Saturday, April 11, 2009

President Obama: From Principles to Pragmatism

I think President Barack Obama made a masterful first foray into International politics and International relationships last week during his maiden voyage to the G20 Conference and tour of selected European nations.

Oh sure, conservative commentators and bloggers have quibbled over a nuance here or a bow, dip and nod there, but I think President Obama represented our nation well. I predict he will continue to do well on the International stage.

But this morning, Scott Simon, National Public Radio's premier essayist and host of Saturday Weekend Edition, discussed a compromise President Obama had to make, or perhaps chose to make during his visit to Turkey. While I'll bet this decision received wide coverage in many Turkish and Armenian communities, I hadn't heard it mentioned as part of the national news coverage.

I genuinely don't believe Simon was being critical of the President. Simon made it clear that Presidents must make compromises in the real world of governing, but Scott Simon was clearly saddened that Obama didn't follow through on a very important campaign promise.

It is very worthwhile to read Simon's entire essay. It is even better to listen to it. You can do one or both at this link:
'Genocide' Is A Matter Of Opinion

Below are a few, selected quotes:

When President Obama was beginning his run for office, he said he believed the 1915 slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey was not war but genocide and that the American people deserved "a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides."

But when Obama addressed the Turkish parliament this week, he referred only to "the terrible events of 1915."

Now, Obama may feel that it is more important for the United States to win Turkey's cooperation on a range of issues than it is for him to be consistent on a controversy that may seem like old history.

But it's not. Almost every year, the Turkish government has charged reporters and writers, including the Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk, for "insulting national identity" by referring to the massacres of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide.

A country that spends millions of dollars a year in an effort stop the facts about the Armenian genocide from being known and that persecutes and prosecutes its own citizens for speaking truthfully about the extermination of the Armenians is hardly a government to trust to broker honest and just foreign policy.

In a way, the president's choice to say "killings" in front of his hosts may remind us that it might be wise to regard what any politician says as the words of a suitor who coos "I love you" during courtship. They mean it in the moment. But any adult should know that they may not mean it in just a few weeks.


Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

This is a tough one. While I generally applaud Obama for his pragmatism/diplomacy, sometimes you just have to speak the truth to people, even when it's uncomfortable for them.

Chris said...

If you call going to a major summit with a list of items you wish to acquire and coming back with none of them a success, then yes, it was a rousing one. The Europeans now know that Obama can be manipulated. Instead of the hated cowboy Bush who acted with or without approval from his peers, and who insisted on policy that the Europeans did not wish to see implemented, they now can work with Obama, who will apparently defer to their sensibilities when crafting U.S. policy.

I seem to recall a resolution in the last couple of years pushed by Pelosi et al that insisted in rubbing Turkey's nose in their guilt over the Armenian genocide, which seemed to have no purpose other than to irritate and alienate the Turks while enhancing their own self-esteem. The Turks have made it abundantly clear that they are not going to discuss this subject coherently. Referring to it while in country shows a poor grasp of cultural relations and astonishing arrogance. I'm sure he thought that if he gave them a stern lecture on the subject, that they would come around. He confuses his personal appeal with leverage in realpolitik. This man is dangerous.

the WIZARD, fkap said...

Chris: Reread my post, or better yet, follow the link to Scott Simon's commentary. I think you've misunderstood Obama's actions and words. If I'm reading your comment above you are actually strongly endorsing Obama's behavior before the Turkey Parliment.

Chris said...

I misunderstood your post. My bad.

He's still dangerous, though.