"Elegant," "Confident" Obama Wows Turkey

Diplomacy reporter Helene Cooper is more than diplomatic when it comes to praising President Obama's performance on his first overseas trip, in Tuesday's off-lead dispatch "America Seeks Bonds to Islam, Obama Insists" on the president's visit to Ankara, Turkey. Cooper particularly liked his bold admission to have been raised in Indonesia, which she predicts may cause turmoil on "right-wing websites" that "falsely describe" Obama as a Muslim.

President Obama formally began his outreach to the Muslim world on Monday when he spoke before Turkey's Parliament, telling legislators that the United States "is not and will never be at war with Islam."

"America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism," he said. "We seek broader engagement based upon mutual interest and mutual respect."

Showing more self-confidence each day on his maiden overseas trip as president, Mr. Obama, in addressing a majority Muslim country for the first time, appeared to have prepared carefully for one particular line in his wide-ranging speech.

"The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans," he said. "Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country.

"I know," he said, "because I am one of them."

And then he paused. Throughout his speech, he had moved swiftly from passage to passage, but this time, he waited for the interpreter to catch up. After about five seconds, the applause came.

The line was a bold one for Mr. Obama, who has been falsely described as a Muslim. The claim persists on some right-wing Web sites, which may try to interpret his remarks as proof of that view.

Ankara-based Sabrina Tavernise and Sebnem Arsu took the local angle in Tuesday's, "Obama Impresses Many on Both Sides of Turkey's Secular and Religious Divide." The reporters were also quite impressed with Obama's trip to Turkey.

In his speech to Turkey's Parliament on Monday, Mr. Obama spoke elegantly to both camps, discussing his personal ties to Islam and Turkey's "strong and secular" democracy, which seemed to satisfy both.

"He was giving the right message without making anyone in Turkey uncomfortable," said Yasemin Congar, the deputy editor of Taraf, a liberal newspaper. "The secularist will say, 'good, he emphasized secularism,' and the Muslims will say, 'good, he talked against segregation.' "

Sedat Ergin, the editor of Milliyet, a newspaper that has been suspicious of the government's Islamic roots - and part of the media group that was slapped with the tax bill - expressed delight at Mr. Obama's frequent references to democracy.

"The most important part of his speech was the emphasis on the secular democratic structure in Turkey," Mr. Ergin said. "He won back hearts of the secular circles in Turkey."

Those secularists were irritated by the Bush administration's emphasis on Turkey as a moderate Muslim country, and felt, Mr. Ergin said, as though the United States "had sacrificed the secular tradition in Turkey in order to reach out to the Muslim world."

But that changed with Mr. Obama's speech on Monday, said Mustafa Ozyurek, deputy chairman of the secular opposition Republican People's Party.

The text box read: "A sense that, finally, an American leader understands."

For a more cynical view of Obama's performance in Turkey, one would have to read New York Post columnist Ralph Peters:

....in Turkey, he surrendered our national pride, undercut our interests and interfered in matters that aren't his business.

On the latter point: Suppose the European Union president went to Cuba and insisted that the world's sunniest concentration camp should be welcomed into NAFTA? That's the equivalent of what our president did in Ankara on Monday when he declared that he supports Turkey's bid for EU membership.

The Europeans don't want Turkey in their club. Because Turkey isn't a European state, nor is its culture European. And it isn't our business to press Europe to embrace a huge, truculent Muslim country suffering a creeping Islamist coup.

The Europeans were appalled by Turkey's neo-Taliban tantrum on-stage at last week's NATO summit. The Turks fought to derail the appointment of a great Dane, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as the new NATO secretary general. Why? Because he didn't stone to death the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Mohammed.

Which brings us to the even bigger problem: Obama has no idea what's going on in Turkey. By going to Ankara on his knees, he gave his seal of approval to a pungently anti-American Islamist government bent on overturning Mustapha Kemal's legacy of the separation of mosque and state.