Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s parliamentary group speech on Nov. 20 included a highly delicate proclamation closely concerning his personal relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama.
In the most striking part of the prime minister’s speech, there were these words that challenged Obama and the Western world in general: “The Palestinians, deprived of their freedom, independence and their most fundamental human rights, are using their right to defense in an extremely justified manner against this occupation, against these ethnic cleansing attempts. Look, I am highlighting this: It is their legitimate right to defense. I’m appealing to the West from here; nobody can say Israel
is conducting self-defense.”
The addressee of these words is presumably Obama, who said last Sunday in Bangkok: “There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles launched by militants in the Gaza Strip landing on people’s homes.”
Erdoğan’s words constitute a significant first from his own perspective because up until now on the Western front, the prime minister had not refrained from starting arguments with European leaders or European countries, doing everything from openly criticizing them to publicly sending them harsh messages.
However, the U.S. president was a leader Erdoğan had not touched with any confrontational discourse up until today. Erdoğan has highlighted with every opportunity how much he cherishes his relationship with Obama.
But the prime minister diverted from this stance for the first time yesterday. The important aspect here is that instead of using a diplomatic style, Erdoğan used a “condescending” tone with his phrase “Nobody can say…” in which he clarifies who he is addressing, particularly Obama, on the issue of what to do and what not to do.
Also, in the same group speech, the prime minister openly complained about his friend in the White House, stating that when he showed the forensic report for Furkan Doğan, who was killed by Israeli soldiers in the Mavi Marmara flotilla attack, Obama “ignored” the report.
As a result, Erdoğan has demonstrated to the region, the international community and especially his own public that he can stand up to Obama. A highly remarkable aspect here is that the prime minister made this move a short while after his phone conversation with Obama on Friday, Nov. 16, when he declared his wish to visit the U.S.
During his chat with journalists on the plane on Sunday evening on his way back from Egypt, Erdoğan gave details of his phone talk with Obama and said: “I told him I wished to meet him face to face soon. He said: ‘I’d be glad. Let me instruct my staff, let’s plan and make this meeting happen.’ Depending on the date sent, there may be a Washington visit.”
The fact that Erdoğan, who has not withheld his wish to visit the White House from the press, shifted to a tough line in his party group 36 hours later shows that he uses dual language toward Obama.
The prime minister most probably could be calculating that the U.S. administration, because of their need for Turkey, especially in the Middle East, does not have any other option but to put up with his proclamations. He might have also calculated that Obama’s mild personality will prevent him from responding.
If Erdoğan, after this exclamation, flies to the U.S. following an official invitation from Washington, then he would have both “stood up against” Obama and further strengthened his popularity as a leader that was invited to the White House right after such an incident.
Let’s see, how will Obama respond to this proclamation by Erdoğan?
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Nov 21. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.