ANALYSIS / Obama speech in Turkey heralds end of 'axis of evil' era
U.S. president uses visit to Turkey to repair his country's image in Muslim world.
Turkey could relax on Monday. United States President Barack Obama not only knew the names of the country's best basketball players and how to say "yes" in the local language - he also knew what not to say.
For example, Obama knew not to brand the mass murder of Armenians beginning in 1915 as a "genocide," making do instead with the description "terrible events." This sensitive obstacle, which has long threatened Turkey's relations with Washington, was treated with caution by Obama, but not before he had obtained a promise from Turkey to improve its relations with Armenia.
Obama, in contrast to declarations he made before he was elected, has chosen to follow the policy of his predecessors by picking a conciliatory strategy toward Turkey rather than one involving ethical complexities. As the U.S. shifts its focus from Iraq to winning the war in Afghanistan, the alliance with Turkey and dialogue with Iran are essential components in implementing this program. The Armenians will just have to sit and wait in the meantime.
Iran, meanwhile, received an additional invitation from Obama on Monday to "play its rightful role in the community of nations," in other words telling it to become an equal among equals. But Obama refrained from stipulating in his speech that Iran should stop its uranium enrichment program, referring explicitly only to nuclear weapons. "No one is served by the spread of nuclear weapons," Obama said, hinting also at Israel's potential nuclear capabilities.
The repairing of relations with Turkey following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq - when Turkey refused to allow American forces to use its territory as a base for launching attacks - also presents an opportunity to fix America's broken image in the Arab and Islamic world. It appears that the era of dividing states along "moderate and "extreme" lines and between good Islam and "the axis of evil" is over.
According to Obama, America's strategic relations with Islamic states can not solely rely on joint opposition to Al-Qaida, but must also be supported by other shared interests and mutual respect. This is, perhaps, the most significant strategic change that Obama has offered as part of his solution to the deterioration of the U.S. position in the region during the Bush era. Obama deliberately left the section about Muslim states in his speech until the end so that it would be remembered.
Obama, who was on his first visit as president to a Muslim state, also sent a sharp and clear message to Israel and the Palestinians. He said that the roadmap peace plan, the Annapolis process and especially the principle of two states for two people are still valid, even if the new Israeli government does not see itself as bound by Annapolis.
The president also outlined a collision path that is expected between Washington and Jerusalem if Israel wants to shirk away from those agreements. Those words were also directed at Hamas, which Obama won't see as a suitable partner for talks if it does not also adopt the principles that the Palestinian Authority has already agreed to.