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ÜMİT ENGİNSOY

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ÜMİT ENGİNSOY > Romney is coming (II)

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A few months ago, when the Republicans were involved in primaries I said it would be Mitt Romney. The coming elections in November 2012 will be the first that I won’t be covering personally since 1996. Since that time, some of my personal candidates have failed. But every time, a few months before the election, my hunches told me who would be elected, and I was never wrong.

The same hunch this time tells me that it will likely be Romney who will be elected this time. In Turkey, many people believe it’s almost a given fact that Barack Obama, the current Democratic president, will be reelected in November, and that this is a done deal. This is simply wrong. Obama now only has equal chances with Romney, and I expect Romney to become a front runner soon. Let me tell you why.

Former president George H.W. Bush famously used to talk about the “Big Mo,” meaning big momentum. This Big Mo is changing now, and not in the direction of Obama. To say that the election will revolve around foreign policy matters is wrong, it’s the economy, or in the words of former president Bill Clinton, “it’s the economy, stupid.” And the economy is not faring well. About half of the 8 million who lost jobs during Obama’s first term are still unemployed. For the first time in May, Romney collected more campaign money than Obama, an important indication that big business is behind Romney. The liberal enthusiasm is gone, or replaced by a conservative one.

OK, many people say Romney is a Mormon, and can’t be elected when his belief if considered a perverse sect by mainstream Christians. But the Americans last time elected a black man president, so why can’t it be a Mormon this time?

Then there is the factor of “the birthers,” who claim that Obama was not born in the United States, a prerequisite under U.S. law to become the president, but in Kenya. Recent polls suggest that one-fourth of Americans support this conspiracy theory, and a similar figure suggests another conspiracy theory: that Obama is Muslim. This group is much bigger than in the previous election when Obama ran against John McCain. Such radicals say one term of presidency for a black man is enough, and that a second term should be prevented at all costs. So the “rednecks say enough is enough.”

To counter such conservative moves, Obama has taken an ultraliberal step to support gay marriages. But this is a risky way, especially in the United States.

Whatever the reasons, if Romney wins, it will have major repercussions on foreign policy, although we said the elections are mainly about the economy. First, Romney is more pro-Israeli than Obama. In January, he accused Obama of “having thrown Israel under the bus,” also pledging that he would correct the situation during his presidency. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch supporter of Romney, is constantly looking at his watch as if to pass the time more quickly. As a result, Turkey would be compelled to have a better relationship with Israel.

Second, Obama has worked in his first term to make Muslims happier in America, with better conditions than 9/11. Romney would be expected to assume a more hardline position on Muslims worldwide.

And third, Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have created a unique friendship. Obama, in an effort to erase President George W. Bush’s move to present an unprecedented gift to Iran’s Shiites, his archenemies, with a Shiite administration in Iraq by overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, has reversed this by mainly backing the Sunnis during the Arab Spring. This also is appreciated by Erdoğan. Under Romney, who will undo most of Obama’s deeds, this close relationship between Obama and Erdoğan would possibly be a problem. Also, Obama, until the elections, will be highly reluctant to do anything significant about Syria.

However, the Turkish-U.S. relationship has evolved to surpass such obstacles, and no matter what Turkey does it can’t exceed a certain point and fall below another point in the quality of its relationship with America. Therefore, the worst for Erdoğan would be to restart from that low point with Romney, who anyway belongs to the rational wing of the Republicans.

June/14/2012

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