East, why can't we hope for the change
Obama promises?