Obama’s friend in Turkey

US President Barack Obama with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Seoul, March 25, 2012

From David Ignatius, the Washington Post:  As President Obama was feeling his way in foreign policy during his first months in office, he decided to cultivate a friendship with Turkey’s headstrong prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Over the past year, this investment in Turkey has begun to pay some big dividends — anchoring U.S. policy in a region that sometimes seems adrift. . . .

“My prime minister sees a friend in President Obama,” says Egemen Bagis, the minister for European affairs and one of Erdogan’s closest political advisers. “The two can very candidly express their opinions. They might not always agree, but they feel confident enough to share positions. . . .”

Turks cite several other concessions made by the Turkish leader: Obama persuaded him to install a missile-defense radar system that became operational this year, upsetting Tehran. And at U.S. urging, Erdogan reversed his initial opposition to NATO intervention last year in Libya.

In playing the Turkey card, Obama has upset some powerful political constituencies at home. Jewish groups protest that Obama’s warming to Ankara has come even as Israel’s relationship with Turkey has chilled almost to the freezing point. Armenian groups are upset that Obama has soft-pedaled his once-emphatic call for Turkey to recognize the genocide of 1915. And human-rights groups complain that the United States is tolerating Erdogan’s squeeze on Turkish journalists, judges and political foes.

But as the Arab Spring has darkened, the administration has been glad for its alliance with this prosperous Muslim democracy — which it can celebrate as a beacon for the neighborhood. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s ambitious foreign minister, argues that his country is a role model for Arabs because it shows that democracy brings dignity, not chaos or extremism.

Bagis puts it this way: “There are many Muslim leaders who can go to Egypt and pray in a mosque. And there are many Western leaders who can go talk about democracy. Erdogan did both.” For Turkey these days, that’s something of a trump card. But there’s a mutual dependence. It seems fair to say that no world leader has a greater stake in Obama’s reelection than the Turkish prime minister.  (photo: Getty)

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