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How Obama Will Inspire the People of Turkey

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President Obama had surprised all US-skeptics in Turkey by pulling a "pre-emptive charm strike" when Secretary Clinton announced last month that she will be visiting Turkey as the final leg of his first trip to Europe.

Behind closed doors, there will certainly be negotiations on what Turkey can do for the new Afghan strategy, how to pursue a new Israeli-Syrian track on peace and Turkey's role in the Central Asian energy routes. But what Mr. Obama is attempting to do is much deeper. He will touch the broken hearts and souls of Turks and maybe, just maybe, he may convince them that being a mix of two different things is not so bad after all.

President Obama's sheer personal life is a mirror-image of Turkey. A man of two different but very solid worlds at the same time. A man of all colors, religions and backgrounds. Yet Turkey nowadays resembles more of his reckless youth and soul-searching days.

For the past three years, Erdogan's AK Party, with the help of a highly politicized and conservative court system, succeeded in limiting individual freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom to organise in a union or an association, freedom to criticise the government. A joke I like to tell is that Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart would be serving lifetime jail sentences in Turkey if they lived here.

Mr. Erdogan's slow approach towards the global economic crisis cost him approximately 8-10 points in the polls. Last Sunday's municipal election was a manifestation of how tired and frustrated the voters have become of Erdogan's tantrums and his party's utter arrogance and incapability.

AKP's sheer and one-sided defense of Hamas damaged Turkey's ability to be the negotiator in the Middle East again. Erdogan and his deputies openly claimed that Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have no legitimacy over Palestinian people. Despite the tragedies and rapes, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan recently expressed concern that Omar al Bashir of Sudan's indictment may be unfair.

Unfortunately AKP's moral judgment seems to be clouded by its commitment to Islamic principles and solidarity rather than to democracy. Sadly these policies remind many observers in Turkey of Bush's words: "either you are with us or against us."

President Obama can nicely remind Turkey's ruling party that with all the Machiavellian diplomatic maneuvering, it is essential to be a true liberal democrat and defender of healthy Muslim values that empower women and civil society.

The Pew Reseach Center's last figures show that the US' approval ratings in Turkey has only climbed 8 points in 5 months, barely touching 20%. During the last years of Bush presidency this figure had come down to a single digit.

Luckily, President Obama polls much better in Turkey than the rest of the US does. This may be the beginning of a good healthy trend. But as the final local election results show, Turkey may be much more fragmented and polarized on certain issues than Prime Minister Erdogan had imagined.

So the uptick in US favorability may take awhile, but President Obama's personality and his personal inner journey may actually help to heal the wounds in Turkish society.

He can remind Turkey that one can be secular in mind and Muslim at heart at the same time; one can pray and wear jeans and maybe have a glass of wine every once a while. One can be a Kurd and believe in a Turkish state and sing and teach in his own language and celebrate the Nowruz.

He can remind Turkey's current government that true liberal democracy will be the cure for the deep anger and conservatism they have planted in Turkish society. And with his signature smile he can tell all of us, Turks and Kurds and all others: "Calm down.. Yes you can build a More Perfect Union."