The US presidential election and Turkey
Despite brave attempts by the Turkish media to draw attention to the upcoming presidential election in the US, there is little interest in next week's election here.
Part of it is due to the heavy domestic agenda, but part of it is due to the Turkish belief that nothing will change vis-à-vis Turkey regardless of who wins next Tuesday.

Four years ago, this was not the case. Barack Obama stirred considerable attention throughout the globe with the expectation that he would correct the many excesses committed during the Bush era. Most of that excitement has subsided, and it is difficult to describe in a nutshell what the Obama presidency actually meant. True, he has had to grapple with one of the most challenging economic crises the US has seen. True, the US political system is bitterly divided and is no longer the land of compromise. Yet, there was something missing in the Obama presidency that few can describe.

Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, the fact is that many Turks gauge US presidents on how they treat the Palestinian question and the larger Muslim world. This has much to do with the foreign policy emphasis of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on the Middle East and the Muslim world. In the old days, it would be the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) issue or the Armenian issue that would shape Turkish perceptions of US presidents. While such issues still carry significance, they no longer occupy center stage in public perceptions. I underline public perceptions here. While there is some concern about the neo-conservatives around presidential candidate Mitt Romney, most Turks are not losing sleep over this and tend to believe in the educating nature of holding presidential responsibility. If Obama is re-elected, the current government in Turkey will be relieved, as it sees Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's personal relationship with President Obama as a guarantee in maintaining good relations. As they say in Washington, the best lobbyist in Washington is the White House!

There are also some problematic areas that pertain to the Syrian crisis as well as other issues in the Middle East. First of all, it is becoming increasingly clear in Ankara that US policy on Syria is unlikely to change even after the election. Turkey's current policy adjustments are a testament to that recognition. Second, there are tremendously complicated issues awaiting Turkey, such as relations with Iraq, the whole of the Kurdish question -- both domestic and regional -- and the continuing turmoil in Syria. Friction over how to deal with intelligence issues surrounding the PKK question have already surprised many in Washington. Iran will continue to loom as a challenge for as long as it continues with its nuclear program.

Surprisingly little attention has been extended to the Armenian issue in this presidential race. A potential crisis awaiting Turkish-American relations will be the commemoration of the Armenian tragedy in 2015. The new president will have to grapple with an unhappy Turkish government on this issue. Given the intensity of the race, I would not be surprised if Romney promises to recognize the "Armenian genocide" this week. Obama has already demonstrated how he will deal with the issue. Not much would change there, but the possibility of Obama being more forthcoming on this issue in 2015 cannot be totally excluded.

If Romney wins, the tension between Turkey and Israel could take on a different nature. I predict that a Romney administration would urge Turkey to agree to an Israeli solution to the current impasse. Needless to say, this would strain bilateral relations.

Next Tuesday, the American people will elect a new president. Whoever wins the race is likely to continue to the gradual withdrawal of the US from the Middle East. Apart from its unwavering support for Israel, the US will seek to manage its gradual shift of attention to the Pacific. What that means for Turkey and the region remains to be seen.

Last Modified: 2012-11-01 10:00:02
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