Barack Obama continues to shake up the world with his new ideas, demonstrating himself again among the more creative and bold leaders the world has seen in the past half-century. In Prague on Sunday, he called for the US to lead a drive to abolish nuclear weapons:
‘ The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. No nuclear war was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, but generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light. Cities like Prague that had existed for centuries would have ceased to exist. Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black markets trade in nuclear secrets and materials. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. Our efforts to contain these dangers are centered in a global nonproliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point when the center cannot hold. . . Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st. And as a nuclear power -as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon – the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.’
What he says about the continued threat of nuclear arsenals, and about the dangers of proliferation and use in terrorism, is all true. But while commentators say these things all the time, seldom do politicians dare be so frank and so decisive. I believe that only in retrospect will historians come to see the true, pivotal significance of Obama’s epochal speech. More from the LAT
This is a step I called for in my new book, “Engaging the Muslim World,” so I’m especially pleased to see President Obama delineating this policy goal so early in his administration. The speech does not refer to the Middle East, but it has potentially big implications for that region. The logical conclusion is that Obama not only wants Iran to cease its nuclear enrichment program (which may not now be aimed at making a bomb, but could one day be used for that purpose), but he also wants Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal of 150 warheads. Since Israel’s stockpile provokes the Middle Eastern arms race, which in turn contributed to the outbreak of the Iraq War, were the Middle East to become a nuclear-free zone, it would become a less dangerous place.
Reuters reports Obama’s comments:
‘ “The United States and Europe must approach Muslims as our friends, neighbors and partners in fighting injustice, intolerance and violence, forging a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interests. Moving forward toward Turkish membership in the EU would be an important signal of your (EU) commitment to this agenda and ensure that we continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe.”
French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel oppose Obama on this issue, while Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi backed Obama’s suggestion for Turkey. Ironically, the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, which is slightly tinged with political Islam, is among the Turkish political forces most committed to membership in Europe. Because the elite in Turkey has typically been militantly secular and somewhat authoritarian, repressing religion and especially religion in politics, some devotees of political Islam in that country feel they might benefit from European Union human rights laws.
The intrepid Roger Cohen gets an interview with Turkish PM Tayyip Recep Erdogan, who sees Obama as possibly playing a synthetic role between the Christian and Muslim worlds, as exemplified in his full name:
“I consider personally the election of Barack Hussein Obama to have very great symbolic meaning. A Muslim and a Christian name — so in his name there is a synthesis, although people from time to time want to overlook that and they do it intentionally. Barack Hussein Obama . . . Your targets can only be realized on the basis of dreams . . . If everyone can say, looking at Obama, that is he is one of us, is that not befitting for the leading country in the world?”
Aljazeera English reports on the mixed reception of Barack Obama in Turkey. The Turkish left protested US imperialism and rejected membership in NATO. Others see Obama as figure of wisdom and even put him on the same level as Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic.
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