Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Light Meat, Dark Meat

The Economist's favorite hobbyhorse is the inclusion of Turkey into the European Union. It seems like every time I pick up that magazine, its anonymous British editorial voice advocates the EU's expansion, specifically to the southeast. If commerce is the grand panacea, then might Euro-prosperity tame even the most fervent Muslim cleric?

Turkey was graced with a visit from the U.S. president on his first overseas trip. Obamaphilia spread across Europe and Asia Minor while the prez kept a light diplomatic touch. Turkish TV news beseeched him in blackface, for some very strange reason.

Obama said that Turkish inclusion into the E.U. is something for the E.U. to decide. While this restraint is understandable in the wake of the my-way-or-the-highway Bush administration, and the currently dissolving global economy demanded most of his attention, Obama seemed to shrink from a campaign promise to declare Turkey's slaughter of Armenians a genocide.

This week Obama finally got down to brass tacks. While stopping short of the g-word, he put to use his erudite, cosmopolitan image and employed the Armenian-language characterization of the events, "meds yeghern," which means "great calamity." Obama will clearly err on the side of rhetorical caution as Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan try to straighten out their fraught relations.

But the not-quite-secular government of Turkey may have blown their opportunity to cash in on that sweet Euro-action. There is a whiff of the totalitarian in the Turkish government's snubbing of the Danish premier, to say nothing of widespread poverty and a checkered human rights record.

The idea of Turkey as the great example for the rest of the Caucasus and Middle East, a functioning secular democracy in a Muslim culture, still exists. Europe has certainly also noted its potential as an oil conduit. But for now borders remain borders.