"No more English," he said. Then, another phrase popped into his mind. "I love you," he said, waved, and stepped off the bus.
The fellow in the next seat also sought to speak to me, in broken English. "Obama very good," he said. "Better than Bush...(he) never listened." Then he gestured as if Bush were pushing people away, afraid of opinions contrary to his own. "Bush an autocrat!"
These statements coming from everyday Turks in an overwhelmingly Muslim country represent, perhaps, the radical change in world perception of America's world leadership. Turkey got into a bitter argument with its longtime ally over American involvement in Turkey's next-door neighbor, Iraq. The Turks felt their knowledge and expertise were ignored by the Bush administration, and they refused to let the U.S. use Turkish soil to launch invasions of Iraq. Their primary concerns were that U.S. action in Iraq would embolden the Kurdish independence movement in Northern Iraq and Southern Turkey, disrespected Iraqi sovereignty, and would potentially destabilize the region. But in the latter days of the Bush administration, the Turks found common ground with the U.S. on the Kurdish problem.
Even so, I was warned before I arrived in Turkey that two subjects I should never bring up with strangers were George W. Bush and American actions in Iraq.
Now, with Barack Obama as president, the Turks feel they can find common ground with Americans on Iraq. They've agreed to let the U.S. use Turkish soil to transfer troops, arms and logistics out of Iraq. Under Obama administration pressure, they've agreed to open their border with Armenia, and acknowledged that genocide of Armenians may have occured between 1914 and 1918, to be determined by an "impartial scientific investigation." An elaborate signing ceremony to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia was brokered with great drama by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other diplomats in Zurich, as the BBC reported.
Today's Zaman sums up Turkish diplomats' views of Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
My initial reaction was that it was a bit premature because he hasn't had time to accomplish much in the area of peace in just nine months. But if I'd remembered what I wrote on this blog in June 2009 -- "On International Issues, So Many Hopeful Signs: An End Soon to the 'Worldwide War on Terror' and the 'Clash of Civilizations'?" -- I shouldn't be at all surprised by the peace prize for Obama.
Hagit Ofran, of Israel's dovish Peace Now movement, credits Obama for pushing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to endorse creation of a Palestinian state and consider curbs on settlements in the West Bank.
Obama's speech in Cairo, reaching out to Muslims (a sharp contrast to the go-it-alone "crusade" George W. Bush launched), was specifically cited as a reason for the award. Perhaps more tangibly, but rarely mentioned in the American press was his diplomatic efforts in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey, which encouraged the opening of the border and re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia.
Also mentioned were his
- nuclear nonproliferation speech in Prague;
- his offer of U.S. support to the developing world (tempered with a reminder that nations are responsible for their futures) in Accra, Ghana; and
- his call for global cooperation at the U.N. General Assembly.
Granted, Obama's actual achievements toward peace in the nine months he has been in office have not been many. But when President Woodrow Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919, his League of Nations proposal was an abject failure. It was Wilson's passionate commitment to international cooperation and the concept of international law that the Nobel committee recognized, and the prize fueled the movement that established the United Nations at the end of World War II in 1945.
A friend persuades me that Obama's winning the Nobel Peace Prize is not premature. He writes:
I don't think the Nobel is necessarily meant to go only to people who have achieved concrete results in advancing peace, but people who've fostered the chances of peace in one way or another by their presence. Mother Teresa, for instance, or Desmond Tutu hadn't really created peace per se, but they'd helped foster attitudes that lead to peace. I think they arguably did more and therefore were better choices than people like Yasir Arafat and the leader of North Vietnam, who supposedly had achieved concrete results but eventually showed their true colors.Among other things, I think for an American President to go to Cairo and directly challenge the people of the Middle East to understand that terrorism is contrary to human decency (and to the tenets of Islam besides), that respect for Judaism is part of human decency and that Israel has a right to exist, and that denial of the holocaust is both fallacious and malicious, is a big contribution to peace. And I think in general he's doing a lot to try to foster a peaceful world. For instance trying to get the Russians involved in standing up to Iran.