President Obama and the Middle East

1 February 2015
Five speeches delivered by President Obama are important to understanding his approach to the Middle East. These are:
• Remarks to the Turkish Parliament (6 April 2009),
• Remarks at the Cairo University where he addressed Moslem countries (4 June 2009),
• Statement on US strategy to defeat ISIL (10 September 2013),
• Address the United Nations General Assembly (24 September 2013) and,
• Remarks at the US Military Academy Commencement Ceremony (28 May 2014).

The President arrived in Turkey after attending a G20 summit in London, a NATO summit in Strasbourg and an EU summit in Prague. In other words, this was his first bilateral visit abroad.

The following paragraph from the speech he delivered before the Turkish Grand National Assembly reflected the purpose of the visit:
This morning I had the great privilege of visiting the tomb of your extraordinary founder of your republic. And I was deeply impressed by this beautiful memorial to a man who did so much to shape the course of history. But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Atatürk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy, and that is the work this assembly carries on today…”

The message: Turkey, with its secular democracy has set an example for the Islamic world. Turkey should continue this path, and others should follow.

Would he travel to Ankara to deliver a similar message today? I don’t believe so because “Atatürk’s legacy” which he referred to with such praise is now called “the interval”.

Here are key quotes from President Obama’s other four speeches:
“The United Stets is not and will never be, at war with Islam…”
“I have come to seek here (Cairo) a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world… I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight…There must be a sustained effort…”
“Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible… “
“…there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others… elections alone do not make true democracy.”
“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known… the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland… the only solution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”
“The richness of religious diversity must be upheld…Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together…”
“I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan…”
“…I do not believe in military action – by those within Syria, or by external powers – can achieve lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any other nation should determine who will lead Syria – that is for the Syrian people to decide…
“I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and I believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of America’s resolve in the region… the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, and accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to de enough to solve the region’s problems, and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations…”
“Real breakthrough on these two issues – Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace – would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa…”
“Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests. But we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals…”
“A new century has brought no end to tyranny. In capitals around the globe — including, unfortunately, some of America’s partners — there has been a crackdown on civil society. The cancer of corruption has enriched too many governments and their cronies, and enraged citizens from remote villages to iconic squares…”

I read President Obama’s last State of the Union Address as confirmation of the foregoing.

I believe his words and deeds match, the exception being the intervention in Libya.

US military involvement in the fight against ISIS may be growing because eight years of earlier investment in the structuring and training of Iraqi Armed Forces proved to be a dismal failure. Still, Obama’s resistance military intervention as a first resort is important to redeeming the moral leadership which has meant so much to US foreign policy in the past. Remember that the late King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, a friend of the US, called the invasion of Iraq “an illegal occupation”.

Mr. Obama has two misfortunes. First, he inherited the legacy of Iraq. Second, the countries of the region, including America’s friends, are currently engaged in a sectarian war which does not befit the 21st century. And, none of them are able to rise above the problem. So nobody should blame the President if he were to work with Iran on America’s core interests.


About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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