[email protected]

November 08, 2012, Thursday

Four years of opportunities

With the narrow victory of Barack Obama, it could be said that the US, as well as the world’s troubled corners, can let out a sigh of relief for the next four years.

His policies and pledges reflected an optimism that is so rare in today’s world, and given the nature of a bolder second term as president, not all but some crucial problems of the globe could be eased, if not resolved entirely.

The American electorate’s realistic, faithful and overall fair judgment to keep him in power means just that. The sense of fairness, respect for diversity, and foreign policy based on a blend of humility and empathy, which in many cases has marked his first term, was rewarded. But he has managed to demonstrate a sense of justice and equality, and dignity that provide opportunities for him to accomplish what he hopes to achieve. It is not yet clear how he will go down in the history books: The world has its eyes on him.

There are rumors that the destination of his first official visit as the “new president” will be Turkey. If proven true, this will be a good choice. Whatever defines the color and content of US-Turkish relations will inevitably come to define the destiny of a vast region, spreading from the Caucasus to Iran, and to the far end of the southern Mediterranean, whose turbulence is pregnant with unknown outcomes at the moment. It could go in any direction, and how Obama chooses to shape his new foreign policy will make it happen.

There is a to-do list. Here are some points that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s successor will have to deal with regarding Turkey. The Syrian conflict threatens to turn gangrenous. It needs to be handled with rigor and urgency. The American moves preceding the elections, exposed by Clinton’s remarks, hint at keeping a distance from a military solution or intervention in the format of a new coalition.

The proposals have only helped engender a more poisonous perception among reformist Arabs that the new architects of a Syrian opposition will be even less credible and efficient than the current ones. Here, a forceful multi-track policy that involves Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Israel and Iran will be needed; any solution involving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is over. This reality requires, without any mental restraint, a swift solution, including partition and Kosovo-like formulas.

The second point has to do with growing concerns about the security and cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean basin. All the countries, led by (Greek) Cyprus and Israel, a desperate and occasionally irrational Greek state, and an increasingly frustrated Turkey are now sending out worrisome signals about a powerful conflict area, for which, sadly, the EU has no pro-solution policy. It is an area that stands in the midst of risks and opportunities. The same applies to the Caucasus given the recent developments in Georgia.

Another matter of urgency is the leadership of Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki was a bad choice and it will prove too costly if he is allowed to turn himself into an extension of an internally divided, and thus unpredictable, Iran. A collapse of relations between Baghdad and Ankara -- which is very likely if the trend continues -- will have very dire effects for any benevolent, pro-solution vision for the region.

But, perhaps more importantly, Obama has to deepen his already good relations with Turkey’s powerful prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, not only based on a strong economy and security cooperation but also on the rather visible missing link: The two gentlemen have to be helped to enhance dialogue on the vital notion -- a historic argument -- that Turkey will be a fully democratic, internally tolerant and free, diverse and open beacon and engine for transformation in the entire region. Obama has to boost free speech and respect for dissent here, just as he has to understand why Erdoğan is so frustrated by the hypocrisy of certain aspects of the European Union.

Previous articles of the columnist