Setting a Tone for Deepening and Broadening a Strong Bilateral Relationship
President Barack Obama visited Turkey to accomplish several goals at once:
·To remind Turks, Americans and the world of the existing strength of Turkish-American relations and build on this foundation;
·To renew and rebuild upon the strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey;
·To win the hearts and minds of the Turkish People – and, especially the young; and
·To draw the attention of the world and his own country that Turkey occupies a critical geopolitical place in its region and throughout the world.
As President Obama clearly framed at the outset of his historic speech to the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, “Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together – and work together – to overcome the challenges of our time.” Speaking at a preceding joint press conference together with Turkish President Abdullah Gül in Ankara, President Obama reaffirmed that point, saying his visit was a “statement about the importance of Turkey, not just to the United States, but to the world.” Also, his strong and vocal support during his overseas trip of Turkey’s admission into the European Union sent an important message of friendship to the Turkish people.
As former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said in an April 6 interview with CNN, Obama's visit to Turkey is an "important step for the president." Cohen added that "Turkey is a very important country -- one of our critical members of NATO. They play an important role in helping to support troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They will hopefully play a role in helping to bring about a Middle East peace settlement."
Indeed, Turkey’s foreign policy reflects its position as a geopolitical “bridge”, as Turkey is proactively exploring opportunities for reconciliation and cooperation with many disparate parties around the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central and South Asia, and Europe. But it was President Obama who also showed his intention to be a bridge builder, a role that won him praise and admiration across Turkey and beyond.
Not every issue President Obama addressed elicited a positive response from the Turkish people – namely, the events of 1915. But his remarks suggested that he understands the sensitivity of this issue to Turkey. He was careful to avoid paternalism and he advocated for a constructive approach in debating the issue. It is hoped that any further steps on this issue, either by the President or Congress, will bear in mind its great importance to Turkey and steer clear of undoing the goodwill President Obama generated with his visit.
President Obama clearly understands that Turkey has a unique capacity to show the world how to build bridges between cultures and nations. His words at the end of his speech at the Turkish Grand National Assembly were a reminder of Turkey’s great potential and unique standing:
“I know there are those who like to debate Turkey's future. They see your country at the crossroads of continents, and touched by the currents of history. They know that this has been a place where civilizations meet, and different peoples come together. They wonder whether you will be pulled in one direction or another.
“But I believe here is what they don't understand: Turkey's greatness lies in your ability to be at the center of things. This is not where East and West divide -- this is where they come together. In the beauty of your culture. In the richness of your history. In the strength of your democracy. In your hopes for tomorrow.”
President Obama’s visit has built upon a strong foundation of strategic partnership between the U.S. and Turkey that is poised to deepen and expand in the years to come.